Salume, or preserved meats, are found through all twenty regions of Italy. Most of these meats are made from pork, but depending on the location, wild game, poultry and beef may be used to make salume as well. Braseola, or salt cured beef, is one of the local specialties of the Lombardy region of Italy, found along the northern border.
What Is Braseola?
The most tender cut of beef is removed from the leg. All of the silver membranes and
visible fat are removed. The trimmed meat is then heavily salted. It may also be flavored with red wine, garlic, cinnamon, nutmeg or juniper berries. The seasoned meat may then placed into a natural beef casing.
Using a casing slows the drying process, giving the inside of the meat enough time to dry safely before the outside is completely dry, though some butchers prefer to skip this step. Drying takes anywhere from one to three months. The finished product will ultimately be as much as 40% lighter than the original piece of meat, thanks to the substantial loss of moisture.
How Is Braseola Eaten?
When the meat has finished curing, it can be served without further preparation. The texture is silky and lean, similar to a good proscuitto. The best results come from using a meat slicer to ensure even, paper thin slices. When first sliced, the inside of the meat may appear reddish, but contact with air will cause the meat to darken to burgundy or almost purple.
For diners who choose to avoid pork products, it is a good substitute in antipasto recipes. Braseola is traditionally served on a cheese platter with olives, pickled vegetables and hearty pieces of bread.
It is popular offered on a bed of mesclun or arugula, lightly splashed with high quality extra virgin olive oil and coarsely cracked peppercorns. You can also layer thin slices of braseola into an Italian sub sandwich along with a selection of other Italian cheeses and cured meats, fresh vegetables and a piquant herbed vinaigrette.
Where Can Braseola Be Found?
This meat has become popular recently because it is one of the simplest forms of beef salume that can be made at home. Over the past decade, several books have been published with detailed instructions, plenty of photographs or drawings and critical information about preventing dangerous bacterial contamination.
Using grass fed, well trimmed beef with the required curing agents and strictly maintaining safe temperature and humidity ranges will result in delicious Italian style cured meat. This particular salume requires a meat slicer for the traditional, melt in your mouth translucent slices.
Truthfully, while these directions are now easily found on the Internet and in bookstores, I still prefer to purchase my braseola from my local Italian butcher. I am very fortunate to live near Fleisher’s, a butcher specializing in grassfed and organic meats.
If you do not have a local Italian butcher, Googling “grassfed salumi” will give you lots of mail order sources. Unlike some other foods, braseola’s flavor and texture will not be compromised by overnight shipping, but you will want to make sure that it is packed with dry ice in order to stay fresh. The price per pound is not inexpensive, but individual servings are relatively light, making it an affordable luxury.