Italy’s meat culture is a rich tapestry, varying from north to south, with a history tracing back to the times of the Roman Empire. It’s not just about the type of meat but also the techniques used to preserve them—primarily through curing. One finds the utilization of various types of meat like pork, beef, venison, and wild boar in this ancient practice. Regional variations exist not just in the type of meat but also in the choice of spices.
The concept of “antipasto,” the course preceding the main meal, prominently features these preserved meats. These meats, referred to as “salumi” in Italy, offer two broad categories—those sourced from entire meat cuts and those originating from ground meat filled into casings.
Different regions of Italy proudly present their unique meats. For example, southern variants generally incorporate more spices than their northern counterparts. Bresaola, an air-cured beef product from Aosta, is especially enjoyed when thinly sliced and accompanied by lemon juice, capers, and olive oil.
Initially from southern Italy, Capicola is crafted from the pork shoulder butt. It undergoes brining and cooking before being seasoned with garlic, salt, and hot pepper flakes. In contrast, Coppa—another cut of pork, typically from the shoulder or neck—is cured in a salt and seasoning mixture before being air-dried. It often graces antipasto platters and is further enhanced when served with extra virgin olive oil.
Originating in the early 16th century in Modena, Cotechino is a boiled sausage. Its popularity soon extended beyond Modena, spanning Emilia-Romagna and even reaching Lombardy and Veneto. Culatello, another unique offering, is unfortunately prohibited from entering the U.S. due to concerns over its manufacturing process. It involves seasoning a premium ham cut, placing it in a pig’s bladder, and allowing it to cure for a year in certain ageing facilities.
Guanciale is a cured pork jowl, unlike other meats that appear in an antipasto. It instead serves a culinary purpose, adding richness to dishes like pasta and risotto. Its flavor profile includes a mix of garlic, black pepper, and rosemary.
Pork back fat, transformed into Lardo through salt-curing and seasoning, is popular in Valle d’Aosta and other northern Italian regions. Although not meat in the conventional sense, it usually appears sliced in antipasto courses or sandwiches. Mortadella, originating in Bologna, is a globally renowned pork sausage, distinctively featuring pork fat and an array of spices.
The list is extensive, with options like Pancetta, Pepperoni, Porchetta, Prosciutto, Salame, Sopressata, and Speck Alto Adige completing the Italian meat mosaic. Each has unique characteristics and culinary applications, making the Italian meat scene a vast and varied landscape.
Find out more about Italy’s meat culture and famous cuisine via the carne scelta guide on the popular carnescelta.it. It is an Italian cooking website where most of the information from this blog was sourced.