An Introduction to Italian Cold Cuts

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The sheer variety of salumi (Italian cold cuts) is breathtaking. Salami, prosciutto, salsiccia… these will be familiar to many Italianophiles in South Africa. But then there’s also finocchiona, pancetta, lardo, cacciatore, capocollo, soppressata… and that’s just from pork! Some, like prosciutto, are raw and cured, while others, like mortadella, are cooked. So how do you tell the difference?

We’ve put together a brief introduction to the more common imported salumi you’ll find in South Africa, and on Adriatic’s shelves.

What’s the difference between cured and smoked meat?

Curing is a process of preserving meat. In dry curing salt, sugar or a combination of both are added. Wet curing uses a brine solution. Sometimes both techniques will be used. For example, the skin of Parma ham is wet salted, while the flesh is dry salted.

Salting, the main form of dry curing, draws the moisture out of the meat. This has the effect of slowing down the growth of microorganisms; drawing the proteins to the surface, where they coagulate and “hold” the meat together; and decelerating the oxidation process (which makes fresh meat go rancid). Sugar may be also used to counteract the taste of salt and to feed “good” bacteria like lactobacillus, which creates an acidic environment that in turn prevents the growth of harmful bacteria. Often nitrites (sodium or potassium) will be added to kill additional bacteria, although this is controversial due to their toxicity levels at high doses. These nitrites add a distinctive flavour to the meat as well as a characteristic pink or red colour.

Smoking is a form of curing and literally involves exposing the meat to smoke, usually from wood. Slow-cooking the meat in this way keeps it tender. Smoking also seals the outer layer of the meat, which helps prevent bacteria from entering.

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Prosciutto: Parma versus San Daniele?

The term prosciutto typically refers to raw ham, specifically the thigh (or hind leg) of pig or wild boar. (Prosciutto cotto refers to the cooked variation of the meat).

Prosciutto is served thinly sliced and uncooked. Depending on the size of the ham, the process can take anywhere from nine months to two years.

Parma and San Daniele are two of the most famous types of prosciutto. Both have Denominazione Origine Protetta (DOG) status (Protected Designation of Origin according to EU criteria).

Most commonly served: Wrapped around grissini (Italian bread sticks) or served with melon as an antipasto. In sandwiches and panini and occasionally as a variation on a caprese salad. May also be eaten as an accompaniment to cooked spring vegetables, like asparagus or peas, or included in pasta sauces.

Prosciutto Parma is of course from Parma, in the northern region of Emilia-Romagna. More than 300 curing facilities are found in the area. Parma ham has a slightly nutty flavor from the Parmigiano Reggiano (parmesan) whey that is sometimes added to the pigs’ diet. DOG status implies that only Duroc or Landrance pigs may be used and additives like nitrite and nitrate are prohibited.

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Prosciutto San Daniele hails from the San Daniele del Friuli municipality of the region Friuli Venezia Giulia, in the north east of Italy. It is pressed into a violin-esque shape and is darker and sweeter than its cousin from Parma. Large pigs, like the landrace, large white and duroc, from any of the 12 DOP-listed regions may be used.

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What’s in a salame?

Salami is cured (raw) sausage, made of fermented and air-dried meat, typically beef or pork. A number of traditional varieties exist across Europe.

Lovers of Italian food will know the Italian salame, a large sausage (7–8 cm) made with ground pork and fat, seasoned with garlic, salt and spices, and stuffed into the pig’s large intestine (the casing). Its smaller cousin is known as salamino, literally “little salame”, while salame cacciatore [hunter] was so named because hunters used to carry this handy little salame for provision during the hunt.

Italian salami differentiate themselves according to region, type of meat grinding (fine, medium or coarse), and particular spices and ingredients used (e.g. garlic or fennel or peppercorns).

Salame Milano [above] is the most widely sold salame in Italy and arguably the best known globally. It is seasoned for a period of three to six months. It is bright red inside, with a fine grain and is an excellent appetizer or sandwich filling.

Produced throughout the region of Campagnia, Salame Napoli also has a fine grain. What distinguishes it from other salami is the use of only hard fats and bacon. Ageing depends on size but is never less than 30 days.

Salame Nostrano is coarsely ground and has a mild and sweet flavour.

Finocchiona is a typical Tuscan salame with fennel (finocchio).

For a full overview of salumi in stock at Adriatic, browse around our delicatessen.

 

Additional information from http://italianfood.about.com, http://italian-salami.com/salami/italian_salami.html, Wikipedia.org.

 

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