In the long, illustrious history of Italy, we've seen many contributions to the world at large, among them Monica Bellucci, boots, and Monica Bellucci in boots. But nothing is as important as cured Italian meats. Without them, we'd have extremely boring charcuterie boards. Our pizzas wouldn't be swimming in orange grease. And -- dare we say -- Oscar Mayer would have no way with b-o-l-o-g-n-a. In celebration of Columbus Day, we've ranked the best cured meats the Boot has to offer.
Lardo vs. Prosciutto: Ranking the greatest Italian cured meats
Were it not for pepperoni, pizza would be a much healthier dish... so thanks, pepperoni! While most people don't really know what it is (it's either cured pork or beef w/ spices), we can all agree that its requisite greasiness and overpowering flavor constitutes one of Italy's great contributions to the diabetes rates of subterranean mutant turtles.
Mmm... cured back fat. Lardo's like bacon, except without all that pesky meat. And it has the amazing distinction of doubling as the name people will call you when you become hooked on it, like jiggly, rosemary-flavored crack.
Salami -- or salumi, if you're being traditional -- comes in all kinds of varieties, but let's agree that the simple, "just salami" salami is a thing of beauty. Delicious on sandwiches, on a cheese plate, or stolen from the pocket of a local hunter, salami has transformed from an air-dried peasant foodstuff to a staple of wine bars with ease. Whether it comes cut thick off of a stick, or out of a vacuum-sealed Oscar Mayer package, you're never displeased.
Without mortadella, we would live in a muffaletta-free world, and that is not a world anyone should have to imagine. It is perhaps Italy's finest contribution to cold cuts, and its blend of pork, spices, nuts, and other deliciousness makes it essentially the Italian version of bologna... which makes sense, given that's the region it hails from.
Way more badass than its closest American phonetic cousin -- that'd be Wu-Tang's Cappadonna -- this ultra-fatty salumi is made from the meat surrounding a pig's neck or shoulder, giving it a salty hamminess punctuated by deep, greasy strips of fat. It's the cornerstone of the deli-style Italian sandwich, and also a mainstay on charcuterie plates everywhere.
Utilizing more prime cuts than sandwich-style salami, this dry sausage gets double points for its polka-dotted overload of fat chunks that melt in your mouth like M&Ms, leaving your tongue coated in spice. It's also perhaps the best hunter's sausage ever, possibly because animals are more likely to try to attack you when you have delicious meat sticking out of your back pocket.
Leaner than pretty much any other Italian meat, this aged beef looks like a Tootsie Roll, tastes like salted, dried steak and, unlike its brethren, can be served up like a meal... a meal big enough to feed all the 69 Boyz who sang "Tootsie Roll".
Calling culatello "Italian ham" is like calling filet mignon "a slab of beef" -- it just doesn't do it justice. This is Italian meat perfection, and something you're gonna have a hard time finding, as it's long been banned from importation along with other cured meats (something about it being aged in a bladder really grossed customs out). But with the ban recently lifted, we should start seeing it here soon. If you do, invest your life savings in it.
Porchetta is the amazing combination of cured and roasted pig that's sort of like an all-meat burrito, with skin serving as the shell, pork loin & belly serving as the filling, and garlic & spices serving as the salsa. Unlike most cured meats, though, it doesn't last a super-long time (because it's not cured all the way through), meaning you have to eat it really fast. No problem.
This is Italy's answer to bacon: a salty hunk of pork fat that'll totally make your head spin. It's cured, not smoked (though Snoop could probably figure it out), and is equally amazing sliced thinly or served in grilled cutlets.
Anyone who discounts this as ham... is kind of right, but they're also selling prosciutto short. Gloriously salty and sliced paper-thin, it accomplishes the difficult task of making vegetables delicious when wrapped around them, and it becomes even tastier when crisped up on top of pizza. If you're about to go HAM on some pork, this is the way to go.