As you experiment with pizza toppings such as pancetta or prosciutto, you may want to expand into other Italian cured meats. Known in general as salumi, the range of cured meats are similar to the French term, charcuterie. Using traditional artisanal techniques and often certified or protected, whole cuts from farm-raised hogs may be cured in salt or brine, then dry-aged. Other salumi may be meat that is ground or chopped, then stuffed into casings such as salami.
Pancetta is from the belly of the hog, as is American bacon. Usually cured with salt, pepper and cloves (as well as other spices depending on the Italian region), it is often rolled and tied into a cylinder to dry. Generally not smoked, it is cooked in a variety of sauces and makes a savory pizza topping.
Source: AP Photo/Larry Crowe
The famous prosciutto is from the back haunches of the hog. Available raw or cooked, the most prized is the raw, air-dried variety using only salt for curing with an aging time of 1-2 years. Prosciutto di Parma can only be produced with local pigs from the Parma area of Emilia-Romagna. They are specifically fed whey from the locally made Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Prosciutto di San Daniele is from Fruili using small amounts of local sea salt, with the hams stacked on top of each other.
Culatello is also made in the Parma area from what is considered the best part of the back haunch. Salt cured for three days, the meat is massaged then rests before being covered and hung to air dry. Aged for up to a year, the covering is removed, the outer skin scraped away and moistened with a cloth soaked in wine before being sold. All this attention is costly with culatello priced at about $40 per pound.
Photo by Author
Speck is another salumi slowly making its way to the United States. Made from hog legs, as is prosciutto, speck is boned before curing in spices for several weeks. For another week, it is cold-smoked for a few hours each day. Aging then lasts about five months. Its culinary uses are similar to bacon or pancetta.
Some American chefs and industrious home cooks are now making their own cured products. The Italians have been creating them since Roman times. To taste their modern work first hand, visit one of these local Italian food shops:
The Italian Store, Arlington, VA
Litteris, Washington, DC
Vace Italian Deli, Washington, DC and Bethesda, MD
Bookmark and share….