Bresaola (pronounced breh-ZOW-lah) is a dried salted beef from the Valtellina, a long Alpine valley in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy. It's a bit like a lean prosciutto made with beef instead of pork, and slightly reminiscent of pastrami in terms of flavor. It's also somewhat similar to Switzerland's Bündnerfleisch and France's viande des grisons, though it's moister and more delicate than either of those, which are usually not sliced quite as thinly as bresaola.
To make it, grass-fed beef (several different cuts are used) is trimmed of all fat and then rubbed with salt and spices before being hung to air-dry for several months; these spices can vary but often include black pepper, juniper berries, cinnamon, cloves, and garlic. The end product is far less fatty than prosciutto, and a bit firmer, with a deep red color and delicate, aromatic flavor.
True bresaola was not imported into the U.S. until the year 2000, for the first time since 1930, so it is relatively unknown to most Americans, in comparison to prosciutto. But it is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated of Italian salumi.
Bresaola can also be made from venison or horse meat. With respect to the far-more-common beef bresaola, horsemeat or venison bresaola are darker, almost black in color, and a little sweeter.
Look for "Bresaola della Valtellina" -- it is now available widely in the U.S..
I've seen the Citterio brand sold at Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, and Italian grocery stores. In New York City it's available at DiPalo's Fine Foods, and many regular markets.
Bresaola may strike you as expensive, and it is, but a little goes a long way -- it should be served sliced paper thin, and 1 ounce will cover a 10-inch plate, which is about right for a single serving.
A wonderful way to enjoy it (as either an antipasto or a light, no-cook summer meal, accompanied by some crusty bread) is by arranging slices of bresaola in an overlapping pattern on a plate. Then drizzle with some high-quality extra-virgin olive oil, a squeeze of fresh lemon, and make a small pile of fresh arugula in the center. Top it all with some shavings of a good, aged Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve. (See below for a slightly more elaborate version of this serving suggestion.)
If you're lucky enough to have some, you could also add some thinly sliced white truffles.
Bresaola also appears in elegant pizzerie, primarily as a topping for focaccia (meaning, in this case, a pizza dough rolled out and baked as-is): upon removing the focaccia from the oven, drape it with thinly sliced bresaola, cover it with shredded radicchio, and serve with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
(Makes 6 servings.)
- 6 ounces (150 g) Italian bresaola, sliced paper-thin
- 24 small marinated mushrooms, sliced
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- One 3-ounce (75 g) piece of Grana Padano or Parmigiano cheese, thinly shaved
- 4 or more tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 lemon, cut into 6 wedges
Lay the bresaola slices out on a platter, overlapping them slightly. Sprinkle the mushrooms over the bresaola, and then the parsley. Arrange the slivers of cheese over the bresaola, drizzle all with olive oil, and sprinkle with black pepper. Serve with lemon wedges.
Though the people of Valtellina have done their best to keep the recipe secret, there are several recipes for homemade bresaola online:
- How to Make Bresaola from The Guardian
- Bison Bresaola from Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook
- Detailed Bresaola-Making Recipe from The Artisan website, adapted from a Piemontese recipe and a recipe in Leaves From The Walnut Tree by Ann and Franco Taruschio, made with red wine and many spices.
It is a lengthy process, however, requiring several months of drying and careful attention to food safety.
[Edited and updated by Danette St. Onge]