Salumi is a staple of Italian cuisine and no, that isn’t a typo. Salumi is the Italian word for cured meat. The plural form of salumi is salame, which is where the English word salami comes from. It’s confusing but hang on, there is preserved piggy deliciousness ahead.
There are many varieties of salumi and they’re all delicious. Preserving meat by curing and drying started as a practical way to save food before refrigeration was possible. The practice was perfected and today salumi runs the gamut from buttery-rich to salty and tough and even herbal and slightly sweet.
Most all salumi is made from pig although there are variations that use beef, wild game such as pheasant and deer, and goat. Each salumi type comes from a different cut of the pig and certain types of salumi are considered best when they are made from a specific breed of pig. The best way to experience salumi is to taste it. Here are 5 types of salumi to get you started on your discovery of the wonders of cured meat.
Prosciutto, often referred to as Parma Ham in the United States, is a famous salumi made from the back leg of a pig. The preservation process takes around a year. Each leg is packed in salt for several weeks and massaged, then hung to age in a refrigerated area until it is ready to eat. Prosciutto is sliced thinly to bring out the best flavor. It is usually herbal and sweet with a slight saltiness.
Flavor: Sweet, herbal, salty, tender
Pair with: Wrap prosciutto around melon in the summer, eat atop a piece of bread with a little parmesan, or enjoy it by itself.
Well-known regions: The best prosciutto comes from Emilia Romanga in central Italy and San Daniele in northern Italy.
If the name “lardo” reminds you of lard, you’re not far off the mark. Lardo is made from the top layer of fat on a pig’s back. Lardo feels slick in the mounth and leaves a buttery coating on the lips. This type of meat is often sweetened, either with herbs such as rosemary added during the curing process or with a drizzle of honey.
Flavor: Fatty, slightly sweet
Pair with: Lardo works well as a pizza topping or served atop bread with a drizzle of honey.
Region that makes it best: Val d’Aosta in the north makes a well-known version.
This dried meat is created from the belly of a pig and is sometimes called “Italian bacon”. Pancetta tastes fatty and rich with a deep meaty flavor, and it is usually seasoned with black pepper. It is eaten uncooked or cooked and is common across all of Italy.
Flavor: Rich, Fatty, Bold
Pair with: Pancetta is an everyday ingredient eaten on antipasti platters, as part of a sandwich, or cubed and added to sauces.
Region that makes it the best: There is no region that is known for its pancetta. You can find pancetta all throughout Italy.
The meat used for this salumi comes from the nape of the pig’s neck. If used fresh, this cut of meat is almost too tough to eat. Curing it softens the meat, makes it tender and ensures that no part of the pig goes to waste. This meat is heavily spiced with herbs and spices from the regions it is made in. Its flavor is fatty and herbal.
Flavor: Herbal, Fatty, Tender
Pair with: Capocollo is eaten alone or on bread. Some regions also use it as a pizza topping.
Region that makes it the best: Basilicata, Apulia, Umbria, and Calabria are all well-known for their capocollo.
This is what most Americans would call pepperoni. Ask an Italian for pepperoni and you’ll get a confused look though. Salami picante is liberally spiced with peppers called peperoni and peperoncino– which is where the name confusion comes from. This cured meat comes in a range of spice levels.
Flavor: Spicy, Bold, Peppery
Pair with: Salami Piccante is eaten on pizza or as an ingredient on sandwiches.
Region that makes it the best: Spicy salumi comes from the southern regions of Italy. Calabria makes a well-known version.