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Italian Cold Cuts


Recipe requests come in waves. In winter, people write for instructions on making cold cuts from pork: Salami, prosciutto, salsiccia, finocchiona, pancetta, and so on, which are collectively referred to assalumi. In the past these were all made when hogs were butchered in late fall or early winter, and set aside to guarantee a supply of meat during the warmer months when uncured meats would spoil rapidly. Since their names vary considerably from place to place within Italy, we'll begin by saying what these terms mean in Tuscany, which is where I live:
  • Salami:
    It's a large (3-4 inches across) sausage made with ground pork and cubes of fat that are seasoned with garlic, salt, and spices, and stuffed into the pig's large intestine. It's smaller cousin is salamino, with a similar filling (the fat may be ground somewhat finer) but only an inch thick. The town of Felino, in Emilia Romagna, is famed for its salamino. Salamino piccante, spicy salamino, is made with enough red pepper to give it that familiar orange cast; in the US it's known as pepperoni. All of these salamis are consumed raw.
  • Prosciutto:
    People have written books about Northern Italy's cured raw hams. Broadly speaking, they can be divided into two categories, dolce (sweet), and salato, casalingo, orToscano (salty, home made, or Tuscan). The former is more refined and more expensive.

    The most common varieties of prosciutto dolce are Parma and San Daniele. Both should have deep red meat and pure white fat. The former are rounded and rather stubby, while the latter are pressed to give them their characteristic "Stradivarian" shape (by women, according to the Consorzio -- men lack the necessary touch).

    Prosciutto salato, on the other hand, is more heavily salted, and is also rubbed with a spice mixture called agliata, made with garlic and pepper. The meat is frequently darker in color, and the fat can be pinkish.
    Incidentally, in Italy, the word prosciutto by itself invariably refers to raw ham. Cooked ham, which was introduced in the 60s, is called prosciutto cotto -- except on pizzeria menus, where it's simply prosciutto and the true prosciutto is called prosciutto crudo.
  • Salsiccia:
    Link sausage, made with ground pork, cubed pork fat, spices, and herbs. They're consumed three different ways.
    Raw when fresh, in a sandwich (they have to be very fresh and one has to be a great fan of raw pork to eat them this way -- more of a fan than I usually am).
    Cooked when fresh -- either as is on the grill, or with the casing removed, as an ingredient in other dishes (for example, try slipping a couple of skinned sausages into the cavity the next time you roast a whole chicken).
    Thinly sliced, once they've aged for a couple of months. In this case they're much like salami and can be a real treat.
  • Finocchiona:
    This is a variation on salami that supposedly owes its origins to a thief at a fair near the town of Prato, who stole a fresh salami and hid it in a stand of wild fennel. When he returned for it he discovered it had absorbed the aromas of its hiding place and had become fit for the Gods.
    There are two kinds of finocchiona.
    One is called finocchiona, and is made of finely ground pork and fat, laced with fennel, and aged for a while; it's fairly firm.
    The other is called sbriciolona, a word that means crumbly, and though the mixture is the same it's much fresher -- so fresh that it simply crumbles unless sliced about a half inch thick. A good sbriciolona is an amazing treat, especially on a slice of schiacciata.
  • Pancetta:
    Also known as rigatino (little lined one) and carnesecca (dried meat), this is made from the same cut used to make bacon. However, it's not smoked, and there's no sugar involved. Just garlic, salt and spices, in particular a liberal dose of freshly ground pepper. It's almost always used as an ingredient in other dishes, sometimes providing flavor, and other times taking a commanding role, for example pasta alla carbonara or a rich pasta all'arrabbiata.
    Pancetta can also be sold rolled and tied, at which point it's pancetta arrotolata.
  • Capocollo:
    Also known as coppa, this is cured shoulder but. Again raw, and prepared with salt, herbs, and spices.
  • Lardo:
    The word translates as lard, and that's what this is, thick fat with some thin streaks of red meat, cured with herbs, pepper, and salt. The best-known Italian lard is from a town called Colonnata, which is perched on a ridge between two marble quarries in the Apuans above Carrara.
    Lardo can be used as a flavoring ingredient in other dishes (in the form of lardoons, or thinly sliced and wrapped around the other cut of meat), but if it's very good it's divine served as is, thinly sliced with toasted bread. If your cholesterol count can take it, this is one of the finest antipasti there is.
    Rendered lard that's used for cooking, as a grease, is called strutto.
More Cold Cuts, What You'll Need, and Italian Recipes

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