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Guide to Italy's best cold cuts

Updated on April 28, 2009

Can't afford a trip to Italy?

Italian cold cut meats, much more than just baloney


Being raised in italy, as a child, I started at an early age to appreciate the most tasteful and mouth-watering cold cuts this country has to offer. I very well recall going with my dad on every Wednsday to the town's open market and looking forward to purchase prosciutto, pancetta and mortadella. If these words seem like Greek to you, think twice because these are the Italian words for the best meat slices you will ever try. I will try to get you acquainted to these deli varieties so you can appreciate them with gusto if you happen to visit Italy or if you are lucky enough to happen to stop buy a grocery store abroad that specializes in Italian delicatessies.

Prosciutto crudo was my very first Italian cold cut. I was visiting my aunt that lives near the Italian Riviera when she offered me Prosciutto crudo, which means uncooked ham. I have always been familiar with "Prosciutto cotto" which means "cooked ham" as I have eaten it abroad before moving to Italy, but the prosciutto crudo was something yet diverse, almost inimitable. First of all, it is very appealing to the eye with it's white fat strips amongst the dark red meat. To the taste it has some sort of slighty salty taste mixed with a smoky flavor. If it is sliced very thinly it will melt almost in your mouth. Show off your are a good prosciutto connoisseur by asking for the two best Prosciutto varieties : Prociutto di Parma and Prosciutto San Daniele. Try them with some rustic thinly sliced bread, you will be surely delighted!

Prosciutto cotto which technically translated is the equivalent of cooked ham is yet very diverse from what you find here in the States. Italian cooked ham is basically steamed and very soft, thinly sliced. It has a somewhat sweet but yet rich flavor and just as prosciutto crudo it is so tender and soft it will almost melt in your mouth. Parmacotto is the absolute best producer of cooked ham. Try it with a nice ciabetta bread.

On a higher note, Bresaola is the gourmet cold cut per excellence. It presents as a dark red and lean meat varied with thin white strips of fat. This meat is produced in the northern Lombard region where it is salted and cured for a month or more. This meat is used as an antipasto. Try it on a plate with cured green olives and a touch of lemon juice, you will be impressed.

Italian salami is best known in the two most famous varieties: Napoli or Milan. Napoli salami has more fat while Milan salami has less. It all depends on personal taste, as they are both very flavorful. Calabria produces it's own special hot salami, you can tell the difference from its more orangy tinted color and it is usually sliced diagonally giving it more oval like shapes versus round as Milan or Naples. Try it with a nice french Baguette style bread.

Salamini must be differentiated from salami since salami is a large piece of meat that is sliced while salamini is very small, - fits in your hand- sized meat which you can slice or consume by just biting it into chunks. These small salami are work of arts which are cured with pepper and spices and allowed to air dry for months. Most of these salamini have a skin that needs peeled off before consuming. Try them simply sliced in large slices to savor them in their entirety.

Pancetta is closely related to bacon but has a totally different twist. It is presented in round slices and is salted and then finally flavored with special spices. Pancetta is not fried nor served at breakfast as we do with bacon here abroad. Rather, it is eaten with bread or cut into cubes and served with pasta as in the famous "Spaghetti all Amatriciana" recipe. Try it between a tasty ciabatta bread or visit a "trattoria" and order it with pasta.

Mortadella is pretty unique, even though some people confuse it with the American cold cut "Baloney". This meat cut has a nice pink color with circles of fat and slivers of pistacio. Order it thinly sliced at the deli and enjoy it with some soft, white bread.

Italian deli's offer a lot of different meats as every region produces its own specialties. I still love to try different cold cut's when i visit Italy and enjoy the mouth watering sensation each different slice has to offer. I truly cannot yet decide which cold cut is the best as they are all simply deliscious.

Now that you are better acquainted with the different meats produced, if you happen to visit Italy one day, please do not forget to visit a local deli. You will be very deli-ghted and recognize that when it comes to cold cuts Italy offers more than just "Baloney".


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