Italy has an age-old tradition of producing cured meat delicacies of the highest quality. With a versatile offer of dried meats suitable for every possible taste, it is almost impossible to set up a charcuterie board without Italian meat specialties.
The tasty Sopressata is likely the most recognizable salami flavor and a premium meat that never fails to impress. If you have never tried it, this comprehensive guide to Sopressata will help you learn everything there is to know about the indisputable king of salami.
What is Sopressata?
Sopressata is Italian dry salami using lean cuts from high-quality pork meat, such as haunch, shoulder, ham, and fillet. This savory combination is packed in a thick intestine and tied by hand with a natural thread.
You can spot soppressata in a bundle of cured meats by its flat, blunt shape, its lively red color, and marbled texture. Generally, a Sopressata is somewhere between 7″ and 10″ long, and 3″ in diameter. Artisans and charcuterie chefs prefer cutting it in thick slices to get a better flavor of the fine meats in its composition.
How does Sopressata taste?
Once you taste soppressata, you will never confuse it with any other type of cured meat. This salami has a slightly spicy taste, which varies depending on the recipe and origin. Its aromatic punch of spices and salty fat will explode into a rainbow of flavors in your mouth. The musky aftertaste will have you asking for another slice every time you swallow one.
The texture of soppressata is somewhat coarse and dense due to the fine cuts being cut strictly with the knife during preparation. If you are a fan of the traditional Italian salami, you will find soppressata to deliver a more aged aroma and a more filling sensation after fewer slices.
What is the origin story of Sopressata?
There are several variations of soppressata across Italy. However, the most popular ones include:
- A cured dry salami made in Basilicata, Apulia, and Calabria
- An uncured salami made in Tuscany and Liguria usually called sopressa
Unless you are looking for soppressata in Tuscany or Liguria, you will most probably find the cured dry salami in any other part of Italy or the world. The only soppressata that has a DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta - Protected Designation of Origin) comes from Calabria.
The recipe for soppressata dates back to the ancient period of the Italian peninsula when the Roman peasants would use some of the best parts from sacrificed pigs to develop a type of sausage that reached premium quality even for those times.
There are two versions about the origin of the soppressata name:
- Some believe that it comes from the Italian verb “sopressare,” which means “to press.”
- Others believe that it is a combination of two words from the Calabrese dialect, “susu,” which means “above,” and “mpizzare,” which stands for “to hang.”
Both terms refer to the curing process that the salami goes through, but the jury is still out on the exact provenance.
How many types of Sopressata are there?
There are numerous recipes for sopressata that vary from one Italian region to another. However, three main types of soppressata make it one of the most recognizable salami flavors:
- White Sopressata - It contains only black pepper.
- Sweet Sopressata - It contains only red pepper.
- Spicy Sopressata - It contains hot pepper.
Depending on how spicy you like your salami, you can easily find a sopressata to match your taste. Any other differences between the many types of sopressata vary depending on the artisan recipes used in family-owned, traditional butcheries.
How is Sopressata produced?
For the sake of this guide, we will focus on the production process of the Calabrian Sopressata, which is the only salami of this kind to have obtained the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO).
There are several conditions for a sopressata produced in Calabria to gain the PDO, such as:
- The meat has to come from pigs born in Calabria, Basilicata, Sicily, Puglia, or Campania.
- The pigs have to be bred in Calabria from before they reach four-months-old.
- The sacrificing, processing and curing phases must take place only in Calabria.
- The pig has to be at least eight months and weigh over 140kg at the time of the sacrifice.
- The cuts used in the process have to come from the ham and shoulder of un-frozen hogs.
- The fat has to come from the lard of the front of the loin.
- The fat should be between 12% and 15% for every kilogram of meat processed.
The artisans mix the meat with the fat and add salt and the necessary amount of red, black, or hot pepper necessary for each kind of sopressata. Next, they fill a natural pork intestine with this tasty mixture, tie it with natural twine, and let it dry for around two weeks.
After a fortnight, they place the cured meat on the table and press it with a heavyweight on top to help it release the excess water in the meat. Depending on the climatic conditions, this curing period can last between two and three months.
How to eat Sopressata?
Sopressata is an excellent addition to any charcuterie board. You should serve it with the peel left on and allow your guests to remove it themselves. Also, you should cut it in thicker slices to get a better taste of the coarse cuts in this delicious salami.
You can easily include sopressata in sandwiches, home-made tapas, or use it as topping for pizza and focaccia. You can also use it to add a meaty flavor to traditional Italian dishes, such as parmigiana or risotto.
Sopressata complements aged cheeses like caciocavallo and pecorino, as well as marinated green olives.
The best choice of drink to pair with sopressata is a fruity, dry, and crisp Pinot Grigio. Other options include Zinfandel and Pinot Noir.