This time of year, those Farmers Market Santa Rosas and lemon cucumbers get all of the attention. Well deserved, but some of us also have the same veneration for really great picnic meats. Not your average deli-counter glazed ham affairs, but fresh, authentic versions with staccato Italian names: Coppa, Capicola, Mocetta, Mortadella.
Short of going to Italy, you can now find some pretty fantastic versions around town compliments of Cristiano Creminelli, the ex-pat Italian from a long standing cured meat family (bet those are tasty family reunions) who has been making great salamis in, of all places, Springville, Utah (the company recently moved to Salt Lake City). As of this summer, he has introduced his first stateside "full muscle" line of meats.
So what exactly does "full muscle" mean in a cured meat context?
"We refer to 'full muscle' as the opposite of ground meat," explains company president Chris Bowler, who met Creminelli while visiting Italy in 2004. "They're dried whole, whereas salamis are ground and then dried."
Of the dozen new meats, several are beginning to make appearances around town. Warren Schwartz at Westside Tavern, Tony DiSalvo at Whist, and Andy Cook at Gordon Ramsay's namesake restaurant at the London West Hollywood are on-the-record fans. But it's more fun to pick up some freshly sliced Creminelli mortadella, one of the best delicately-flavored versions we've tried (and refreshingly pistachio-free as is traditional in Bologna), at the deli counter for your own picnic taste-off.
One of the most intriguing, for Americanos at least, new offerings is Creminelli's mocetta (pronounced mochetta), a beef salami. Never heard of it? Neither had we. It is a specialty of the Valle d'Aosta in the Northern Italian Alps -- Creminelli's family has been making salamis for several generations in Northern Italy. Technically speaking, mocetta is the eye of round that has been rubbed with subtle spices and left to dry without a casing. It's served paper thin, and naturally forms little heart shapes on the plate. Appetizer-wise, Creminelli recommends serving it as a beef carpaccio substitute, or going the traditional Italian route: Top the meat with olive oil, shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and a little pepper. Or this time of year, toss in a little lemon juice and arugula (our preference).
But for us, the most interesting of the new Creminelli "full muscle" meats are those that can be used as personal picnic meat education tools. Compare/contrast live models of air-dried versus cooked flavor and texture studies, if you will. Consider Creminelli's new tender coppa (dried pork shoulder) and its sandwich-friendly cooked counterpart, capicola (otherwise known as coppa cotta; cotta means "cooked"). It's a fascinating color contrast (dark red for the air dried meat, a familiar rosy hue of the cooked version) as well as taste (an almost sweet flavor from aging versus a more ham-like flavor).
You can play the same air dried versus cooked game with pork leg, otherwise known as prosciutto in Italy. Creminelli makes the traditional air-dried version, of course, but it is the prosciutto cotto that has won a permanent place in our weekend picnic basket. Prosciutto cotto (literally "cooked ham") is different from American ham in that it is cooked very slowly to create an almost crumbly-tender, but still very moist, texture. That classic American smoky flavor is also noticeably absent. Sliced thinly, it is the sort of meat you can imaging pulling out to pair with whatever mystery wines (Sokol Blosser, Graffigna maybe?) your friends have brought to the Hollywood Bowl as it lacks that often dominant flavor of American ham.
If you're lucky enough to make it home with a few extra slices, that prosciutto cotto makes one of the best day-after Monte Cristo sandwiches we've had in a long time.
Creminelli Salami: You can order Creminelli meats whole online, but you'll need a meat slicer, plus a crowd to eat up all that mortadella within a week or two. Many can also be found at several local Whole Foods (Currently: El Segundo, Encinitas, Hillcrest, Santa Monica and West Hollywood).