Probably the most popular cured meat we enjoy on our tours in the Veneto is the ubiquitous Soprèssa Vicentina. Somewhat similar to the soppressa found elsewhere in Italy, here in the Veneto, where the local dialect hates double letters, it is soprèssa, and has gained EU PDO (Protected Designation of Origin, in Italian DOP) status to ensure the final quality and origin of these salumi.
The historic center of production of Soprèssa Vicentina is the Valli del pasubio, in the upper Val Leogra, where in August they hold their annual soprèssa festival, just one of many held throughout the summer months across the Veneto.
Traditional customs drive the DOP production rules. The pigs must be Large White, Landrace or Duroc breeds, be less than 9 months old and weigh more than 130 kg., ensuring the correct percentage of fat. There is also a production rule that stipulates that the pigs eat a diet of cereal flours, including chestnut flour (a nut found throughout the forests here in the Veneto), bran, potatoes, buttermilk and whey. All must be born, raised and slaughtered in the province of Vicenza.
The cuts of meat used in the production of soprèssa are the best: the shoulder, the haunch, the loin, throat fat and collar, and pancetta. Most important is the usage of the thigh, normally destined for hams, a traditional technique still used today, and believed to gives particular value to Soprèssa Vicentina DOP.
Traditionally, soprèssa was produced once a year, between November and February, when the family pig was slaughtered and cured for the upcoming year. Today, production occurs year round. The meat was ground, and seasoned simply - salt, pepper, and salt nitre for preservation, still the only preservatives allowed - as well as cinnamon, cloves, rosemary, with or without garlic. The minced meat is placed into a bovine intestine of a minimum 8 cm., then immersed in a tub of hot water and manipulated to create a compact and uniform shape.
The soprèssa is then tied with a string of hemp to keep air out of the tightly packed salumi. The traditional techniques utilizes a harness along the length of the soprèssa, crossed regularly with a series of horizontal rings. It is then punctured with a needle tool called a spunciarola. Once ready the soprèssa are hung for 4-5 days from wooden poles for drying.
Soprèssa Vicenta is mainly produced in 1.5 to 4 kg. pieces, even as large as 7-8 kg. It is aged for 60 - 120 days, today in special rooms that ensure the ideal temperature, humidity, and ventilation. The large size means that top-quality soprèssa is still good at the start of the next production cycle. The large diameter produces a double fermentation which results in its unique flavor; delicate, slightly sweet, and peppery or garlicky. When cut, the meat is compact yet tender, with a medium-coarse grain; pinkish-red in color, a spicy aroma with the fragrance of herbs.
We enjoy soprèssa so many ways as we cycle or ski through this area - as part of a wonderful antipasti of cured meats and cheeses; with polenta and mushrooms, or wild chicory; in a fritatta; in soups, pasta sauces, wrapped around leaner cuts of meat. A traditional way to taste your minced meat destined for this years' soprèssa was to include the meat into a risotto.