Italian Cured Meats – An Informative Tribute

by Leslie Stauffer on September 20, 2011

If you are anything like me you are probably the first person at the local Italian restaurant to point at a particular food on the table and say “what’s that?” What can I say, I guess the picky eater reaction has been programmed into my mind. I am here to educate you and attempt to prevent you the embarrassment I have felt many times and open your world to deliciousness! Italian cured meats were something I knew absolutely nothing about until working for Pennsylvania Macaroni Co. and having the distinct pleasure of getting to try these world renowned cured meats.

Let’s begin with the best of the best, Prosciutto! Italy is famous for this salted, air-dried ham. The area around Parma is where Prosciutto is created. The ham that is used comes from pigs that fed on whey from the cheese making process. Oh, did I mention that Parma is known for cheese as well. The pigs feed on the whey which makes their flesh mild and sweet; they are also kept indoors which makes them extra fatty. The ham is lightly salted and it air dries for up to one year and even longer in some instances. Prosciutto di Parma is a famous Italian cured meat that is restricted to production within the area between the Taro and Baganza rivers because the atmosphere is ideal for drying and curing ham.

italian cured meats

Prosciutto Di Parma!

Another type of Prosciutto Pennsylvania Macaroni Co sells is known as San Daniele. The ham comes from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of Italy, which is located in Northern Italy. The pigs are kept outside, so they tend to be more lean and they feed on acorns which gives the meat a wonderful, delicious, buttery, nutty flavor. The production of this cured Italian meat is very limited so the price is much higher than your other Prosciutto. But in my opinion it is worth every penny. Another thing you must try is Prosciutto San Daniele rolled with fresh mozzarella, which many chefs recommend having with melon of fresh figs.

Prosciutto cotto is made from cooked ham, usually boiled and flavored with herds or spices. This type of Prosciutto is most popular with a traditional antipasto but you can also have this type of meat in a sandwich or just as a snack. Just remember, with all Prosciutto’s, avoid buying the end pieces. They tend to be very salty. On the other hand, they are wonderful to use as soup stock or to put chopped up into your favorite Italian pasta sauce. Only buy what you are going to eat within three days, otherwise it has a tendency to dry out and become a rubber like texture.

This Italian cured meat is absolutely wonderful wrapped around your fillet and it is easy and delicious; Pancetta! Pancetta traditionally comes in rounded slices and many Americans say it resembles unsmoked bacon. Pancetta is pork belly that is cured in salt with many spices. Pancetta usually makes an appearance on a traditional antipasto and always is an essential ingredient for pasta alla carbonara.

pennsylvania macaroni company

Speck, at its finest.

Customer: “What does Speck taste like?”

Deli: “What do you expect Speck to taste like?“

I hear this about twenty times a day; you need to come into Pennsylvania Macaroni Co. and try it for yourself! Speck is a cured Italian meat that is smoked over beechwood with herbs and spices, then air-dried. Speck is traditionally too fatty to be eaten raw but when cooked it adds amazing flavor to soup and stew. You can even add speck to flavor your beans with rice. Speck definitely has a fatty taste and texture when eaten raw.  Speck is known as Italian bacon, same texture but way more flavor. If you wrap Speck in plastic wrap really well it can be kept in your refrigerator for close to a month.

And the last and my absolute favorite is Bresaola, Yummy! Bresaola is a cured raw Italian beef that comes from the Lombardy Region which can be found in Northern Italy. The best Bresaola is made from the prime fillet of the cow and cured with salt, then air-dried for many months. This meat has an intense red color and is so delicate. You normally only eat a few thin slices so you do not need to buy that much. Bresaola is so good with soft goat cheese!!!!!!!!!

Hopefully, with the help of this brief informative piece about Italian cured meats, you will be better prepared for the next dinner get-together. Or you will have the best antipasto in town. Whatever you do with this information, just remember not to point and yell “What’s that!?”

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