The art of salumi-making should really come with a “Don't try this at home" warning (unless, of course, you're determined). But eating it? Well, that’s another story altogether.
Here's my guide for putting together a kick-ass salumi plate:
A well-balanced and beautiful salumi plate needs little else in terms of accoutrement: Gather together some crusty bread, breadsticks, and condimenti (if you wish) such as a dash of mostarda—here's my own recipe for apricot mostarda.
If you have a nearby butcher that sells Italian salumi, that’s a great option, but there are plenty of great grocery store brands. I really like Belcampo because of the great meat they source (they also make some salumi with my recipes). Here are a few of my favorite meats and how I serve them:
Traditional salami often includes pork mixed with simple ingredients like red wine, pepper, and garlic. I like to plate it alongside a salami piccante (made with red peppers and cayenne) to spice things up every few bites.
Forget everything you thought bologna was when you were a child—I don’t know what that meat in yellow plastic was. What it was (and is) supposed to be, however, is a ground pork mixture of black pepper, nutmeg, and chopped pistachios. The result is delicate and light, served thinly sliced on its own or as a part of a sandwich. I’m a big fan of a dry mortadella panino served with a cold beer when I’m in Bologna!
Allow me to be a salumi snob for a brief moment. Prosciutto is the one instance where you need to splurge on the real thing—that is, Italian hams from Parma, Friuli (San Daniele), and Le Marche (Carpegna). Depending on the region, the flavors vary slightly. Prosciutto di Parma has a slightly sweet and nutty flavor and San Daniele is even sweeter still, with a darker color.
One domestic brand that does make the cut, however, is Prosciutto La Quercia, made by Herb and Kathy Eckhouse in Iowa. In my opinion, it is the best American prosciutto on the market.
Whichever you choose, here are my two big tips when adding prosciutto to your salumi plate:
Can you tell I’m passionate about my prosciutto?
This is one of the few Italian salami made from beef. It’s made of lean meat that’s been salted, air-dried, and aged for about 70 days. The result is a dark-red, purplish color and a tough, lean texture. I like to slice it very thin and drizzle a bit of olive oil and lemon juice on top. In Italy, bresaola is often served with sliced raw artichokes as an antipasto, or with Robiola cheese.
Coppa is sometimes referred to as the “poor man’s prosciutto.” Originating from Emilia Romagna, this cured meat is made from the muscle starting at the top of the shoulders of a hog, near the neck. It’s dry-cured, often after being massaged with some cookie spices, like cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, as well as salt and pepper. I like to serve it paper-thin with a dollop of mostarda but it’s also great on Italian sandwiches.
Lonza is an air-dried cured pork loin seasoned with a bit of black pepper or fennel. Completely lean, you must slice lonza paper-thin and use a generous dose of extra-virgin olive oil in order to fully bring out its rich flavor. In Italy, lonza is commonly served in the spring. It’s the first cured meat from the slaughter of the pigs in the late fall and early winter. Lonza served with Pecorino and fresh, raw fava beans is a classic dish that signifies the coming of spring.
Italy’s version of bacon, pancetta is made from pork belly, then usually peppered, rolled, tied, and hung to cure. It’s most often used as a cooking ingredient to add flavor, as bacon is.
Italian head cheese might not be the prettiest meat on the salumi board, but don’t judge it by its looks alone. It is one of the most flavorful and juiciest meats.
To make it at otto, we brine a whole hog’s head with brown sugar, salt, bay leaf, and garlic for three days, then poach it with oranges and peppercorns. We then remove the meat from the bone, add a little natural gelatin to some of the poaching liquid, and set the entire beautiful mess in a cylindrical bain marie to achieve the classic shape.
In Panzano, Tuscany, the famed Italian butcher (and my pal) Dario Cecchini makes head cheese big as a torpedo and calls it soppressata. To eat it served from his hands is one of the seven gastronomic wonders of the world and is well worth a trip to Italy by itself.
Originating in the Southern regions of Italy, this dry-cured meat is traditionally made from pork, which is coarsely pressed or ground into sausage. Each region lends its own flavor and style; for example, Sopressata di Calabria is made with hot pepper while Sopressata di Puglia is characterized by the large piece of lard in the center of leaner pieces of meat. A bit further north in Tuscany, they use the leftover cuts of the pig for the sausage instead of the choice cuts.
Made from smoked, dry-salted, aged hog legs, speck comes to us from the Alto Adige region of Northern Italy. Known for its distinct smoky flavor, you can use it the same way you would smoked bacon in cooking.
What do you include on your salumi plate? Tell us in the comments below!