Posted: October 4, 2023 Author: Ryan Kukuruzovic, Executive Chef and Culinary Manager
Ryan has 20-plus years of R&D and foodservice experience. His focus is on the design and implementation of diverse and innovative culinary visions with the highest standards of excellence.
Over the past few months, we’ve been examining and ideating around the food and beverage flavors of Southern Italy. As you can well imagine, there’s a wealth of flavorful ingredients, delectable dishes and closely guarded culinary traditions. In the midst of all this bounty, I became fascinated with the cured meats of the region. These delicacies have long been a treasured part of the culinary landscape all over Italy, but particularly in the South where the warm climate and lack of refrigeration made curing meats a necessity.
While curing meat may have started as a practical way to preserve meats – today this time-honored tradition is truly an art form in flavor creation. The dry aging process transforms the taste and texture of meats, tenderizing them and developing complex and robust flavors. Flavors are influenced by the types and cuts of meat as well as the seasonings used. Over time during aging, moisture gradually evaporates, leading to a concentration of flavors. The reduction in the water content of the meats results in a firmer texture with a delightful bite. This intensification also allows the fat within the meat to become richer and creamier, creating a melt-in-your-mouth experience.
The controlled environment in which the meats age allows them to interact with ambient microorganisms present in the atmosphere. These microorganisms generate flavorful compounds that permeate the meat, enhancing its taste and creating distinctive profiles. The longer the aging period, the more pronounced these flavors become, resulting in a depth and complexity that can’t be obtained using any shortcuts or artificial additives.
Southern Italian Standouts
As we delved into the foods in the Southern regions of Italy, we found an impressive array of cured meats. Some of the standouts for me are the dry cured sausages or salamis because of their unique flavors and textures. Each is distinct, making them a delight for food enthusiasts.
First, is ‘Nduja, which hails originally from Calabria. It’s a spicy, spreadable salume, unlike anything else in the cured meat world. Made mostly from fatty cuts of pork, primarily the shoulder and belly, ‘Nduja is blended with fiery Calabrian chili peppers, resulting in a rich, smoky, spiciness that adds an addictive kick to any dish.
Another product of the area’s vibrant culinary heritage is Salsiccia di Calabria. This distinctive sausage is created using a mixture of lean pork and fat, seasoned with hot chili pepper and other spices. The meat is packed into natural casings and left to cure for a minimum of two weeks. The result is an irresistible spicy and tangy flavor.
Soppressata, a dry-cured salami characterized by its coarsely ground meat and bold flavor, also originated in Southwestern Italy. It’s typically made using either pork or pork shoulder. The meat is seasoned with various spices, such as fennel seeds, black pepper, and/or red pepper flakes. After the mixture is stuffed into casings, the salami is left to cure for months until it develops a desirable tanginess and its unique flavor.
Capocollo is a cured pork meat with a marbled appearance and a flavor profile that falls between Soppressata and prosciutto. The name Capocollo comes from the Italian words, “capo” meaning head and “collo” meaning neck. It refers to the muscle located within the neck and shoulder region of the pig from which the meat is sourced. The selection of spices used in Capocollo curing varies among the different regions of Italy, but traditional recipes in the south usually include vinegar, black pepper, bay leaves, and thyme. After curing, the meat has a rich, mild, slightly spicy flavor.
Further south in Sicily, we encountered Salame di Sant’Angelo Muxaro, from the small village of the same name. This unique sausage is made with pork meat, fat, and a blend of spices such as pepper, garlic, and fennel seeds. Its distinctive flavor is owed to the traditional process of curing and aging, which can extend up to six months. The result is a rich, complex taste that captivates the senses.
Although these cured meats share commonalities, the distinctions lie in their preparation, flavor profiles, and textures. In my mind, the one thing that links them together is their dry aged flavor. The extended aging process the meats go through leads to a concentration of flavors, tenderness, and the development of complex taste profiles that cannot be replicated by other methods.
As I mentioned earlier, in the course of our recent culinary research, I became fascinated with cured meats. This fascination led me to work with our team of flavor chemists to see if we could recreate the complex savory flavors common in this type of cured meat. I’m pleased to report we were able to naturally mimic the distinct nuances prevalent in dry-aged animal proteins. The result is a new Dry-Aged Flavor concentrate that labels as “natural flavor” and is by no means limited to animal protein applications.
I invite you to contact me at email@example.com to discuss our new Dry-Aged Flavor and the many applications along with some unexpected ones to innovate with it.