The Italians would kill me if they heard me a call it a “meat plate.” Because the only thing that they love more than their mammas is their beloved charcuterie— the pampered, cured and coddled affettati (that’s the Italian name–as opposed to the French name–for cured, sliced meat) that are the pride and joy of hundreds of villages and cities in Italy.
I might joke, but I esteem a great meat plate as much as an elegant cheese platter. Is anything as luscious and satisfying as slivers of fatty meat, fanned on a platter, accompanied by a little hill of parmiggiano-reggiano? Prosciutto di Parma might be king but there are a lot of sovereign princes when it comes to Italy’s signature cured meats. (As you can see, many restaurants even compose a “still life” or two celebrating the local specialty… This composed scene of cured meat was next to the bathroom!)
After Jamie and I sampled truffles in Alba for the weekend, we made a pit-stop in Parma on our way back to Rome. The reason, you ask? (As if you even have to ask…) We had to taste at the source–at the bosom– of the most exquisite cured meat and perfect cheese on Earth. Because of Parma’s culinary ingenuity and centuries-old prosciutto di Parma and parmiggiano-reggiano production, it is the wealthiest city in Italy. Pretty crazy that cheese and ham can sustain an economy, huh?
Our lunchtime indulgence of salumi misti (basically, an array of affettati) at Gallo d’Oro trattoria was perfect. Why was it memorable? Aside from the fried pockets of dough and fizzy, demi-sec, red wine, Lambrusco, that accompanied the meat, the array of cured ham was exquisitely balanced. If I wanted to re-create this plate at home for a group of friends, here’s how I’d do it:
Composing the Perfect Meat Plate
Like with a cheese platter, you want to begin with your mildest selection and gradually move into stronger flavors.
Prosciutto di Parma, cotto–Cooked, as opposed to salt-cured, Parma ham. It’s the mild-mannered, elegant cousin of American ham luncheon meat
Prosciutto di Parma, crudo–Sweet, nutty, perfect. It doesn’t get any better than the salt-cured Parma ham.
Mortadella–Pork meat finely ground with pistachios, peppercorns and cubes of fat. Its fancy name is Mortadella di Bologna (the city it hails from) and is the precursor of American bologna or boloney. I’m not a fan of its rubbery texture but the Italians are gaga for this somewhat mild-flavored meat. You might be too.
Salame–Ground pork and cubes of fat are seasoned with garlic, salt and an array of spices. When you find a good one–like you do at Murray’s Cheese in the Village–it’s a nibble as addictive as salt & vinegar potato chips.
Finocchiona–Salame flavored with wild fennel, or, finocchio. TO. DIE. FOR. A personal favorite.
N’duja–Soft, cured sausage that hails from Calabria and is seasoned with a dangerously delicious amount of red pepper. I don’t kiss Jamie after I eat N’duja–I pour myself another goccia of Calabrian red wine