Mario Batali's Guide to 10 Italian Cured Meats

April  8, 2016

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.

Photo by Kyle Orsoz

Here's my guide for putting together a kick-ass salumi plate:

Before You Begin

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:

1. Traditional Salami

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.

2. Mortadella ("Bologna")

Photo by Stijn Nieuwendijk

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!

3. Prosciutto

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.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I like to add a scoop of homemade ricotta, well-drained, pressed, drizzled with olive oil and a few grinds of mixed peppercorns and Himalayan pink salt. Slather it on ciabatta & baguette slices and drape each with a different meat from the smorgasbord. Great way to while away any afternoon, with a glass of wine. Buon Appetito!”
— Sharon

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:

  1. First, buy from a shop that sells a lot of it—the less time spent between first cutting into the ham and eating it, the less the likelihood of oxidization or drying out.
  2. My second tip is to buy just enough for what you need. Prosciutto doesn’t hold well once it’s sliced so it’s worth the extra trip the butcher if you run out.

Can you tell I’m passionate about my prosciutto?

4. Bresaola

Photo by Amanda Hesser

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.

5. Coppa

Coppa in one of Amanda's kids' lunches (between the paté and pickled onions, on the left) Photo by Amanda Hesser

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.

6. Lonza

Photo by Alexandra Moss

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.

7. Pancetta

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.

8. Testa

A salumi plate with testa, greens, and capers. Photo by chotda

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.

9. Soppressata

Cured meat and soppressata (on the right) Photo by James Ransom

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.

10. Speck

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!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Don
  • Sharon
  • Spera/Ingham
  • Mary Voda-Nichols
    Mary Voda-Nichols
  • pierino
Mario Batali counts 25 restaurants, 11 cookbooks, numerous television shows and the 50,000-square-foot Eataly marketplace among his ever-expanding empire of deliciousness. His latest book is "America Farm to Table: Simple, Delicious Recipes Celebrating Local Farmers" (Grand Central Life & Style, 2014).


Don December 22, 2018

Which cured meat goes best with sexual assault? You seem to have a lot of practice with abusing women; just want to make sure that if the need ever arises I can provide only the finest cured meats to my victims.

Rico January 29, 2019
Your a hater and a fool. obviously you never have had any business of your own. You have no clue especially when you have never had anyone come on to you and then turn on you because they didn't get what they wanted. take your # me to movement and stick it up your smart ass. Publish your b.s. on your own link and site loser
Sharon April 13, 2016
Excellent! If Mario said so then it's good as gold! I like to add a scoop of homemade ricotta, well-drained, pressed, drizzled with olive oil and a few grinds of mixed peppercorns and Himalayan pink salt. Slather it on ciabatta & baguette slices and drape each with a different meat from the smorgasbord. Great way to while away any afternoon, with a glass of wine. Buon Appetito!
Spera/Ingham April 12, 2016
Great guide, but where's the lardo????
Mary V. April 8, 2016
Definitely some soppressata!
pierino April 8, 2016
Mario knows his coppa from his lonza. His father Armandino, a very nice man by the way, owns Salumi in Seattle near Pioneer Square. I hope it's still there as I'm heading that way in a month or so.