Bresaola is a lean dried salted beef from the Valtellina, a long Alpine valley in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy. Bresaola has an IGP trademark (Protected Geographical Indication) limiting its production only to certified master butchers in the Lombardy region. It is pronounced breh-ZOW-lah.
Compared with many other types of cured meat, bresaola is very lean, as it is made from a single muscle and any outer fat is removed before curing. Bresaola is 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.
How Bresaola Is Made
To make bresaola, 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.
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.
Availability of Bresaola
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.
Look for "Bresaola della Valtellina." It is now possible to find in many stores in the U.S.
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 as bresaola carpaccio. Start 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. If you're lucky enough to have some, you could also add some thinly sliced white truffles. Alternatively, you can add small, sliced marinated mushrooms.
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.