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Salumi is a family of Italian cured meat products, similar to the French charcuterie. Some people confuse it with salami, a specific type of dry-cured meat produced in Italy. Salumi platters are often offered as appetizers, and individual meats are often important ingredients in Italian recipes. Many butchers in Italy and around the world specialize in the production of traditional salumi, using techniques which have been employed in Italy for hundreds of years. These products can be purchased through butchers or import stores.
Many human cultures have developed techniques for curing meat so that meats will be available year round. These techniques focus on seasoning the meat so that it will be flavorful, and preserving it to ensure that it will not go bad. Many preservation techniques use salt, which is an excellent preservative, along with drying, smoking, fermenting, or cooking to keep bacteria out. The study of cured meats is often a separate aspect of culinary education, since cured meats are complex and incredibly varied, and it takes extensive work to learn to prepare them safely.
Each region of the world has developed its own techniques for curing meats, depending on regional availability, weather conditions, and taste. In Italy, many salumi products are made from pork, since wild pig populations were once abundant in Europe. It can also be made from fowl, beef, lamb, and other meats as well. Salt curing, fermenting, and smoking are all used to produce the final product, and Italians also make cooked sausages, confit, and pates from their meats. Many salumi feature regionally distinctive spices, herbs, and meats.
Some of the best known examples of salumi are Italian sausages, which run the gamut from smoked blood sausage to traditional wind-dried salami. Italians also make an assortment of hams, such as prosciutto and pancetta. Capicola, or cured pork shoulder, is a particularly prized form, as is bresaola, a cured aged beef salumi. This family also encompasses fresh meats, such as the large family of fresh Italian sausages that are found in many butchers and restaurants.
Some communities in Italy are renowned for individual salumi products, and they continue to produce traditional products in an attempt to preserve Italy's culinary heritage. Some specific cuts are actually protected by Italian law. Visitors to these regions are often welcome to visit butchers and curing facilities to learn more about the production process, and they can also purchase products ranging from lardo, or cured fat, to sopressata, a form of dry-cured Italian sausage.
My first experience with eating salumi was at a local restaurant in our city that cures their own meat.
When I saw this on the menu I thought they had misspelled the word and mistook it for salami. Since most people haven't heard of salumi this is a very common mistake.
The owners of the restaurant changed the name on the menu so it better described what it actually was. Once they began doing this, they sold a lot more of it.
If I order any of this I will usually order some Coppa salumi which is similar to Prosciutto, but is aged for a longer period.
Once you have tasted meats that have been cured, it is much easier to gain an appreciation for them.