THE ORIGIN OF DELI MEATS
Italian deli meats boast a thousand-year-old tradition, dating back to the days of Ancient Rome. Meat preservation techniques date back even further, but it is in Etruscan and Roman times that we find the first references to hams and sausages. An obvious testimony to this is Via Panisperna in Rome, which later became famous for the famous group of physicists led by Enrico Fermi (the ‘boys from Via Panisperna’). The etymology of the word refers to the Latin locution ‘panis ac perna’ (bread and ham), used to indicate a particular type of food already widespread at the time (an ancestor of our sandwich).
Curious, however, is the history of the term Salumi. In the charcuterie of Roman antiquity, this name did not exist and sausages preserved with salt were referred to as botulus or insicia (sausage) or by a name that evoked the place of origin (such as the possible derivation of lucanica or luganiga as sausage from Lucania). As reported by the Accademia dei Georgofili, the term Salumi derives from the late ancient Latin salumen to indicate the use of salt to preserve food. Initially and in the late Middle Ages, at least as far as we know, the term salamen indicated the most common foods preserved with salt, without specifying what these foods were. Salted fish, for example, was sold in the shops of the Lardaroli up until the 15th century, along with meat and salami. From the Middle Ages onwards, the term ‘sausage’ was often used, from salt and ciccia (meat). The first document in which salami is mentioned is an order from 1436 by Niccolò Piccinino (1386 – 1444) while, over a century later, the word salami, specifically indicating the preparation we know today, appears in the manual Il Trinciante (1581) by M. Vincenzo Cervio.
By extension, salamen ends up constituting the etymological root of salume and in particular of certain sausages, including salami and bresaola, whose suffix -saola, indicates precisely the salt and salting to which this prized beef-based product is subjected.