Taste, History and Tradition of a Beloved Italian Cured Meat
POSTED August 25, 2013
Similar to salami, sopresse and sopressate have their own taste, history and tradition. While most are distinct to region, all are delicious!
Both sopresse and sopressate (plural forms) are similar to salami, but each has their own particular taste, story and tradition. Sopressa (singular form) is round and, compared to typical salami, quite large. It is pressed by hand—“pressare” means “to press”—at the very beginning of production in order to eliminate any pockets of air. Sopressa is produced in the northeast of Italy—in Veneto and Frioul— and the most famous type is called Sopressa Vicentina (D.O.P). The southern regions of Italy—including Abruzzo, Molise, Puglia, Basilicata, and Calabria—make their own specialty called sopressata, which often has a distinctive oblong shape and taste. The unique shape is the result of the way this salume is made: it is pressed between two sheets of linen on top of which is placed a wooden plank with some weights—usually just some heavy stones—for a week. Though there are many excellent sopressate, only the Sopressata di Calabria carries the esteemed D.O.P label (Denomination of Protected Origin), which ensures that the strictest standards of production are followed and that the product is made only in specific geographical areas.
Sopressa Vicentina and the other high-quality sopresse from northern Italy are made using the best cuts of pork meat: the leg, shoulder, loin, the back of the neck (coppa) and what is called grasso di gola (fat from the throat). The meat is ground and blended with spices like cinnamon, cloves and rosemary, and other ingredients depending on local traditions; then it is incased in a natural outer skin, tied and hung up to dry for less than a week. After this initial drying, the aging process (stagionatura) begins: a minimum of 60 days for the smaller sopresse and up to 120 days for the larger ones. All this is done in specially monitored rooms in which the temperature and humidity is carefully controlled. The result is absolutely stunning: sopressa has a very smooth and soft texture—so soft that it can be spread over bread. The ideal proportion of lean meat to fat is 65% and 35%, respectively. Some variations of sopressa include the addition of Amarone red wine from Veneto. The taste is unparalleled. Sopressa like salame is eaten just as it is with local fresh bread—often as a morning snack. It can also be grilled and served with polenta. Many northern Italian chefs today use sopressa for new innovative dishes using borlotti beans, lentils, radicchio, broccoli, truffles and other local produce from the Veneto region.
Sopressata is the pride of many southern villages and regions and comes in many shapes and flavors, aromas and spices which make this salume (air-cured meat) so special. There is an enormous diversity in the choice of cuts of pork meat, the choice of spices and even in the way its ground—for instance, sometimes the meat is only cut manually with a knife. Sopressata di Calabria (D.O.P.) must be produced within Calabria and made only with pork coming from locally raised, free-range hogs. When you taste a slice ofSopressata di Calabria, the presence of hot pepper (of which Calabria is the top producer in Italy) is evident. Cumin and black pepper are also added. But there are other excellent examples of small artisanal production such as the one made in Gioj in Puglia, where a totally handmade sopressata is done using very lean pork meat with a piece of lard placed in the center. When sliced, it has a particularly elegant look and its taste is sublime. In the Molise region—in Jelsi, Montenero Val Cocchiara and Rionero Sannitico and many other villages—lean and unique sopressate are produced for a few lucky ones. Rarely are these specialities available elsewhere. One such example is a particularly succulent variety made in Basilicata near Rivello, where soperzata, as it’s called locally, is made with top-choice lean cuts of pork to which cubes of lard, salt and pepper are added. This particular soperzata is very small, weighing less than half a pound. Many associations, primarily Slow Food, are trying their best to maintain local traditions such as these, which are at risk of being lost. Throughout southern Italy, all kinds of sopressata are proudly offered on special occasions and family reunions. It’s a truly unique creation, made since the time of the Greek presence in this area thousands of years ago. It’s a testimony to the Italians’ innate respect and understanding of culinary arts that the men and women of southern Italy are devoted to keeping these skills and knowledge alive.