What is bresaola?
Bresaola is a type of Italian salumi made from air-dried, salted beef – although there are also varieties made from pork, venison and even horse meat. It has a scarlet red appearance and a delicate, aromatic flavour. Beef bresaola normally uses meat from the top of the hindquarter of the cow – the part that contains the cuts of meat known as topside and silverside in the UK.
The best bresaola originates from Valtellina, a mountainous alpine valley in the northern Italian region of Lombardy. The practice of salting and air-drying beef has been popular in this area since at least the 15th century, with farmers using the fresh alpine air to help preserve their meat for the colder and leaner months. Bresaola made in Valtellina has protected geographical indication status (IGP), so only bresaola made by certified butchers in a specific area can be sold as Bresaola della Valtellina IGP.
How is bresaola made?
Modern producers have tweaked the centuries-old techniques slightly, but the basic process for making bresaola has hardly changed since the Middle Ages:
1. Trimming: Prime cuts of topside or silverside beef are trimmed to remove any fat.
2. Salting: The lean beef is rubbed with a dry mix of coarse salt and spices, such as pepper, cinnamon and juniper berries, then left to cure for at least 10 days.
3. Drying: After salting, the meat is dried and then hung in a natural casing, this helps to protect the outside of the bresaola.
4. Ageing: The meat is aged for up to two months in special cellars, during which it loses nearly half of its original weight and develops its signature ruby hue.
Is bresaola healthy?
Cured meat might not top many health food lists, but this salumi is a little different than the rest. Bresaola is arguably the healthiest Italian cured meat, largely because it’s made from a lean cut of beef that’s been trimmed of nearly all its fat. As a result, bresaola is very low in fat and calories, while being protein-rich.
Other Italian salumi – like prosciutto and mortadella – rely on fat for flavour, which while delicious, makes for a higher calorie count. In fact, bresaola is probably the only Italian cured meat that you’ll see being recommended by nutritionists and dieticians; it even lends its name to a nutrition regime based on lean meats and vegetables (called the ‘bresaola diet’) that’s popular amongst athletes in Italy.
How to serve bresaola
Like other Italian salumi, bresaola is normally served in thin slices and enjoyed on its own, either as part of an antipasti spread or draped over a slice of Italian bread. In Lombardy, where bresaola originates from, the typical pairing is with rye bread and a juniper-laced butter (a combination known as Bresaola della Valtellina Santa).
Away from aperitivo hour, variations of bresaola salad make for an excellent starter or light lunch. The classic incarnation is carpaccio di bresaola, where wafer-thin slices are doused in extra virgin olive oil and lemon, then paired with leaves of peppery rocket and shavings of salty Parmigiano Reggiano.
When it comes to pairing bresaola with wine, a couple of options stand out. A dry, acidic red wine like Nebbiolo is a good match for this salumi’s gentle spicing, but our top choice would be a sparkling Lambrusco from Lombardy’s neighbour to the south, Emilia-Romagna. Dry but fruit-forward, the bubbles in this light red help to refresh the palate, letting the tender slices of bresaola really shine.