Traveling down the road in Italy tasting the varieties of sausages and salami is a little like following the yellow brick road to the Oz. Like the Italian version of Dorothy you will be tempted to try just about everything and end up saying . . .oh my! Every region of Italy has its own distinctive types of salame (salami), salumi (cured meats) and salsiccia (sausage) that reflect the character of the region. These regional variations in meat, seasonings, aging and preparation account for endless permutations of flavors and textures and all are monumentally good. Seeing and savoring Italy under the culinary tutelage of our Italian family and friends we were able to try some of Italy’s finest sausages and cured meats. On a recent trip we had dinner at a friend’s house in Parma, considered to be one of Italy’s culinary capitals. He is a university professor and was very happy to further our “Italian education” on the art and science of the Salame of Felino.
Salame di Felino comes from the hill town of Felino, near Parma, and is highly regarded for its delicate flavor. It is thought to be the oldest salame linked to a specific region. Salame di Felino is made from lean ground pork (75% lean) seasoned with sea salt , black pepper, garlic and white wine. The salame is aged under the same climatic conditions that create the world famous Prosciutto di Parma.
On to Milano, our cousins schooled us on the local pale, rosy colored Milanese salame made from meat that is finely ground with a close grained texture and a fat that’s ground to grains the size of rice. In Tuscany there is finocchiona, a salami that according to local legend owes its origins to a thief near the town of Prato, who stole a fresh salami and hid it in a stand of wild fennel that perfumed the meat. And sbriciolona, a salame so fresh it crumbles to the touch. Paired with a slice of pecorino from Pienza it is a great treat. In Bolzano there is the Alto Adige speck, a Sud Tyrolean pork product very similar to prosciutto. In Norcia in Umbria where butchers are king and salumeria are found on every corner the number and variety of salame, salumi and salsiccia is staggering including a particular type of prosciutto, Prosciutto di Norcia known as “mountain” ham because it matures slowly in the thin, dry mountain air.
A point on terminology – prosciutto, pancetta, bresaola and speck are referred to as Salumi, whole cured cuts of meat vs. Salame (salami) which is encased (insaccati) ground meats.
Our Italian friends and family specify that Salame di Felino “should be cut at a 60° angle no thicker than a grain of pepper contained in the salame itself”. According to them this keeps the salame intact and makes for a nice presentation as an antipasto.