One of the most appreciated starters in Italy is the so-called Antipasto all’Italiana or, more colloquially, Tagliere di Salumi: a platter literally covered with a spectacular selection of cold cuts. Salumi – not to be confused with Salami – is the collective noun that describes all the cured meats produced in Italy. Our gastronomic tradition boasts over 700 varieties of salumi: many of them are available throughout the country, some others are so typical of specific areas of Italy that can only be purchased locally. Given this abundance, it is worth clarifying their main characteristics in order to understand and enjoy them better.
Technically speaking, salumi are cured meats made from a whole cut of an animal, usually a thigh or a shoulder. Pork meat is used to prepare the vast majority of them (prosciutto, pancetta, salame, mortadella and speck, just to name a few) but it is not usual to find salumi produced with beef (bresaola), goose (prosciutto d’oca) and even wild boar (salame di cinghiale).
Salt and – in some cases – herbs, pepper and other natural spices are normally used to produce these delicacies that can be distinguished between salumi crudi (raw) and salumi cotti (cooked): the first category indicates meat cuts that are not heat-treated and only subjected to curing, drying, fermenting and ripening; the second one includes all those meats that undergo a heat treatment after a short curing process to achieve the desired taste.
Salumi are so tasty that they are often used in the preparation of many Italian dishes, either as the main ingredient in simple recipes or to add flavour to more complex ones. Besides their fantastic taste, what makes them so popular is their versatility: they are very good as pasta stuffing or pizza toppings, in a sandwich or in a savoury cake, processed as a mousse or simply sliced and enjoyed with a glass of wine and a loaf of good bread at aperitivo time.