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Tuscan Food: Salumi

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Salumi is the collective name given to anything preserved and cured in salt, and particularly refers to cured meats (usually pork but sometimes seen made with game such as wild boar, definitely worth a try), such as prosciutto and salame. In Tuscany they play a large part in the every day diet, appearing at lunch, in sandwiches, on pizza, with aperitifs and above all as the initial course of a dinner, called the Antipasto Toscano (Tuscan appetisers) or Affettati (cold cuts). Found on almost every menu in Florence, this antipasto plate consists of a selection of sliced salumi.

To help you navigate your plate or a visit to a salumeria, a deli specialising in these meats, here are a few of the most common salami:

Finely minced pork, flavoured with fennel seeds and forced into quite large casings is called Finocchiona. It is usually eaten relatively fresh compared to other salumi and when very fresh and crumbly it is called Sbriciolona.

Salame in Tuscany is made with spiced, salted pork and cubes of pork fat, forced into a large casing and aged for several months. The resulting firm sausage is much drier and darker coloured than Finocchiona.

Salamino is the version with a smaller diameter and salamino piccante is the spicy sausage often called pepperoni outside Italy (note that if you ask for peperoni in Italy you will be given capsicum or bell peppers!).

Soppressata is made with cooked pork trimmings and the pig's skin is used as the casing. Sometimes it is made in the skin of the pig's head, making a macabre centre piece for a buffet table.

Bresaola is cured beef fillet made in the north of Italy but quite popular in Tuscany, especially in the summer months when it is usually eaten with rucola (rocket or arugula) and shavings of Parmesan cheese as a light meal.

An exquisite delicacy little known outside Italy, Lardo di Colonnata is something worth trying while you are in Tuscany. The classic Antipasto Toscano may include slices of lardo along with other salumi (the name given to cured meats and literally anything preserved in salt), and it is also a popular topping for crostini. Strips of fat are taken from the backs of freshly killed male pigs and are put into marble tubs between layers of garlic, sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, herbs and spices. The tub is sealed and the lardo is left to cure for at least six months in a cave or cellar. During that time it becomes delicately flavoured with the herbs and spices and so tender that when sliced thinly it will melt on warm bread. This lardo takes its name from the small village of Colonnata, in the mountains just inland from the sea at Carrara where marble has been quarried for centuries. Michelangelo visited this community when he went personally to source marble for his statues. It is said that the lardo di Colonnata fortified the quarry workers who ate thin slices of it with fresh tomatoes and raw onions between slices of bread.

Prosciutto crudo simply means cured ham. Parma ham is the most well known cured prosciutto but it is certainly not the only one worth tasting. Prosciutto crudo is made all over Italy and there are great variations in style and flavour depending on the breed and diet of the pig as well as the process of curing. Prosciutto can be dolce (sweet) or salato (salty) or Toscano (made with black peppercorns and herbs). A main ingredient of an Antipasto Toscano and widely available as a sandwich filling, prosciutto is also served with melon or figs in the summer and becomes particularly special with freshly baked warm schiacciata.