50 Best Restaurants: The Cured Meat Cheat Sheet for Coppa

Coppa offers a variety of traditional (and more obscure) house-made cured meats.

If there’s one thing you can’t miss at Coppa, it’s the cured meats, aka salumi — chef Jamie Bissonnette’s specialty. But even as charcuterie and salumi have become commonplace around town, they’re still uncharted territory for many diners, who aren’t sure what’s what, and so avoid that whole, unfamiliar section of the menu.

In fact, last fall I took a group to Coppa as part of a BCAE course called “Demystifying the Menu.” Many in the class confessed they didn’t recognize many of the words on the salumi list, and that they were were nervous about trying unfamiliar meats for fear they were eating, I don’t know, peacock. Over wine and Aperol spritzes, we hashed it all out, and by the end of the meal I persuaded at least half the party to try lengue, or beef tongue.

So for salumi novices — and I know you’re out there — here’s your cured-meat cheat sheet, listed in order of scariness. But be not afraid: It’s nothing you won’t find in a ballpark frank. (Except when it’s duck.)

Sopressa: Similar to salami, it’s a round, large air-cured sausage made from ground pork (from all parts of the pig) blended with spices and sometimes red wine. It’s served in paper-thin slices, like a lunch meat. Sopressa is traditionally made in northern Italy; it’s related to, but not the same as, sopressata (which is smaller, firmer, spicier, and made in southern regions of Italy). Bottom line: If you like salami, pepperoni, or Italian subs, you’ll like sopressa.

Salumetto: OK, I think this one is a typo. Salametto is a firm, dry, tubular kind of salami that’s heavy on the garlic. It’s deep red in color, and usually has powdery-white edible mold (similar to what you’d see on a wheel of bloomy-rind cheese) on the casing.

Prosciutto: I’m certain you know this one, but just in case: It’s a salty, dry-cured, thin-cut ham from Italy that’s (gasp!) uncooked; the curing process is what makes it safe to eat. A variant on prosciutto is speck, a smoked version made in Alto Adige, Italy; Coppa also makes its own twist on prosciutto using duck meat.

Mortadella: The tastier ancestor of deli-case bologna, this cold cut hails from (surprise!) Bologna, Italy. It’s made of pork that’s been ground to nearly a paste, and mixed with spices and cubes of white pork fat. But they’re not gristly or chewy, and when it’s made well and sliced thin, they melt in your mouth.

Coppa: The enoteca’s namesake pork product, its name actually means “neck” in Italian. It’s a ham-like dry-cured meat made from—you guessed it—the neck of a pig. It’s sometimes called capicola, capocollo, or capicollo.

Lengue: Beef tongue! Don’t knock it until you try it. It’s cut thin across the grain. Squint when you’re eating it and tell yourself it’s pastrami. Or something.

Coppa di Testa: It means “cup of head”; another name for it is head cheese. But since neither of those terms actually tell you what’s in it, I will: a whole lotta meat, fat, and other weird little bits that boil off when you simmer the head (and other miscellaneous parts) of a pig. It’s a bit jellylike, and more than a little weird. But if you can get past the texture, the flavor is incredibly porky and intense.

And there you have it. Head to Coppa — and if you’ve got the mettle, order the head cheese. (253 Shawmut Ave., Boston. Info: 617-391-0902, coppaboston.com.)

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