Natural charcuterie: wild-raised native breeds, no nitrites

06 August 2020

If you’ve followed Slow Food for a while, you’ll know we fly the flag for natural products: be it cheese, bread, wine, or charcuterie.

But what is natural charcuterie, exactly?


Let’s go back to the origins of it all: the animals breeds and the practices used by the farmers.

There’s charcuterie made with meat from local, wild- or semi-wild native breeds, free to indulge in their natural behavior, who eat a varied diet of wild roots, green fodder, grain, barley, protein-packed legumes… on a farm that cares about animal well-being we get natural charcuterie, produced using only natural preservatives like salt, pepper, chili pepper, spices and smoke, and without the use of nitrites and nitrates.

The Decollatura soppressata is made with meat that’s mixed for a long time in a kneading trough with salt and a pepper sauce made from Pizzo Calabro red peppers (pizzitani) which are boiled, sieved and then thickened. Photo: Giuseppe Cucco.

On the other side of the coin there are industrialized farms where the animals are confined in cramped spaces, unable to move, play or explore. Their diet includes urea, silage, GM feed which facilitate their rapid (and unnaturally large) growth, as well as antibiotics, hormones, artificial stimulants. The products made with the meat of these sorry animals will then include starters, artificial colorants and preservatives, thickeners, caseinates, nitrites and nitrates which preserve the meat from microbial contamination and “improve” its consistency and appearance.

What environmental impacts do these two different systems have? Can animal well-being make a difference to the taste of the meat? And what should we keep in mind in order to look after our own health?


There’s a lot of questions to answer. In terms of taste, we’ll try and give a comprehensive response through three Taste Workshops at Terra Madre, where our guests may attend physically at Eataly in Turin, or online with a kit of products to taste at home, following the tasting in live streaming (Italy only).

The Castelpoto Red Sausage (Slow Food Presidium). It’s made by mixing pork meat with chili powder, either from sweet or spicy peppers known as “papauli” in the local dialect, which are grown on the same farm. Photo: Paolo Andrea Montanaro.

In Natural Italian Charcuterie we take you on a journey from north to south making stops in Trentino to taste the Trentina Luganega (Ark of Taste), in Veneto for the Sopressa Veneta, in Calabria for the Decollatura soppressata (Ark of Taste) and finally in Sicily, where we’ll taste the meat of the black pig of Nebrodi (Slow Food Presidium).

The Nebrodi Black Pig is also co-protagonist, together with Mora Romagnola Pig (Slow Food Presidium) in another Taste Workshop dedicated to Black Pigs of the Forest, frugal, resilient, who feed on the fruits of the forest: acorns, chestnuts, tubers… they have characteristics closer to those of the wild boar, and the traditional Mediterranean breeds are not very different from the pigs of Odysseus as described by Homer over 3000 years ago, or those raised in the Medieval period.

Finally, in natural charcuterie: tastier, healthier, fairer we go on another journey exploring some of the finest cured meats Italy has to offer: Fabriano Salame (Slow Food Presidium), the Castelpoto Red Sausage (Slow Food Presidium), and the Palazzolo Acreide Sausage (Slow Food Presidium).


There’s a valuable lesson to be learned through tasting these products: that alternatives to industrial meat do exist. And while today the use of these additives seems normal, we forget that charcuterie was produced for centuries using only natural preservatives like salt, pepper, chili pepper, spices and smoke.

The three Taste Workshops are a chance to discover a better, cleaner, fairer side to charcuterie.

by Silvia Ceriani,