Bresaola has been boosted into stardom by an unlikely field of interest - Nutrition.
As Italy's leanest of cold cuts, Bresaola may be thought of as plain or simple, perhaps aesthetically it is. But slice it thinly and take a bite and you'll realise why this cured meat tops so many of Italy's favourite affettati.
The history of Besaola is a vast one. Alla fine, it's salted and aged meat, in this case beef, but salting meat has exsisted eons as an effective method of preserving. Some say the word bresaola (breh-zah-oh-lah) originates from the name of an ancient curing process using coals 'brasa' to keep the environment free from humidity whilst delicately flavouring the meat with bay leaves and juniper berries placed on the coals, but no one can be certain as the pronunciation is only loosely connected. However, the second syllable - sa - can easily be linked to the word 'sale' - salt.
Traces of similar salted meats have historically been found in the Swiss Alps and indeed, bresaola is very much a 'mountain food' known in Italy as a regional speciality from Valtellina near the Swiss/Italian border. The climatic conditions in the valley, especially the Alpine winds which help to dry the meat effectively, are particular to this region. The cured meat remained 'native' to the area for many years until the early 1800s when it was made industrially, spreading its popularity further afield and beoming well-known in the rest of Italy and eventually abroad. Versions were made of cured, lean beef in a similar fashion but from different cuts of meat until the locals of Valtellina asked for their product to be geographically protected in order to keep it authentic. Bresaola di Valtellina successfully received IGP status in 1992 meaning that any other salted beef outside of the territory had to be called by another name.
Bresaola is made from beef hindquarter - a cut that is incredibly lean. Unlike soppressa or salame, only 2.6% of fat is found in this cured meat so 100g of sliced bresaola is a protein option you'll often see recommended on a healthy eating plan in Italy.
The meat is dark red, almost purple, and shaped like a salame which you'll immediately spot amongst the prosciutti at the Banco della Gastronomia. Most Italians buy bresaola freshly-sliced unless they have an affetatrice (meat slicer) at home, which surprisingly many do, because bresaola is best sliced thinly, only 0.6mm - 0.8mm thick, creating see-through slices so tender they almost melt.
The curing process involves rubbing the cut of beef with salt, herbs and spices like cinnamon, bay leaves, juniper berries, rosemary, garlic and cloves and leaving it for 2 days to flavour. It is then hung to dry for a period up to 3 months depending on its weight which subsequently reduces by 40% producing a mildy sweet and slightly spiced flavour.
How to Serve Bresaola
This meat makes up the key ingredient in one of Italy's classic antipasti combos: Bresaola, Rucola e Grana. Sliced thinly and placed onto a bed of rocket leaves perhaps drizzled in Aceto Balsamico di Modena, this classic salad is then covered in shavings of Grana Padano. This combo is such a loved one, you'll find bresaola, rocket and Grana as antipasti, in tramezzini, on bruschette and on pizza.
Bresaola, as a delicate meat, works wonders with burrata in a simple summer dish. Drizzle on extra-virgin olive oil and serve with warm bread and seasonal leaves.
Whenever we choose bresaola from the Banco della Gastronomia we're always asked, "Beef or horse?"
Whereas the Valtellina product is strictly beef according to IGP guidelines, bresaola is commonly found as both meats in north Italy's Piemonte and Veneto where in the provinces of Asti and Padova particularly, horse meat is popular. Looking almost identical, Bresaola di Cavallo is slightly darker, the taste is also similar to the beef version with a marginal intensity in flavour.
Bresaola di Cervo is a regional speciality from Norvara, just west of Milan. Choice cuts of shoulder and hind are chosed from wild deer, soaked in a mix of herbs and red wine and then cured and dried.
With smaller or iregular cuts of meat, the same process is used to make slingeza in Valtellina. These salumi can be flatter or oval shaped, sliced thinly, like bresaola, they make a tasty affetato with a stronger flavour. Traditionally slinzega was made from horse but this versatile cured meat is made from whatever you have available and often at home in the kitchen.
Bresaola discolours quickly - the taste remains the same but our advice is to slice it just before serving and keep it well-sealed in the fridge for the most intense red colour
The delicate flavours of bresaola are most appreciated on a tagliere served simply with delicious breads, cheeses, seasonal fruit like figs and a glass of red wine. Try light-bodied wines like Pinot Noir in order not to overpower the taste.
Lemon juice is often recommended in recipes with bresaola but not used much or advised in Italy as it oxidises the meat almost immediately. Rather try Aceto Balsamico di Modena as one of bresaola's besties and a beautiful condiment.
Bresaola is best sliced thinly and can be cut with a knife, just make sure it's sharp and try to go as thin as possible.
We love bresaola in our antipasti platters (see above) as a classic, Italian cured meat. See the full range of platters available on our menu.
Buon appetito amici!