Italian food culture is renowned worldwide for producing excellent and diverse flavors with a mere handful of ingredients, prizing the quality of components over complex preparation methods.
Whether you’re shopping for sandwich fillings at your favorite deli, sampling the wares of a charcuterie board, or looking for something new to pair with your favorite pasta, there are plenty of options.
Here are 11 delicious Italian sausages and cured meats worth trying.
You may have seen this sausage in the store under the name “Salami,” which is the Italian plural of salame.
This word could refer to any meat that is ground, seasoned, stuffed in a casing, and cured.
Any cured sausage could technically be called a salame. However, the word has come to refer to a specific type of cured sausage made from fermented and air-dried meat.
The most common meat in salame is pork, although beef, lamb, and poultry salami are also available.
Salame has a distinctive spicy, sweet, and savory flavor. I think it pairs very well with gouda cheese and red wine.
Speck is a style of ham from the alpine province of South Tyrol.
This delicacy is cured and smoked, blending Mediterranean and Germanic meat preservation methods.
The Italian government certifies authentic speck with the label Speck Alto Adige IGP. Producers must make speck in South Tyrol following traditional methods to obtain this certification.
Speck Alto Adige IGP must come from lean pork thighs harvested from adequately treated and monitored pigs. They must then rub the pork with a spice mix, including salt, pepper, juniper berries, bay leaves, and rosemary.
The meat is then left in a cool room to marinate for up to three weeks. This process is called aromatic curing or salmistratura.
After this initial curing, the meat undergoes a unique smoking process consisting of five days of alternating exposure to fresh Tyrolean air and smoke (not exceeding 68 degrees Fahrenheit) from trees with a small amount of resin.
The smoked ham then takes a second trip to the curing cellar for 22 weeks of fresh mountain air, during which a protective layer of aromatic mold forms. It is only then that the pork may genuinely be called speck.
I love speck’s deep, savory, and smoky flavor, accompanied by juniper and bay. It makes an excellent snack, especially when paired with the light, fruity taste of Piave DOP cheese, red radicchio, eggs, or pasta dishes.
Nduja (pronounced ‘en-doo-ya’) is a type of sausage that you can spread like a pate, and it is commonly sold in bags or jars.
This meaty, spicy spread hails from southern Italy, particularly the Calabria region.
It is made from four simple ingredients: Pork (traditionally, this pork came from less desirable cuts, including the head), fat, chili peppers, and salt.
This mixture results in a vibrant orange-red paste which is then piped into a large casing and left to cure for about four weeks.
‘Nduja has a highly savory flavor with a strong chili pepper kick. I like it best as a spread or mixed into a sauce. You can drizzle it on everything from spaghetti to hot dogs to eggs benedict.
We’re returning to northern Italy for this air-dried, salted beef treat, another regional specialty protected by IGP certification.
In this case, you want to look for Bresaola Della Valtellina. This certification is only granted to bresaola from Lombardy’s Sondrio district, made with salted and cured beef thighs from cattle between 18 months and four years.
After harvesting, the meat is trimmed and dried, salted and seasoned with herbs and spices, and brined for ten days.
After brining, the beef is placed in a sausage casing and left to cure at 53-64 degrees for 4-8 weeks.
Bresaola is distinguished by a uniform bright red color, firm, elastic texture, and light, savory flavor.
It pairs well with juniper butter, rye bread, and a delicate Lombard wine.
This cured pork sausage is a product of the central Italian regions of Abruzzo and Molise.
Ventricina del Vastese is a hard, salami-like sausage made with chopped lean pork, garlic, sweet and spicy chilies, black pepper, and fennel seeds. I usually eat it on crusty bread in thick slices.
Ventrica Teramana is soft and spreadable, made with fatty pork, lard, rosemary, fennel seeds, peperoncini, orange zest, and salt. It pairs well with Abruzzo red wine.
Ventricia di Montenero di Bisaccia is a unique variety of ventricina from Molise. It is made from pork from pigs fed on a diet consisting entirely of cereals and dried legumes.
It is made with fatty and lean pork flavored with salt, sweet peppers, chili, and fennel seeds.
Guanciale is similar to bacon in that it’s fatty, often served in strips, and adds a salty, meaty flavor to any dish, but that’s where the similarities end.
Unlike bacon, which comes from the belly of the pig and is commonly smoked, guanciale comes from the pig’s cheek or jowl and is most often cured.
Guanciale can be used anywhere you would use bacon. When you do so, you may notice a more refined, smooth texture due to a lack of gristle at the cost of a lack of smoke flavor.
Guanciale is the meat used in the famous Italian dish, carbonara.
Staying on the theme of fatty pork goodness, lardo is an Italian take on fatback.
Like many other items on this list, lardo is protected by PGI certification. Lardo di Colonnata PGI must be produced in the Colonnata region of Tuscany.
The traditional curing process for Lardo di Colonnata takes place in marble bowls rubbed on the inside with garlic and filled with alternating layers of fatback and a spice mixture consisting of sea salt, black pepper, rosemary, and more garlic.
This curing process takes six months. The result is delicate, fresh-tasting charcuterie meat that you can enjoy in thin slices on toast or with shellfish and a glass of Vernaccia wine.
Also of note is lardo from the territory of Arnad in Valle d’Aosta. This variety is cured in boxes made of regional wood and traditionally served with black bread and honey.
You’ve probably had bologna, which is an American take on the north Italian cooked pork sausage known as mortadella.
Mortadella di Bologna is similar to bologna, made from various pork cuts minced together, stuffed into a casing, and cooked.
Mortadella di Bologna is distinguished by the presence of visible flecks of lard throughout the meat. Mortadella di Bologna is great in sandwiches, pasta, quiche, and salad.
Another variant of mortadella is Mortadella di Prato, which has a distinctive bright pink color due to the incorporation of a naturally sourced red dye. It also has a more robust flavor enhanced with garlic.
Capocollo ham is one of my favorites. It comes from southern Italy’s Calabria region, harvested from the pig’s upper loin.
The meat is either dry salted or brined for 4-10 days before being rubbed with wine vinegar and pressed with black pepper grains.
The ham is then traditionally wrapped in pigskin and pierced, followed by a 100-day curing process.
Capocollo ham has a salty yet delicate flavor, great for sandwiches paired with a glass of good red wine.
Prosciutto is a classic Italian ham that comes in two main varieties, prosciutto Cotto, which is cooked, and prosciutto crudo, which is raw and cured.
For this list, we will look at Crudo. Prosciutto production starts with pork legs covered in salt and left to rest for a few weeks.
The ham is then washed, seasoned, and cured for 14 to 36 months, resulting in a unique, salty, yet sweet flavor.
The Italian government has awarded PGI certification to many regional varieties of prosciutto, each with its subtle differences.
Well-aged prosciutto is best served in paper-thin slices, either on its own or paired with fruit, vegetables, bread, cheese, and wine. I prefer younger prosciutto on pizza and pasta, as well as on charcuterie boards.
This is a fermented and dried sausage with varieties in northern and southern Italy.
It is made with either rich cuts from the shoulder or lean cuts of ham, and the meat is then seasoned with salt, dried chili peppers, black pepper, and red wine.
The seasonings are different depending on the region the sausage is made in.
Northern Italian soppressata uses more aromatic spices like garlic, cinnamon, clove, and black pepper. Southern Italian sausage uses more chili peppers.
No matter what soppressata you prefer, the sausage goes excellent on pizza, sandwiches, and charcuterie boards.