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How Italian Cured Meats Are Made

Mortadella. It gets its name from the way it was traditionally made 500 years ago, ground
in a mortar until the texture is silky smooth. Monks did the grinding. Because it comes from
Bologna, Americans mispronounced it as "baloney". But Mortadella is the real thing; it's no
phony baloney.
Sopressata is another type of salame. It has a distinctive color, deep red and luscious
looking. We carry the spicy kind, with chili pepper added. As with all of our other meats,
Sopressata is made with premium pork. After it is spiced, it is carefully cured for three or
four months.
Prosciutto Crudo is a cured, not cooked masterpiece. The salting and air drying take more
than a year to work their magic. This is a DOP ham, made in only a few provinces in
northern Italy, and is carefully controlled. Prosciutto Crudo is called The Food of Poets
because its flavor is so extraordinary that more than one bard has been moved to create
a poem in its honor. Nobles used to demand that people pay taxes in prosciutto instead of
money. Bishops used to have it transported under armed guard; generals hoarded it for
themselves.
Prosciutto Cotto is a spiced, cooked ham. The fat is trimmed. The bone is removed. Then a
brine and spice mixture is massaged (by machines not humans) into the meat. This
process takes days. Finally, the ham is steamed or baked. This is nothing like the hams
Americans are used to, because Italian hams are not encrusted with sugar. Recently, a
television cooking show host prepared a ham by cooking it in Dr Pepper soda. He said that
you could use this ham just the way you would use prosciutto. We beg to differ.
Bresaola is made from lean cuts of meat from cattle that graze in alpine pastures. The
cuts of meat that can be used are defined by law. Bresaola means "braised", even though
it is dry cured. The spice mixture usually includes garlic, black pepper, and cinnamon.  
Bresaola is cured in a different way from other salumi -- it is agitated to make sure that
the spices penetrate deep into the meat. Then it is air dried for months. This produces a
very special concentrated, low-fat, high-protein, meat. The flavor becomes complex and
intense; it is often described as "incomparable".
Speck -- A Triple Threat
To say that Speck is a special type of Italian ham is like saying that Enrico Caruso could
carry a tune. For Americans, the word "ham" usually means a bland sliced deli meat. But
Speck has so much more flavor, because it is processed three ways. After the bone is
removed, the ham spends about two weeks bathing in a brine spiced with garlic and
juniper berries. Then it is smoked, but at very low temperatures, never above 68 F. After
that, it is hung to dry in cool air for almost half a year. Speck comes from northeastern
Italy, where the spectacular Dolomite Mountains are. The province was at one time part of
Austria, so it has two official languages, Italian and German. It Italian, the region is called
the Alto Adige. To German-speaking people, it is the South Tyrol. The production of Speck
dates back to at least the 1200s.