When one thinks of Italy's cultural heritage, our minds tend to turn to its literature, art, poetry and music - but what about it's salumi. I can hear you thinking that a piece of cured meat, no matter how delicious, couldn't possibly demonstrate the heritage of a country, but think about it for a minute - Italy's history has long been one of poverty, the need to make the most of what one had to hand and the need to get by and feed yourself and your family, and what better example of making the most of what has to hand than salumi. In times of extreme poverty, not as long ago as you may think, many Italian families raised pigs, both to sell and to feed their family. The reason pigs were so important is very simple, they are easy to keep, need little feeding as most of the time they will feed themselves by foraging but maybe more importantly they are one of the few animals that once butchered very little is wasted and most of it can be eaten and the pieces that are not eaten straight away can be preserved using salt for many months, if not years. This made pigs the ideal livestock in hard times therefore salumi became a household craft throughout every region of Italy. What better way to make the most of what you have than to preserve it and use it to feed your family throughout the hard times.
Nowadays, many of these cured meat products have become delicacies, and some of them not just regionally, some are now eaten and enjoyed both nationally and internationally. Many of them are also protected by law, DOC status, to prevent their name being used by lesser quality imitations, some are also protected by the Italian Slow Food Movement in their Ark Of Taste, which prevents the crafts of making certain foods and beverages die out, which is the sad case with so many traditional foods. Salumi is not only made from pork, it can be made from beef, goose, goat and even donkey.
If you walk into a Salumeria in any of Italy's twenty regions, you will be greeted by a vast array of cooked meats, salami and hams, and this will just be the salumi of that region as only a handfull of cured meat products have achieved national popularity. It is believed that there are probably some 8000 plus salumi items in Italy today, however many of these products are simply different regional names for the same product, each of which will have a simple variation in its flavourings or maturing process. But once you live into the world of salumi a little further, you discover that these 8000 plus variations can be simply divided into 8 basic types -
Guanciale (Jowl, Jaw, Cheek)
Coppa (Neck, Shoulder, Loin)
Lardo (Back Fat)
Lonza (Loin, Tenderloin)
Prosciutto (Ham, Back Leg)
Salami (Ground or cut pieces of pork and fat)
To try to list all the salumi products made in Italy today, would be an impossible task, but below is a quick tour around the most well known, or most loved, salumi of Italy's twenty regions.
Cured pigs cheek from Umbria. The cheek is marinated and cured in red wine and salt and various additional spices.
Guanciale di Molise
Pig's cheek that is soaked in wine that has been seasoned with salt and pepper, then left for 30 - 40 days in a stone tub to cure.
Soppressata (Coppa di Testa)
A pressed sausage made from tongue, pork belly, pigs head, stomach and unsed trimmings removed from the bones. The meat is chopped into small pieces, then cooked with varying herbs and spices. Then packed into a jute bag, tied and sealed. There are many Diffrent versions of soppressata made all over Italy, using different herbs and spices and being made with different cuts of meat.
Coppa di Umbria
An Umbrian sausage made from the meat from the pigs head flavoured with regional herbs and spices.
Soppressata da Fabriano
Made in the Le Marche region using pigs head meat flavoured with diced bacon, salt and pepper then ground several times to very smooth. The mixture is then stuffed into a natural intestine and smoked for two days in a room with an open fire before being left to hang and mature for two months.
Boned and rolled pork shoulder from a pig aged 4 - 6 months. Cured for 10 - 12 days in salt flavoured with garlic and pepper, sometimes with chilli, juniper or cloves. Then matured for two months. A delicacy of the Norcia region of Umbria.
The layer of pure white back fat that is closest to the skin on a pigs back. Some of the finest lardo is cured fo 6 - 8 months in marble basins, made from the world famous Carrara marble, filled with a mixture of salt, garlic and herbs in th area around Colonnata in Tuscany, however other good lardo is made in the Arnad region of Val Aosta.
Lonza di Norcia
Cured pork loin made in the Norcineria in Umbria, similar in taste to Coppa di Umbria.
Ventricina di Guilmi
Made from the loin with ham trimmings added from ham production. Which is the smoked for 10 - 15 days then aged for 4 - 6 weeks.
A rindless, loin of pork, originally from Tuscany. A whole loin is cured in salt and pepper, sometimes with juniper, then aged for up to 6 months.
Cured belly pork, famous for its tangy flavour, made in the Arnad region of Aosta. The belly and rind from fat Aosta pigs is boned and cut into slabs then cured with salt flavoured with pepper, bay, rosemary, sage and cloves. It is left to cure for between 5 - 7 days then the excess salt is brushed off and then the pancetta is hung for atleast 3 months.
Pancetta Steccata is comparatively rare, but is still made by certain artisanal producers in the Arnad region of Aosta. The rind of a thick slab of belly pork is salted then rolled and sewn together then clamped between two pieces of juniper wood. This presses the excess air out of the bacon whils it is maturing, as well as adding a hint of juniper flavour to the bacon and hung to mature for 2 - 3 months.
Pancetta di Pavia
Fatty belly pork, cured for 5 - 10 days in salt flavoured with pepper, cloves, nutmeg and juniper. Often rolled and tied before being matured for up to 6 months.
Prosciutto di San Daniele
A DOC regulated ham made in the northern region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Prosciutto di San Daniele production has remained little unchanged over the last two hundred years. The hams are cured in salt for between 12 - 15 days, then cleaned and pressed to remove any residual moisture before being matured for 10 - 12 months.
A country cured bacon, made in a very Germanic-style, from the region of Alto Adige. The hams are usually cured in salt for between 12 - 15 days in salt which is flavoured with a varying combination of bay, juniper, pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon and coriander, however the recipe varies from producer to producer. Once salted they were traditionally hung in a chimney to be smoked, nowadays in a smokehouse, for ten days over burning juniper and pine wood. It is then matured for around 20 weeks.
A cured ham from the Aosta valley, originally made from Ibex, which has now become an endangered species, and hunting and eating it is now forbidden. Nowadays Mocetta is made from chamois or goat. The meat is first seasoned with pepper, then placed in a salt brine with herbs and weighted down to compress, then left to cure for around 25 days. Once cured, it is dried and hung to mature for 3 - 4 months. Mocetta should be eaten within a year of being cured otherwise it becomes far to dry.
Prosciutto di Parma DOC
Probably the most famous of all Italian DOC prosciutto, produced around the Parma region of Emilia-Romagna. Made from the hams of young pigs, which is regularly salted, hung in the cold, stone cellars of Langhirano, and regularly beaten to ensure the salt penetrates right into the ham, to draw out the moisture. Once it has dried enough the ham is washed and then smeared with a paste made of lard, rice flour and pepper to prevent it from completely drying out. It is then hung to mature for around 10 - 12 months.
Famous, quintessential ham originally made in the Zibello, near Modena in the region of Emilia-Romagna. Culatello in Italian means "little bum", it's name comes from the the part of the pigs haunch which is used to make it. Unlike Prosciutto di Parma, which uses the whole haunch, culatello only uses the soft central muscle meat. Zibello pigs are raised eating whey bran, sweet corn and barley, and are at least 14 months old when they are slaughtered in the autumn. When butchered, more than two-thirds of the haunch is cut away so only the pear shaped internal muscle is left (the trimmings are used for sausages and salami). The culatello is first treated with a salt brine, then put into a breathable intestine which is stitched together, then hung to mature for 14 months.
Prosciutto di Toscana
The hind leg of the pig is made int a ham. In Tuscany the piece of meat cut from the leg is seasoned with garlic, cloves and pepper, before being stored for six weeks in salt, after which the maturing process begins. After about six months the meat begins to dry out so from then it needs a protective layer of lard, After six months of being held at a constant temperature and humidity the ham is ready.
Prosciutto di Norcia
Ham from the Umbrian regions of Norcia or Spoleto. Particularly tasty Italian ham as Umbrian pigs are allowed to forage and as a result their primary diet is acorns, mushrooms and the odd truffle. The hams are cured with salt flavoured with pepper and garlic. Once cured prosciutto di Norcia generally ages for around a year.
Prosciutto di Montefeltro
The slightly spicy Prosciutto di Montefeltro of Le Marche is made from free-range back pigs. After salting it is smoked lightly, washed with vinegar, rubbed in black pepper then hung to mature.
Coppa di Ginepro
A neck-end cured ham from the Arnad region of the Aosta Valley. Once cured in salt for between 8 - 12 days (depending on size) the Coppa is left to mature for 2 - 6 months, but the surface of the Coppa is rubbed with crushed juniper berries every couple of days fo the first 3 weeks to a month.
Coppa di Bologna
A delicacy made from the muscular part of the pigs neck. It is cured in salt, flavoured with herbs, for 10 - 18 days, then stuffed into a cow's intestine. It is hung to mature for around 6 months wrapped in a cloth that has been soaked in white wine.
Salami di Varzi DOC
Produced around the town of Pavia, Lombardy. Made with only prime pork cuts, to give a fine texture, and flavoured with wine and pepper, and cured with salt and saltpetre. The salami is then matured for 3 - 4 months.
Salami di Milano
A small, well-hung salami from Lombardy. Made from two-thirds lean pork, tender veal and back fats. Flavoured with wine and pepper.
Salama da Sugo
A salami produced in the Ferrara region of Emiglia-Romagna. The meat is made up of liver and tongue, which is then wrapped in ground neck mince, fat and head meat which is then seasoned with salt, pepper, cinnamon, and cloves and then stuffed into a pigs bladder. It can then be marinated in red wine, usually Sangiovese, for a few days, then hung to dry and mature for about a year. It should be cooked before it is eaten.
Made in the rural parts of Florence in Tuscany. A coarse salami, made with lean mixed pork, bacon and pigs cheek which is flavoured with fennel seeds which is then stuffed into a length of pork gut then left to hang about a year.
Similar to finocchiona, but made from lean meat, but with a greater proportion of fat and a ripening time is shorter. This gives sbricciolena a softer consistency that s crumbly when cut, hence it's name - sbricciolena means "crumbly sausage" and is best eaten cold. Best examples made in Tuscany.
A long-life Tuscan sausage made with good quality lean pork with a spicy mixture of dried bacon, peppercorns and red wine. The filling is put into a natural pig gut and bound by hand before being hung for 3 - 6 months to mature.
Ciauscolo is made from belly and shoulder meat, mixed with fat then flavoured with salt, pepper, garlic, fennel and orange peel. The mixture is then minced again very fine and turn pushed into a length of intestine before being hung for about three weeks.
Made in Le Marche using lean pork shoulder and leg meat, diced bacon, salt, pepper, and whol peppercorns. The mixture is then stuffed into the large intestine of a pig then left to dry in a warm room for 3-4 days with an open fire, to slightly smoke the Lardelatto. Then it is transferred to a cooler room with constant humidity and left to mature for two months.
Salame del Montefeltro
A piquant flavoured sausage made from leg and loin meat of the Le Marche free-range black pigs. It is usually flavoured with black and white pepper.
Salame da Fabriano
Salame da Fabriano is made in the same way as Salame Lardellato, except it uses only leg meat and is seasoned with salt and pepper.
Ventricina di Montenero di Bisaccia
A heavily seasoned, spreadable sausage from the area around Campobasso, Molise made from lean pork leg meat.
Salsicciotto di Guilmi
A cured sausage from Guilmi, in Molise, made from pigs loin seasoned with salt and pepper then stuffed in a sausage skin. It is then matured for 20 days and often preserved in lard or olive oil.
Spicy, ground meat sausage from the Tropea region of Calabria. Mainly made from the poorer cuts of pork which are usually the leftovers from the regions ham production. The ground pork is mixed with ground peperoncino to make a hot, spicy, spreadable sausage.
A spicy sausage from Friuli Venezia Giulia which is made from the snout and rind which is then spiced with black pepper, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, chilli and fresh coriander.
Salami di Napoli
Goose salami made in the regions of Piedmont and Friuli. Goose meat is minced and then seasoned with salt, pepper, cloves, cinnamon and garlic.
Other Salumi Of Note
A cured, air-dried beef, from the Valtellina in Lombardy. The meat is cut from the leg the cured in a brine of red wine, salt and pepper, sometimes flavoured with garlic, juniper and bay. It is then dried before being hung to air-dry for several months. It can also be lightly smoked.
Made around the Lombardy province of Sondrio. Similar to bresaola, but instead of beef is made from horse, chamois or donkey. Salting, maturation and smoking is the same as Bresaola.
Made from the leg of either goat or mutton. Cured in salt flavoured with garlic and juniper or sometimes in a brine of red wine, salt, pepper, garlic and junioer. Matured for 6 - 12 months. Takes its name from the way in which it is held whilst being cut, like a violin.
Mortadella di Bologna, as it was once known, is now made all over Italy and known as simply Mortadella. Mortadella is made from ground pork meat and long strips of fat, which gives mortadella its characteristic mosaic. The pork can be mixed with other meats, such as beef, veal, donkey, horse and even offal and pork rind. Each producer has his own herb mixture which is used to season Mortadella. The meat mixture is put into artificial skins, then slowly cooked at low temperature to keep its moisture and texture.
Mazzafegato da Fabriano
A type of mortadella made in the Le Marche region made from fat and lean pork mind to which organ meat, such as liver and lungs are added, then seasoned with salt and pepper. Ths fine grained mince is the stuffed into a natural casings, smoked then hung for three months.
Mortadella Amatriciana (Mortadella di Campotosto)
Sausage from the Amatrice and Campotosto regions of Molise, where it is locally known as coglione del mulo, which roughly translates to "donkey's testicles", despite it's name it is not made from donkey's testicles, but from whole pieces of fatty bacon placed inside a sausage mixture. It is then cured for 10 days in a well ventilated room. Then hung to mature for about 4 months.