Saturday, September 11, 2010

Coppiette: Far from your basic jerky

Article by Brette A. Jackson
Photo by Brette A. Jackson

Among the many things I do to earn a living in Rome is working as a docent for a tour-company. One of the more popular expeditions that I lead is called “Savoring Rome,” a three-hour degustation-oriented promenade that allows patrons to taste their way through the city. On a typical walk, we visit the old Jewish Ghetto and sample the famed carciofi alla giudia (whole fried artichokes, whose method of cooking was perfected by the area's Jewish inhabitants), and work our way throughout the historical center to partake of pizza, coffee, gelato, chocolate, local cheeses and salumi. Of the latter Lazio produces few varieties, and coppiette (an air-dried, jerky-type of salami stick that hails from the Castelli Romani) is one of the least known. The long strips of desiccated meat have a ruddy color and traces of spices; they're usually met with suspicion, if not outright bewilderment, by most foreigners—“How the hell do you eat that?" I’ve been asked on several occasions. But this ugly duckling that’s part of the country’s pantheon of cured-meats is delicious, and like most edible things born in Italy, they were once a humble source of protein consumed by poor farmers.

Once upon a time coppiette were primarily made from the short, sinewy muscle tissue located around the hind limbs (il garretto) of grazing animals such as goats, sheep, horses and donkeys. When slowly cured or stewed, the meat becomes slightly tenderized. The process was a means of using every part of the precious animal, so that nothing went to waste. The meat was cut into thin strips and seasoned liberally with salt, to promote dehydration, and flavored with fennel seeds and pepperoncino (Italian hot chili pepper flakes). The strips were tied in pairs (thus the name coppiette, or “little couples”) and allowed to dry in front of the hearth of a fireplace for about 60 days—for this reason they were usually prepared during the colder winter months. Once the meat was preserved, it was eaten as a chewy meal with simple bread, and washed down with rough, local wine. Coppiette were later offered as a snack in the area’s taverns (and in some simple eateries in Rome), since the salty, spicy meat would inevitably cause customers to order a round of fojette (half-liter carafes of local wine).

Today, coppiette are made primarily from pork tenderloins that are similarly seasoned as those produced in days of old—coppiette made from donkey, a rare specialty, are still produced in the small town of Genzano.  The process of dehydration, however, is often performed in a special drying room, and the meat ages for only 48 hours or more—see note below.

To fully enjoy coppiette eat them like the Lazians do, as part of a salumi course accompanied by red wine. Or, serve them as part of an aperitivo along with a crisp white, prosecco or sparkling wine. When in Rome, look for this unusual treat in small specialty food stores, some butcher shops, or outdoor markets. They’re usually sold in hermetically sealed plastic bags, and make great gifts—your foodie pals will be very grateful, since they’re virtually impossible to find abroad. They’ll give your jaw a bit of a workout, but a fojetta, or two, will keep your hinges well oiled.

Note: If you’re fortunate enough to visit the Castelli Romani (located south-east of Rome) make sure to make a trip to Genzano and visit La Castellana, a jewel of a salumeria run by the great Gino Galieti: a true artisan who makes some of the area’s best, traditional, coppiette, guanciale (cured pig’s jowl), pancetta and sausages.

La Castellana
Viale Rosselli Fratelli, 6
00045 Genzano di Roma
(Roma) Italy
+39 069399745


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Thank you for pointing that out, TDM. Since horses aren't ruminants and they don't have cloven hooves, they are, in fact, not kosher. However, I assumed that an exception was made by the Italkim Jews here in Italy.

  3. Is it possible to buy in the US?