I have never met a salami I would not eat.
With at least 300 different denominations hailing from every region in Italy, salami is not just a kid favorite, but a classic and seemingly simple way to enjoy a meal.
A Tasty Italian Tradition
Like the cheeseburger for Americans, this is a food that retains a special place of affection for many Italians because of early childhood memories. Salami (plural form) in Italy are truly exceptional. Though there are no exclusive claims for the production of it—for instance, in France they do make some great ones—nowhere else on earth can you find the vast variety of shapes and flavors that are available in Italy. There are at least 300 different denominations of salami hailing from every region of the country; one life wouldn’t be enough to try them all.
Some of the Most Celebrated Salume
- Starting in Lombardy, there are three notable types of salami: Brianza (D.O.P.), Varzi (D.O.P.), and Milano.
- The Veneto region is famous for salame nostrano and salame Veneto
- Piemonte is renowned for their traditional salam’d la douja which is preserved in pork fat called “douja”
- Emilia-Romagna is known for salame Piacentino (D.O.P.) and salame Felino
- In Liguria, there is the celebrated salame genovese di Sant’Olcese
- Tuscany is famous for Finocchiona, salame Chianino and salame di Cinta Senese
- In Umbria, where there is a great tradition of salumeria in general, there are many superb salami such as salame Corallina, salame Perugino and local salsicce (hard, dry sausages). Around the town of Norcia, some of the salami and sausages are made from wild boar, which are particularly plentiful here.
- The Marche region is renowned for salame Fabriano
- Lazio produces the salame del Reatino
- Abruzzo makes the celebrated Ventricina and the salame d’Aquila
- Campania produces salame Napoli
- In Sardegna, there are the Sartizzu and Salsiccia sarda varieties
- Calabria makes salame di Crotone
- Sicily is famous for salame di Sant’Angelo in Brolo (discussed below)
History of Salami
It’s unknown when the first salami as we know them today were made. In Roman times, they belonged to a group of food called salsum, meaning “salted.” Even in prehistoric times, salt was known to be an indispensible way to preserve meat; salt naturally expels water and blocks the proliferation of bacteria. Salame, like sopressata, sausages and others, belongs to the category of air-cured pork meats called salumi insaccati (“incased”), which means the meat is wrapped in a natural skin (usually) made from pig intestines. Salami are almost always made with pork meat—though in special variations, wild boar and even duck may be used instead. The meat is ground and kneaded to achieve the desired texture, and then various spices are added according to specific recipes. In general, the cuts of pork used are the thigh, shoulder, loin, filet, belly and the succulent fat from the pig’s jowls (guanciale). Salami are usually aged between 30 and 90 days—and beyond. A good salame has to have the right balance of lean meat and fat. The tendency today, especially for industrial products, is to make leaner salami, which affects the taste and texture. The best salami are artisanal—“fatti come una volta” as we say, which means “made as they used to be.”
As the list above shows, there are countless examples of artisanal salami in almost every region of Italy, using methods and recipes that go back hundreds of years. The oldest type of salame in Italy is made in northeast Sicily, in Sant’Angelo in Brolo, which is prepared with the incredibly succulent meat of a breed of pigs called Nero di Nebrodi. These pigs, which are similar to wild boars, roam freely in the large beech-tree forest in this area of the island. It’s not surprising that in this part of Sicily, they also produce other excellent salumeria, such as capocolli (made from pork shoulder or neck) and pancette (made from pork bellies). Sometimes in a single area, a variety of different salami are made, each one following a small local tradition. In 2009, a salame from Abruzzo, called the Ventricina del Vastese won first prize in a national competition. The meat for this prize-winning salame is still cut manually with a knife as it used to be—and the taste and texture is superlative. Another interesting variety which is made in many different regions of Italy is called Salamini alla Cacciatora (D.O.P.), also known as cacciatorini. These are very small salami that used to be carried by hunters for a quick snack and later became a quick snack for everybody. The meat used for cacciatorini is particularly delicious, derived from the same high-quality breed of pigs used to make the famous Prosciutto di Parma and San Daniele.
Snacking and Antipasto Staple
In Italy, pane e salame—bread and salami—is a metaphor for simple, genuine, good food. Besides being an essential part of traditional appetizer plates, such as antipasto di salumi and antipasto misto (a mixed meat antipasto), salame is most often enjoyed simply with bread—in a panino (bread roll) cut in half with nothing else—except, of course, a glass of good red wine.