Oct 14, 2009

Salumi Primer - Italian cured meats

This evening I dined in a restaurant whose first menu entry for antipasto was a dish called Elogio del Porco, which roughly translates to ‘Plaudit to the pork.’ Although generally eaten as antipasto, salumi–or cold cuts–are a selection of cured meats often known also as "affettati misti" that can be enjoyed freely at any point of the meal. Salumi span a wide assortment of (generally) pork-based cured meats, and for a clear definition of salumi all you really have to do is eat some handsomely folded in a warm bread roll. Like this.

My favorite specialty store to visit (much more than a jeweler or a haute couture boutique) is a salumeria, a local Italian deli. This especially when I'm in Rome's centro storico, the central old part of the city, where the Roman deli is commonly called a pizzicheria, presided over by a pizzicagnolo, an artisan managing a sharp slicer, fragrant specialties and palatable delights. Another name for this exquisite little shop of wonders is Norcineria (from the town of Norcia, renowned for its cured meats), where the person behind the counter is a Norcino. Gastronomia or Alimentari–other ways of calling a salumeria–are places where one can also purchase a wide range of prepared gastronomy items, from salads to pre-cooked dishes, dry goods and canned delicacies.

Whatever the name, the smell in the store is divine and the arrangement of cheeses and cold cuts is a work of art, balance, and efficiently creative use of space. When the salumeria is strategically located next door to a fornaio, there is no way out: purchase some warm bread, slice it open and fold in some freshly cut cheese or cured meat, or a mix of both, and enjoy your life then and there. When you are done, crumbs littering your chest and smile widening on your face, you can walk another few steps to the nearest bar and get yourself un caffé.

Some of the distinctive cold cuts that fall under the generic domain of Salumi are porco-based, but not all. There are hundreds of types of salumi found in Italy, some of the most popular are:


Bresaola is salt-cured beef typical product of the Alpine valley Valtellina. Bresaola is usually served finely sliced, and seasoned with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and lemon juice. Some like to add flecks of Parmigiano. I personally serve mine dribbled with pink grapefruit slices, olive oil, freshly ground black pepper and a little arugula.


This lean and rosy, refined variety of raw prosciutto ham, is made with a part of the normal ham cut closest to the pig's rump. The name refers in fact to the animal's culo, a vernacular term for 'rear end.' Universally considered superior, aged culatello has a clean, delicate flavor. It is highly prized and priced, but worth every penny it's worth.


This is a Tuscan fennel seed flavored salami that is aged less than regular salami, it is more of a soft sausage. Legend has it a thief stole a salami and hid it in a bushel of fennel seeds while chased down by guards. When he returned to pick up the booty, he found the aroma of the herb had seeped int the cured meat.


Galantina is a delectable meatloaf made from boned poultry, stuffed with ground meat, hard boiled eggs, giardiniera, ham, truffles and other diced ingredients, pressed into a cylindrical shape, and poached in an aspic-like stock.


The word translates as lard, and that's what this is, thick fat with some thin streaks of pink meat, cured with herbs, pepper, and salt. The best-known Italian lard is from the town of Colonnata, which is a small village perched on a ridge between two marble quarries in the Apuane Mountains above Carrara (the place where Michelangelo went to shop raw material for his sculptures).

Lardo can be used as a flavoring ingredient in other dishes (thinly sliced and wrapped around a filet mignon, for example), although it is best served as is, thinly sliced with plain toasted bread. If your cholesterol count can take it, this is one of the finest affettati around.

Rendered lard that's used for cooking as a shortening, is called strutto, and looks like a white paste.


This is a salume made from pork shoulder, which has been trimmed of its fat, slipped into a casing, and then salted and air-cured with herbs and spices, treating it much like prosciutto. It is one of the leanest cold cuts available, and rather delicately flavored. Capocollo, as it sometimes also called, is sometimes marinated in wine.


This si a precooked and highly seasoned sausage the size of my den. Mortadella is also known as Mortadella di Bologna, the signature cold cut of the city.

Mortadella is a cooked salume, made from ground pork meat that's been stuffed in a casing with peppercorns, pistachios and cubes of pink fat. The popular bologna is usually sliced and served as a sandwich filler. I usually have my pizzicagnolo carve a thick 1-inch slice and then cube it. I place the cubes in small bowls scattered around the house and nibble them during mid morning housework. And mortadella rules stuffed in warm pizza bianca.


This is a soft, spreadable Calabrian sausage that's been ground with tons of spicy red pepper, which lend it bold red color and a fiery flavor. The best way to enjoy 'nduja is scooping it out of the casing with a spoon, softening it further over mild heat, and dipping bread or veggies into it.


Dry cured pork's stomach meat. Pancia means abdomen, pancetta is also the affectionate name for the sexy pot-belly. Pancetta is made from the same cut used to make bacon. However, pancetta is not smoked, and there's no added sugar in the curing process.

Porchetta di Ariccia

Porchetta in the town of Ariccia is an institution, and no fair or festive gathering would be complete without it. Porchetta is commonly served in the town's many typical fraschette, local informal eateries where paper tablecloths and abundant portions are synonyms of quality. The Ariccia trademark porchetta looks very much like a cliché banquet prop from a Roman epic blockbuster. Fact is the Romans were great fans of porchetta, which has traveled through time and landed on our tables virtually unchanged from the one Nero ate during his orgies.

The ingredients are the same, a large boned and bound pig with an apple in its mouth, salt, pepper, garlic and herbs among which wild fennel or rosemary, depending on the Norcino who assembled it. The pork is spit roasted and served sliced, enjoyed with warm Genzano bread and abundant vino dei Castelli which is a table wine made in and around Frascati.


The Italian word for ham is Prosciutto. In this case dry-cured ham, which has not been cooked. Italians call it simply prosciutto, short for prosciutto crudo, which means "raw." Prosciutto is a specialty of northern Italy, the signature Prosciutto di Parma and Prosciutto di San Daniele, are the sweetest, loveliest, melt-in-your-mouth hams in the universe.

Prosciutto Cotto

Cotto means 'cooked,' and this what this ham is, the kind you purchase in a deli as a cold cut. Once boned and trimmed, the pork legs are cured in salt, water and fine spiced brines that impart the cooked hams their typical aroma. The pork legs are then put in special molds to be cooked in steam ovens. The ones to choose from the myriad available on the market are the hams containing no gluten, milk proteins, phosphates, or MSG. Sometimes prosciutto cotto is also roasted, a process that provides a delicately sophisticated flavor.


The large sausages made with ground pork and cubes of fat, seasoned with salt and spices, which are then stuffed into a pig's intestine casing are the common definition for salame. Like prosciutto crudo, Italian salame is raw*, with the meat being cured by the salt in the spice mix. Salame piccante, has red peppers in it mixture. In the United States this known as pepperoni, and for some unknown reason it commonly garnishes pizza! The town of Felino, just outside of Parma in the Emilia Romagna region, is famed for its namesake salame Felino. Then there's Salame Milano, a popular standard whose pork fat is finely ground; and there's Cacciatorino, which means 'little hunter,' and indeed tiny he is. Corallina has 3 squared chunks of white fat in the middle of the otherwise fairly lean slice. Ungherese is lightly smoked and ambrosial in sandwiches. So you see, calling it simply salami is an oversimplification.

Soppressata, or Coppa

This is a sausage made from leftover pork cuttings, like cartilage and pieces of meat, which are stuffed into a casing and then cooked. The taste and texture are rather particular; people generally make sure their guests like it before offering it.


Speck is a salt-cured and cold-smoked ham of the Südtirol, or Alto Adige. The production of Speck remains quite artisanal and has recently obtained IGP status, which means it can only be made in the Südtirol and only following local traditional production methods. Speck is commonly served as antipasto.

Plaudit to the pork, then. I agree.

*Trichinosis, you wonder? The disease caused by trichinae, typically from infected meat, especially pork, characterized by digestive disturbance, fever, and muscular rigidity? It's virtually unknown in Italy. The salt and the aging process guarantees salumi and other pork-based cold cuts to be a safe food because the salt ties up all the water, making it impossible for any form of bacteria to grow.

Images courtesy of NovelliSalumi.it, Buttalapasta.it, Sorrentino.it


  1. What a wonderful surprise, so beautiful all these meets. I especially love the photo of the Norcineria. How beautiful is that store. You would not find this in America.

    Thanks you for this tour.

    Now I'm hungry...for salami.

  2. Beautiful photos, tasty morsels, great introduction to salumi.

  3. Oh dear Lola!

    This is why I could never, ever be a vegetarian! This is not what I should be reading right now, since it is hours before our dinner time. I must add that I have many fond memories of chewing on the fatty, salty, smoky goodness of the Speck rind as a little girl in the Rhineland of Germany, where it is also popular, as is anything made of pork. Delicious!


  4. Never in my whole life have a seen a store like that, Lola! I LOVE your blog, and I love meat :)!

  5. It is almost supper time here thank you very much...it is going to be a long hour and half for me now.
    I am a little fussy when it comes to the fat and gristle in my meats. I would have to pass on the Soppressata.

  6. What a great round-up of Italian meats, although that soppressata/coppa doesn't look like what I've always known as soppressata or coppa - both of which I love. How I'd love to be in that norcineria right now buying some.

  7. Looks delicious! Great pics. I actually just reviewed Mario Batali's family's restaurant, "Salumi". Feel free to check it out on my food blog, Om Nom Nom Nom!

  8. oh how i pine for a deli like that. we dont really have one locally that i have found. there is one about an hour away where i grew up...this made me think of that place...we go every time we are in town. mouth watering!

  9. Note to self: Only visit this blog when you have a full stomach!!

    I am now going to spend all day hankering after salami!!

    C x

  10. Wow it's close to lunchtime here. my mouth is watering.
    I love Nudja too.
    I've been spoilt by my Calabrian background. My father, a cabinet maker, has become an expert salumi maker in his pension years. No need to tell you how good they taste!

  11. Three years ago I had my gall bladder removed and I really have to be careful about the amount of fat I now eat. Charcuterie items have to be very sparingly tasted but I do love mortadella and also prosciuto - but not very much at each sitting.

  12. What a great round up. Thank you so much for sharing this...I see there's a few that will need to be added to my "must try" list.

  13. What a beautiful post! I am addicted to Salumi! Now, I'm drooling incontrolably... I'd love to give Nduja a try.



  14. You have a very beautiful blog!

  15. Thank you all for your lovely comments! I'll get back to you all after the weekend

  16. I could smell the delis!! Nice Job!

  17. Enjoyed your interview with Eddie Bluelights and felt I had to come right over and sample your wares!
    BUT I AM A VEGETARIAN!!!!!!!!!!!!! what (if anything) can you do for me? LOL!

    Nuts in May

  18. Visiting from your interview. Now I am very hungry. I love the salumeria. Beautiful blog.

    Come Visit Silly Saturday

  19. What a wonderful, visual article which has me starving at 5;3OAM. I just returned from a 65th birthday celebration in Italy - wish I had with me a print out of this lovely article in Lucca one afternoon - I would have purchased an assortment of these goodies, a nice bottle of wine and settled in one of the lovely squares and feasted in style!!

  20. Fantastic photos Lola, and congrats on being in the spotlight with Sunday Roast!

    Your views of "being a blogger" so reflect my own; loved getting to know you better.


  21. Very nice website. I wish I would have found it before I went to Rome, as I was trying to figure out what certain things were like speck for instance.

  22. hey friend, just dropped back by to say nice roast over at Eddie's! hope you have fun at the movies!

  23. Hi Lola,
    i simply love your blog. You are my favoured blog of September. And my readers all come to visit here regularly. Beautiful photos. Bon appetit Myriam

  24. I read your Sunday Roast interview and liked the sound of the recipe you gave so popped over to say thankyou. WOW you taught me so much today in this post and I love the photo of the deli - It's like the equivalent of a jewellers shop to me! :)

  25. Just stopped by from Eddie's sunday Roast. congrats on your interview.

    Now I am very, very hungry! I'm off to find lunch!


  26. Congratulations on your roast....great job you did!! (I came here from Eddie's Blog.)
    I shouldn't have come here when I was hungry!!! These photos are uhmmm...... fantastic!
    Hugs and smiles from Jackie

  27. My mouth is totally watering! I fell in love with mortadella in Italy - any resemblance to "baloney" is merely coincidental!

  28. Fantastic detail on the photos Lola and I keep popping to the fridge to raid food after drooling over your recipes. It's all meat - a real treat on your post - scrumptious ~ Eddie x

  29. How perfect that your blog should be a roast :)!

  30. Great post Lola, absolutely precise and ...mouthwatering!

  31. OMG Lola !!! I'm experience severe charcuterie cravings now, and it's too late to go out and find any... and that after having had dinner at a nice little Italian restaurant near here, with an excellent carpaccio for starters, followed by "une pièce de boucher", a sumptious cut of lightly cooked beef covered in rough cut mozzarella... yum ! But now after seeing this, I'm starving all over again...

    There is some serious "joie de vivre" going on here in your pages... always a huge pleasure to drop by here, thanks so much for everything you do !

  32. Oh my, your blog is delicious.
    I can eat prosciutto all day.
    I came here from Eddie. That mortar and pestle (header photo) is just so enticing!
    I love the story behind your blog name especially when you mentioned spicy red chilli pepper.
    Great roast! Please...let's uncork the wine!

  33. Hello, dear Lola...I'm sorry it took me a while to get here for the party. I had some surgery this past week, and have been a little groggy!!! Shouldn't be visiting today either, but I did NOT want to miss saying "hello" to YOU!! What a wonderful,fabulous and informative post! I have always wondered about the distinctions between the various types of Italian meats!! And you have explained it all so very clearly!! And beautifully! As usual! Congratulations on your roast! I am absolutely delighted to see you featured at Eddie's! ~Janine XO

  34. Oh, just YUM! The only one you're missing that I adore is capicola, especially hot capicola (that is, spiced, not heated.) Coppa looks similar, and maybe it's a cousin?

  35. What a lesson on pork-derived products! Even for a Cuban like me, used to hog roasts in the middle of the countryside, it was an eye-opening post. Many thanks.

    Greetings from London.

  36. Came to you via the Foodie Blogroll "Finest Friday". Great display of deli products that had me drooling.

  37. I cannot believe the variety.

    Where are you sweets, I'm having a giveaway.


  38. Hi Lola. I had no idea so many of these products there actually are, not being much of a meat eating person. Your blog is always so beautifully presented and unbelievably informative. Hope you are keeping well!

  39. This is fantastic--I live close to a treasure trove of Italian specialty meats, and this will be very helpful in picking new ones to try out (instead of just getting prosciutto crudo like I always do).

    Grazie indeed!

  40. What a post! You have outdone yourself! Where in the world are you now? Still on the moon? ;-)

  41. That post was awesome. Photos are mouthwatering and you are making me miss Italy more than I usually do. great job

  42. Lola, I loved this post.
    If I ever make it back to Rome, I'll have to print out reams from your blog to search out treasures like this shop.
    I'm not big into meat, but pork would prevent me becoming veggie. I particularly like the sound of the Nduja, and of course,I love Prosciutto.
    Thanks for a very informative and enjoyable post.

  43. that first crusty bread and salami roll is mine :)

    I lived on that during my student days.

    another awesome post Lola!
    You really are a star in the black sky.

    x Ribbon

  44. I really enjoyed reading this post, big fan. Keep up the good work and please tell me when can you publish more articles or where can I read more on the subject?
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