Note: Just as France has changed AOC to AOP, Italy has changed DOC and IGT. “DOC” is now “DOP” Denominazione di Origine Protetta (and DOCG becomes DOPG) and “IGT” is now “IGP” or Indicazione Geografica Protetta. Throughout the EU, these designations apply to protected agricultural products, not just wine.


Salumi: Italian Cured Meats


Salumi is a term that is not often heard outside Italy. Salumi are Italian cured meat products usually made of pork (Bresaola is beef) but denotes a product that has been preserved in salt (and spices). The word salumi comes from the Italian word salume, "salted meat." It is derived from Latin sal "salt." Salami from the Italian word: salame.



Salumi starts with whole cuts of meat from large farm-raised hogs that are cured in salt or brine and then dry-aged while salame is made from ground meat. What these two related products share is the same high quality ingredients, well-raised hogs and traditional production methods to produce Salumi that is often protected by a DOP or IGP designation. Salumi is the product family that includes salami: all Salami are Salumi, but not all Salumi are Salami. Salumi that are not Salami are those that are not ground, they are made from whole muscle pieces. The most famous Salumi is Prosciutto. However, there are numerous varieties, each different in its own way and many now available outside of Italy. 


Salumeria ( Salumi shop )

Salami is a term that describes sausage made from ground pork and spices, which is then encased and often cured. A traditional salame, with its typical marbled appearance, can also be made from beef (particularly veal), venison, poultry (I recently had a terrific goose salame that was stuffed back into the neck skin for curing) – even donkey and horse. Common ingredients in salami may include salt, garlic, herbs, spices, minced fat, wine and/or vinegar.

Though completely uncooked, salami are not "raw" per se; they have been prepared via curing. The term cotto means the salame is cooked or smoked before or after curing and it is typical of Piedmont region in Italy. This is done to impart a specific flavor but not to cook the meat. Before cooking, a cotto salame is still considered raw and is not ready (safe) to be eaten.

The raw meat and marinade mixture is typically allowed to ferment for a day, then the mixture is either stuffed into an edible natural or inedible cellulose casing and hung to cure. Sugars (usually dextrose) are added as a food source for the bacteria during the curing process. Lactic acid is produced by the bacteria as a waste product, lowering the pH and coagulating and lowering the water-holding capacity of the meat. The acid produced by the bacteria makes the meat an inhospitable environment for other, pathogenic bacteria and imparts a tangy flavor that distinguishes salami from machine-dried pork. The flavor of a salami relies just as much on how these bacteria are cultivated as it does on quality and variety of other ingredients. Originally, the bacteria were introduced into the meat mixture with wine, which contains other types of beneficial bacteria; now, starter cultures are used. The whole process takes from 2 to 36 weeks, depending on the size of salami, environmental conditions, and desired dryness. Further aging can help develop a more complex flavor. The casings are often treated with an edible mold (Penicillium) culture as well. The mold is desired as it imparts flavor, helps the drying process and prevents spoilage during the curing process. The white covering of the mold (or flour or cornstarch) helps prevent the photo-oxidation of the meat and prevent rancidity in the fat.



Types of Salumi



Prosciutto crudo 

Prosciutto or Parma ham is considered to be the “Prince” of Italian charcuterie products. The term prosciutto comes from the Latin word “perexsuctum” which means “prosciugato” in Italian, or “dried thoroughly.” Prosciutto is a matured product made from a pig's or a wild boar's ham (hind leg or thigh), coming from pigs having weights ranging from 160 and 180 kg (the so-called “heavy pigs”). It is elongated and pear shaped; its internal color is more or less rosy, uniform and edged by a fat layer. The aroma is fragrant; the taste is delicate, faintly salty, tasty and flavorful. How cured ham came to be the most famous hams are protected by the PDO and PGI designations: Prosciutto di Parma Ham, Prosciutto di San Daniele, Prosciutto di Modena, Prosciutto di Carpegna, Prosciutto Veneto Berico – Euganeo, Prosciutto Toscano, Prosciutto di Norcia and Jambon de Bosses are all protected Italian salamis designations. The process of making prosciutto can take anywhere from nine months to two years, depending on the size of the ham. A consumer-ready prosciutto di Parma weighs 9 to 10 kilos and each should provide around 120 portions.



Prosciutto di Norcia

Prosciutto di Norcia IGP is the king of Umbrian delicacies. The most famous of Central Italian ham, Norcia can be made is two ways: the ancient or modern method. The ancient method was codified at the end of the Roman period. In his book De Agri Cultura, Cato described the process of salting and aging prosciutto. 

During the Roman Age, the meat was dry-salted rather than brined and occurred in pots or barrels. The thighs were layered into the containers and covered with the salt cure. After five days, the prosciutti were rotated and the meat on the bottom was placed on top and left to cure for another 12 days. Then the salt was wiped off the meat and the prosciutti were hung to dry for 3 days in a breezy environment. Afterwards, the meat was washed, rubbed with oil and lightly smoked for 2 days.  It was then rubbed again with oil, and vinegar, and left to age.

The modern preparation varies from the ancient method in a couple of ways. No oil or vinegar is used in the modern method and the salt-rub includes pepper and crushed garlic. Although the containers or barrels are substituted with long wooden boards, this has no major effect on the prosciutto.

According to the older method, the prosciutti must be rubbed with a mixture of lard and flour after 8 months of aging. The meat is then hung in the wind for about two years, giving the product its distinctive character – quite different from the more modern hams.

Prociutto Antico di Norcia is produced exclusively in Norcia, whereas Prosciutto di Norcia can be made as far as Perugia, Spoleto or Cascia.


 Prosciutto di Carpegna

This prosciutto is made in the town of Carpegna and is prepared with much more pepper in the spice and pepper mixture. To make Prosciutto di Carpegna, the pig is raised and slaughtered in Lombardy, the Marches or Emilia Romagna. Salt is rubbed into the fresh ham by hand and left to rest for one week. More salt is rubbed into the ham, and it is then left to cure for two weeks. After two weeks, the outside of the ham is rubbed with a mixture of pepper, spices, flour and lard. The ham is then left to age at a temperature of 20 degrees Celsius for 14 months.


Prosciutto di San Daniele

Prosciutto di San Daniele must meet three conditions. The ham thighs must come from pigs raised in any of the 10 northern or central regions of Italy. The ham must be processed in Friuli using traditional ancient techniques. This includes raising and butchering the pigs at the same time each year and using natural sea salt with no preservatives or additives. The third requirement is that the aging of the ham occurs in San Daniele del Friuli, as there is something about the air that is special to this type of prosciutto.


Prosciutto di Parma

Prosciutto di Parma is the most well-known prosciutto in the world. Prosciutto has a long history in Parma, and records have been found that describe ham production from 100 BC. There are four essential ingredients to Proscuitto di Parma: Italian pigs, Parma air, salt and curing time. Specifically, the curing time and salt content are key steps. The ham is only cured until it has absorbed just enough salt to be preserved. The ham is considered preserved when it has lost up to 25 percent of its weight from moisture loss.

Tuscan Prosciutto

Tuscan Prosciutto Crudo

This is the Tuscan version of prosciutto and has strong flavors of juniper, rosemary, garlic and pepper, which are aromatic and flavorful herbs. Tuscany does not raise a lot of pigs, so the process once the pigs are butchered is specific to Tuscan Prosciutto. Pigs must be at least nine months old and no less than 145 kilograms. Before the ham is cured, each piece must weigh at least 11 kilograms. There is a minimum aging of at least one year; although most producers will age the ham for 14 to 15 months.



Bresaola: Beef Salumi 

Not all Salumi is pork; Bresaola is the one major exception. Bresaola (or brisaola) is made from beef in the Valtellina area but shares a similar production method to pork salumi. It is made from top (inside) round, thoroughly defatted and seasoned with a dry rub of coarse salt and spices, such as juniper berries, cinnamon and nutmeg. They are then left to cure for a few days. A drying period of between one and three months follows, depending on the weight of the particular bresaola. The meat loses up to 40% of its original weight during aging. Bresaola is dark red and should have almost no fat at all; it is sliced very thin and served as an antipasto with olive oil and lemon.

In Valtellina, a similar process is applied to smaller pieces of meat. This produces a more strongly flavored product, slinzega, which is similar to South African biltong. Traditionally, horse meat was used for slinzega, but now other meats, such as venison and pork, are used, as well.



Coppa, Capocollo and Soppressa 

These three regional products are other examples of encased salumi, similar to salami. However the process in making these differs from salami in that the meat is not ground and mixed with fat. Coppa, Capocollo and Soppressa are made from whole muscles in a manner closer to Prosciutto, thus making them salumi. They also share a common production method. Coppa hails from Piacenza, Capocollo originates from Calabria and Soppressa is the Veneto version. Soppressa uses a more-diverse selection of muscles, blends in some red wine and is aged for up to a year longer than the other two. All varieties have a texture that is reminiscent of a Prosciutto with a red color contrasted by white veins of fat. Flavors can range from delicate and mellow to the more robust and spicy Capocollo.


Coppa (and/or Capicola / Capocollo):

Coppa and Capicola (also known as ossocollo) are prepared using only the head and neck muscles. The name coppa is Italian for nape, while capocollo comes from capo (head) and collo (neck) of a pig. Both are cylinder shaped, but in a rustic form showing the muscle shape within the casing as opposed to the clean, smooth lines of a Mortadella. Its texture is compact, but not elastic, while the flesh is red with white to pink fat veins. Capicola is spicier than Coppa, because it is usually smoked and prepared with a variety of spices, herbs, and sometimes wine. Coppa is also produced in many areas of Italy, where they use different processing methods and are sold under different names – but only Coppa Piacentina and Capocollo made in the Calabria region are DOPs.



Soppressa or Soppressata?

Sopressa Vicentina del Pasubio (DOP) is Salumi and may be produced only in the Veneto. The Southern regions of Calabria and Apulia produce a salami that not only looks nearly identical to Sopressa Vicentina, it has a similar name, too: Soppressata. Soppressata are much more aggressively spiced, especially with red pepper, is often washed with red wine and is not made from the unique pigs used for soppressa. Be aware that “soppressata” in Central and Northern Italy usually refers to head cheese. (See more about Soppressata in the Salami section)



Soppressa is produced by chopping lean meat and fat together by hand. Producers only use pigs raised on the alpine foothills of the Pasubio, northwest of Vicenza. The animals primarily consume a diet of chestnuts and potatoes and drink the mineral-rich waters from the mountain streams; this is part of creating the terroir that is soppressa. The cuts of meat come only from the shoulder and leg and must be 65 to 70 percent lean. The fat used in the soppressa is key. Most Italian sausages use basic chunks of pork fat, but soppressa requires lardo -- a salumi on its own – and only lardo made from pigs raised in the Pasubio is deemed worthy to use in this local delicacy. When sliced, its color is slightly opaque and it has a medium-large grain in which the meaty and fatty parts are not easily distinguished. It has a spicy scent and, in some cases, a fragrance of herbs. It has a delicate, slightly sweet taste with hints of pepper or garlic.




 This is a refined variety of prosciutto; the most labor-intensive of all the salumi. Not only is great care taken in making Culatello, but also serving this salumi requires special attention. Culatello originates from the Parma region and is yet another masterpiece from the makers of the Prosciutto di Parma. It is made from heavier pigs, cut to a fraction of the normal prosciutto and aged, and may be cured with wine. The meat is salt cured for three days, massaged and then allowed to rest before being encased. Therefore, Culatello is technically a salumi as well as a salami. After being allowed to age for up to a year, Culatello is finally ready to eat, sort of. 

The outer skin of Culatello must first be scraped away and the meat moistened by a wine soaked cloth. After a couple of days the skin and fat are removed and the Culatello is sliced thinly. This is truly a regional delicacy and the care in preparation of this salumi is unequalled in Italy. The painstaking process of the prestigious Culatello di Zibello is now protected by a PDO designation. It is typically served as a starter along with slices of sweet melon or fresh figs, as well as being a traditional dish on New Year's Eve. 




Guanciale, commonly found in central Italy, particularly Umbria and Lazio, is the cured meat from the jowl of the hog. The name is derived from “guancia”, which means the cheek. Pork cheek is rubbed with salt, sugar, and spices (typically ground black pepper or red pepper and thyme or fennel and sometimes garlic) and cured for three weeks. Its flavor is stronger than other pork products, such as pancetta, but its texture is more delicate. Unlike most varieties this savory salumi is not often eaten by itself. Instead it lends its flavor to the dishes of the Latium region especially its sauces including Amatriciana, Carbonara and Gricia. Guanciale can replace Pancetta in any recipe for a bolder flavor. 




Lardo is a salume made by curing strips of fatback with rosemary and other herbs and spices. The most famous lardo is from Colonnata (Tuscany), where lardo has been made since Roman times. Colonnata is a frazione (sub-district) of the larger city of Carrara, which is famous for its marble; traditionally, lardo is cured for months in basins made of this local marble. Lardo di Colonnata is now included in the Ark of Taste catalogue of heritage foods as well as enjoying IGP status since 2004. Another prized form of lardo is the Valle d'Aosta Lard d'Arnad.


The process is best described by Amy Cortese (Nov 01, 2010):


Starting in the fall, explained the signora, the concas are cleansed in preparation for lardo production, which continues through January. The interior of each conca is treated with vinegar and then rubbed with garlic. Sea salt and a unique mixture of herbs and spices is then spread thickly across the bottom of the conca. Each of Colonnata’s 14 or so lardo-producing families uses their own proprietary blend of ingredients, traditionally including rosemary, peppercorns, and garlic along with smaller amounts of anise seed, thyme, oregano, sage, nutmeg, and clove, depending on personal preference. Slabs of fatback, cut at least one and a quarter inches thick into rectangular blocks weighing between one and 11 pounds, are then placed atop the curing mixture and covered by more sea salt and spice in alternating layers until the conca is nearly filled. After a week’s cure, a strong brine is poured over the fatback and the marble covers are slid into place. From this point on, the concas and their contents are left undisturbed for a minimum of six months, save for an occasional peek by the lardo maker.


This centuries-old process was sanctioned only after a hard-won battle with European Union (EU) health officials a little more than a decade ago. Horrified to discover what they perceived as primitive, unsanitary conditions in Colonnata’s dirt-floored cellars, EU inspectors demanded local lardo makers adopt modern techniques—such as preservatives, plastic tubs, and the like—or halt production. The EU’s crass actions—though unsupported by any scientific study, speculation regarding potential bacteriological contamination even brought about middle-of-the-night raids on a number of lardariums—sparked the rallying cry for Italy’s nascent Slow Food movement and incited regional governments to take proactive measures to protect local artisanal traditions. Later, presented with unequivocal proof that Colonnata’s methods resulted in a product free of any harmful bacteria, EU officials relented, requiring lardo makers only to tile their storage cellars and install washrooms. 




Rarely found in the U.S., Lonza is a cured pork loin that is similar to prosciutto in taste and texture, yet easier to slice thanks to its more uniform shape. Lonza is seasoned with sea salt, fennel, peppercorns and juniper berries with a shorter maturing time than prosciutto. 



Common variations of Pancetta: The fattier rotolata, the meatier rotolata (note the spices showing) and the Slab. 



Pancetta is Italian, Croatian and Slovenian bacon. It is also produced in Spain. That's a true enough description, but unlike American bacon, which is most often smoked, pancetta is un-smoked and derives its flavor from salt and spices such as nutmeg, pepper and fennel. It's then dried for a few months. In the production of Pancetta, the salting phase is fundamental and it must be done on the skin of the meat cut. In fact, it is necessary to use salt with the right grain size – not too thin or too coarse – to assure the correct balance between its ability to permeate the meat and its influence on moisture during the drying phase. 

Pancetta varies by region. For example, some versions can be dominated by pepper and cloves, whereas those coming from central Italy are likely to feature garlic and fennel seeds. Slab Pancetta (stesa) can be with skin on or skinless, classical or smoked. Exported pancetta is most often rolled (rotolata) so that the fat and muscle spiral around each other. Rolled pancetta like Pancetta Magretta and Pancetta Coppata are normally cut into circular paper-thin slices before being fried, while slab pancetta is usually chopped or diced before being added to a dish. Pancetta Piacentina and Pancetta di Calabria are DOPs that produce Pancetta rotolata.



Pancetta Magretta 

The fat is separated from the pancetta, crushed chilies, fennel, black pepper and sea salt are added between the meat and fat, then rolled, tied and pressed between planks of wood. It is stored in a cool place for about one month; the planks of wood are tightened to compact the layers during this time. The finished product is dense and when cut appears as rosy-pink with white spirals.


Pancetta Coppata

Pancetta Coppata combines the very best of pancetta with the unforgettable sweet saltiness of coppa. It's then air-dried to create a distinctive salumi that's used in stews, soups and pasta sauces, as well as one that's fit to grace even the finest meat antipasti platter.


Pancetta Piacentina

The pigs are grown in Lombardy and Emilia, and are the same animal used to produce the famed Prosciutto di Parma. The meat is seasoned with salt, pepper, clove, and sugar, then left to rest for at least two weeks. The meat is then cleaned and wrapped, adding lean meat at the center and pig bladder on the outside, if needed. After a short rest, it is dried at 20°C (68°F) for about a week. The final step is the ageing, which lasts at least two months.


Pancetta di Calabria 

The meat is cut into a rectangular shape which, including the pigskin, can be as thick as 4 centimeters (around 1.57 inches). The meat is salted, then left to rest for about a week. The meat is washed carefully, then sprinkled with wine vinegar. After the meat dries, the second salt seasoning takes place, this time adding finely crushed sweet chili pepper to it as well. Then the Pancetta di Calabria DOP is left to refine for at least one month, in rooms with constant humidity and circulating air.


Pancetta Pepata 

Pancetta Pepata (Stesa) is cured with a black pepper crust, Sardinian Style.


 Pancetta Affumicata 

Pancetta Affumicata (Stesa) is a cured and cold-smoked pancetta containing no other flavorings; it is semi-aged, giving it a mild flavor with a delicate smoky taste. 


Salt Pork


Salt pork is made from the pig’s belly and is not smoked. Most salumi aficionados have a love/hate relationship with salt pork. 





 From the Academia Barilla web site:


Spalla cotta of San Secondo is a type of traditional cured pork product made in precise area of the Bassa Parmese, outside of Parma.  It takes its name from the small town of San Secondo, the center of Spalla production in the past. Spalla cotta was mentioned in a document from 1170 stating its equivalence to the rent a farmer had to pay in order to cultivate land, and then again in the 18th century where it appeared on the grocery list of the Court of Este in Modena.


“Spalla is made from a large pork shoulder (preferably 46 to 48 lbs), including the coppa (a specific cut of pork neck and shoulder). After having remove the excess meat and rolled up the Spalla, it is left to cure in a mixture of salt, pepper, cinnamon, garlic and nutmeg. It is places in a cold room, salted a second time and left for a couple of weeks. Then it is tied up, placed in a bladder casing and bound again from the bottom up.  It is left in a cold environment for one to two months before consumption. It can be eaten raw, if well aged, or cooked, its more common form. The preparation, which follows very specific rules passed down through the centuries, calls for cooking the Spalla in hot but not boiling water (160-175° F), seasoned with wine and bay leaves.”





Originally from Tyrol, Italian Speck shares its name with a German pork product; but while German Speck is basically lard (the equivalent to Lardo in Italy), Speck is similar to Prosciutto in that it is a salt-cured ham. Unlike prosciutto, Speck is not made from the hind leg of the pig but from the shoulder. And unlike other prosciutti, Speck is deboned before curing. The meat is seasoned with salt and spices that include pepper, laurel and especially juniper berries before being allowed to rest for about a month. Most important in making a good speck is the smoking, an operation that lasts for about ten days using non-resinous types of wood (beech, juniper and ash). The meat is then aged for months to produce a smoky and slightly spicy product. Speck is long and flat-like in shape; the inside is pink with a tendency towards red and clearly defined fat parts. It has a very distinct spicy and smoky taste. It is extremely versatile from a gastronomic point of view. Speck is often served sliced thin or diced but can also be used to cook with, easily replacing bacon or as a smoky alternative to Pancetta.




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