Ready to get started on your charcuterie appreciation journey? Like becoming a well-rounded beer drinker, you’ll need to try a range of classics:
1. Bresaola: Salted, air-dried beef aged about 60 to 90 days. The beef becomes hard and nearly purple—nothing at all like jerky. Because beef features fat marbled within the muscle (instead of a big cap of fat, like pork), beef cures quickly and retains a lot of meaty, carpaccio-like flavor.
2. Coppa: Fleshier, chewier and more marbled than prosciutto, coppa is dry-cured pork strictly from the animal’s neck or shoulder with a highly desirable meat-to-fat ratio. Also known as cappicola or gabagoul (and, famously, Tony Soprano’s cold cut of choice).
3. Salami: A style of dry-cured, fermented sausage (salame is singular). The most widely available versions are made with seasoned ground pork in a thin, natural casing; some are coated in pepper or herbs. It’s not to be confused with salumi, the overarching term for Italian cured meats.
4. Pâté: Ground meat and fat blended into a velvety, spreadable, ultrarich paste. Chicken liver pâté, for example, is largely liver and butter in equal parts; fish pâté often combine fresh fillets with cream cheese or crème fraîche. Good pâté is creamy, meaty and never dull or sandy.
5. Prosciutto: Uncooked, salt-cured ham specifically from the rear leg of the pig. Different geographic regions produce varying types of prosciutto; prosciutto di Parma, for example, tastes a bit nutty due to barley, maize and Parmigiano Reggiano whey consumed by Northern Italian pigs. Typically sliced paper-thin, the meat is salty and melty.
6. Mortadella: Similar to bologna, but never say that out loud. Mortadella is a firm yet soft cooked sausage made of finely ground pork, plus hunks of high-quality fat, peppercorns, pistachio pieces and spices; true mortadella has a 7-to-3 meat-to-fat ratio. Many mortadellas weigh almost as much as the pig they came from, some as much as 100 pounds.
7. Soppressata: A type of Italian dried salami that cements how the technical side of charcuterie affects flavor. Like most salami, soppressata is pork- based, but features coarser cuts of meat and fat, plus heavy doses of garlic and red-hot peppers for firm, fiery slices.
8. Rillettes: Some call it “poor man’s pâté,” but there’s nothing country- bumpkin about rillettes, a more rustic pâté with an unrefined texture that comes from slow-cooking meat in its own fat, letting it all cool together, then raking or shredding it into a soft, spreadable paste.
Once you’ve gotten your charcuterie legs, move on to the weird stuff:
Lardo: The thick, hard fat that runs over a pig’s back, typically cured in marble boxes (rendered, the same cut of fat produces traditional lard), sometimes with herbs and spices. The thin, white tendrils melt in your mouth.
‘Nduja: A soft, spicy, fatty cured sausage spread that comes in jars; it’s usually served on bread.
Head cheese: Meat from a boiled hog’s head is seasoned and re-combined with the broth it cooked in; gelatin derived from the bones hardens it into a rich, cheeselike sausage.
Rillon: Pork belly cooked in caramel and salt; it tastes like salted caramel popcorn.