Stepping into a panini shop in Italy is a truly remarkable experience for any food-inclined individual. Despite not being elegant in the slightest, many of the most widely-renowned panini purveyors have their own unique character that distinguish them from their competition.
For one eatery, that character may stem from their chalkboard menu and decades-old surroundings. Maybe the store used to serve another purpose, but has since been converted, whilst still holding on to its vintage past. For another, it’s the charismatic staff who are just as likely to shout at you as they are to remember your patronage and treat you like family. Yet for another, it may be something as simple as the giant swarm of people surrounding the place, seemingly at all hours of the day.
What do all of these establishments have in common? A commitment to quality, speed and freshness. More often than not, the only barrier between customer and kitchen is a small counter. Peek behind it and you’ll see sausage being sliced, bread being toasted and finished sandwiches being wrapped and handed off to their owners. It’s an environment free of smoke and mirrors; just good sandwiches, made within arm’s reach, at low prices.
It’s not uncommon for shops to arrange all the meats and sausages that they offer in full view of the customer. The contrasting shapes and colors make for an attractive display, especially for those unsure of what they want. It’s also a key sign that the staff slice their meats to order, which, as previously stated, is one of the hallmarks of a quality panineria.
Upon closer inspection of that sausage display (I see you smirking), one may notice that one of them stands out. It’s quite large, with a very irregular pattern. There’s streaks of white, blotches of pink and various shades of red entangled in it’s cross-section. Consider yourself lucky, as you’ve found an eatery that carries coppa di testa, also known as Tuscan Soppressata.
Generally speaking, two types of soppressata exist within Italy. In the southern regions of Calabria and Puglia, the product refers to a cured and dried sausage that’s often a bit spicy. The Tuscan version, despite sharing a common name, is more of a distant cousin than a close sibling.
Soppressata Toscana is a type of pressed sausage made of the meat from the head, tongue and rind (and sometimes other parts) of the pig. This head meat is cooked, chopped, stuffed into casings with some of the gelatinous cooking liquid and allowed to cool for about 20 days. Typical flavorings include lemon, orange, cinnamon and nutmeg.
Once finished, the soppressata resembles a mosaic with it’s random arrangement of colors, each derived from a different part of the pig. It’s hardly surprising that the region that brought us Donatello and Botticelli also introduced this masterpiece of meat.
The unorthodox appearance translates to the flavor, with the head meat and tongue lending a mildly gamey flavor. The spices and citrus are very subtle background flavors that blend with the gamey-porkiness very nicely. The distinctive combination of meat and aromatics allows for the finished product to develop a distinctive flavor despite the absence of aging or smoking.
The abundance of collagen in Soppressata Toscana results in a slightly rubbery texture. However, stuffing this meat mosaic between two slices of gently toasted schiacciata is the perfect remedy, as the crisp bread distracts from the chewiness, but not from the complex flavor. Those who are willing to embrace it’s eccentricities can include it as part of a tagliere di salumi, A.K.A. a charcuterie board.
This enchanting salami may not appeal to everyone, but it’s a must-try item for any charcuterie connoisseur. It’s the tastiest way to come face-to-face with a pig.
Originally Published through Unconventionaleatsnh.com