Italy is famous for many things, contributing at large to the well-loved dishes such as pizza and pasta, in the world today. However, their most important contribution has got to be the cured Italian meats. Without them, our pizzas would just be a pool of orange grease, our charcuterie boards would be so very boring and most of all, Oscar Mayer would be nothing, without his famous Bologna!
Image Source: Carlos Gawronski/Vetta/Getty Images
Pizza would be a much healthier dish if it wasn’t for pepperoni, but that’s no fun and not as tasty, so thank you pepperoni! Although people usually don’t know exactly what it is made of (either cured beef or pork in a slice), everyone can agree that its overpowering taste and greasiness is why it is one of Italy’s greatest contributions to the world’s love of pizza.
Much like its name, Lardo is cured back fat. It is very similar to bacon, except without all the meat… It’s addictive rosemary flavor will have you hooked on it!
If you want to be traditional, you might want to call it Salumi instead. Now, despite all the variety that there is to choose from, you will have to agree that Salami alone is a delicacy. It’s delicious on a cheese plate, sandwiches or even on its own. Salami was once a peasant’s simple storec upboard staple, but now it is a staple of the world’s finest wine bars. The point is, whether it is being cut off a basic stick, or coming from one of Oscar Mayer’s finely vacuum-sealed packages, you’ll never be disappointed.
Mortadella is perhaps one of Italy’s finest contributions to cold cuts. The world without mortadella is not the world anyone would want to live in. Its perfect blend of pork, nuts, spices and other delicious ingredients make it very much like and Italian version of bologna.
This delicious, ultra-fatty salumi is made from the meat surrounding a pig’s shoulder or neck. Given where the meat is from, it gives the flavor a salty one, along with the greasy strips of fat. It is a very popular cured meat on charcuterie plates all over, along with it being a staple to the deli-style Italian sandwiches.
Making more use of prime cuts than a sandwich-style salami, this dry sausage, melts in your mouth with its overload of fat chunks. Not only is it mouthwatering, it leaves your tongue coated in delicious spices. This cured meat just overpowers the senses with its rich flavor.
This Italian meat is leaner than pretty much all of them. Although it can look quite like a Tootsie Roll, it tastes quite the opposite. Its taste is similar to dried salted steak and can actually be served up with a meal.. a very filling meal!
Referring to Culatello as “Italian Ham” does not do it justice at all. Culatello is perfection and also quite a rare Italian cured meat to find because it was banned from importation due to it being aged in a bladder. However, just recently, the ban was lifted, so it should be gracing our hungry tummies soon enough!
This delicious combination of roasted and cured pig is what makes up Porchetta. You could compare this beautiful, Italian cured meat to an all-meat burrito, the skin being the outer shell, pork belly, and loin as the filling, with the garlic and spices acting as the salsa. Unlike most cured meats, Porchetta hasn’t been cured all the way through, so it doesn’t have a very long expiry date, which means you have to eat it fast.
Pancetta is Italy’s version of bacon. This salty chunk of pork fat will have your mouth-watering. Even though it is cured and not smoked, it is just as delicious whether it is served in cutlets or is thinly sliced.
This amazing piece of meat takes the throne with its abilities to make even vegetables delicious when wrapped around them, and to make pizza even tastier (who thought that was possible?!) If you really want to devour some glorious pork, Prosciutto is where it at! the tasty, salty, paper-thin pieces will leave you dying for more.
Pairing Cured Meat And Cheeses
When pairing things, two approaches generally come into play. The first approach would be to pair like flavors, for instance, two sour ingredients. With this, the similar flavors may cancel each other out and let the other flavors flourish. The second, more common approach is that opposites attract, this takes play in every type of pairing there is, not just in food.
Sometimes, cheese alone on a cheese plate is not enough. You may want to consider other easy additions to compliment the cheese such as: honey, fruit, and crackers. However, if
you’re looking to really add something different and like no other, cured meat is the way to go! It might sound like a difficult pairing, but it really isn’t hard at all. The main tip is to make the most out of it, this can be done by knowing some of the general principles.
The best way to pair cured meat and cheese is through opposites. Unlike wine, beer, or spirits, meat is full of fat, protein, and salt, just like cheese. So you need to proceed with care when pairing the two as you can end up having an overwhelming flavor.
The two major groups that cured meat falls into are: encased or whole muscle. Encased meats have a noticeable tang to them, with intense aromas of black pepper, red pepper, fennel, truffle, and so on. Whole muscle meats are much sweeter, nuttier and more “meaty” like. It’s important to keep this difference in mind when thinking about a meat’s acidity and sweetness.
Pairing With Whole Muscle Meats
When pairing wine with cheese, if you’re in doubt, it’s best to pair wine and food made in the same region. This is the same for meat and cheese, it also brings us to the notion that it is good to start with a classic:
Parmigiano Reggiano and Prosciutto Di Parma literally begin their perfect pairing at the source. It is commonly known that the whey by-product of Parm is fed to the hogs, whose back legs actually become Prosciutto Di Parma! So one ingredient quite literally fuels the other, thus becoming the perfect pairing.
Prosciutto Di Parma, like all whole muscle cured meats, should be sliced into very thin sheets, neatly trimmed with a ribbon of fat. It melts away on the tongue into a delicious whiff of hazelnut and sweet butter. Parmigiano Reggiano on the other hand is quite the opposite of the elegant Prosciutto Di Parma. It is coarse and craggy, with a distinct tang in the mouth. It shares toasted and nutty flavors but has a leanness because of its partially skimmed milk.
Important lessons to learn from this pairing:
- Flavors which compliment, focus on what is shared, if you can rely on other elements for the contrast needed.
- The texture is important. A mushy, floppy or semisoft cheese paired with a thin slice of meats lacks the contrast needed for a good pairing.
- Acidity is important. In this pairing, it is the cheese, in other pairings it could be the meat. But one element must contribute the sensation of tart, citrusy, mouthwatering brightness to cut out the protein and fat of the other.
Another classic pairing which works on these principles:
A lightly smoked whole muscle meat called Speck is brilliantly matched with a cheese which is textually like Parm, but tastes completely different: Piave. Astringency in the meat is completely reliant on the wood that the meat is smoked over, while the cheese bursts with pineapple and tropical fruit. That is where it is opposite to our first classical pairing: the cheese handles the sweetness while the meat takes the savory lead.
Pairing With Encased Meats
The perfect instruments for spreading an even dipping in the right cheeses come from small-diameter sausage links, which are cured slowly over time and sliced into quarter-inch- thick coins. Most sausages give off amazing spices, garlic, smoke, or even heat, which adds a third component of flavor to play around with when pairing. A well-liked favorite:
Paprika- and cayenne- laden Spanish- Style Chorizo immersed into a perfectly ripened sheep’s milk La Serena will make your mouth water. La Serena, which is a bit airier than custard and full of tart, vegetal and what some would say sour flavors, is a thistle-coagulated cheese. This cheese succeeds in cooling the heat of the chorizo and you’re left with the sweet taste of paprika and garlic. Other cheeses which also work well are Fresh Ricotta or Goat’s Cheese. Cheeses that preserve lactic notes of fresh milk, but earthly notes of age also work well as cooling cheeses to spicy, smoky, or gamey meats.
Minding your meat’s acidity and added flavors is generally what to keep in mind when pairing cheeses with cured meats.
Cured Meats Which Are Cheese-Friendly
Not many of Europe’s cured meats make it into the U.S. but there are still a lot of domestic producers creating great cured meats with European traditions. Here are some brands to try:
– S. Wallace Edwards and Sons
– Olli Salumeria
– La Quercia
– Olympic Provisions
– Creminelli Fine Meats