Bresaola (breh-ZOW-lah) is a lean dried salted beef from the Valtellina, a long Alpine valley in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy. It is occasionally made from pork, venison, or horse meat, but top round and similar cuts of beef are the most common. The cured meat is typically cut very thin and served as an antipasto.
What Is Bresaola?
Bresaola is an Italian cured meat that is sliced thin and served chilled or at room temperature. Bresaola has an IGP trademark (protected geographical indication) limiting its production only to certified master butchers in the Lombardy region.
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 viande des Grisons, though it's moister and more delicate than either of those. It is sliced very thinly for serving.
Bresaola is often purchased at Italian delis or butchers ready to serve. It can also be made at home if the right conditions are present for a few months of air-drying. It is priced similarly to other high-quality Italian meats—more expensive than your average lunch meat.
How to Cook Bresaola
Since bresaola is a dried, cured meat, it does not require cooking. It is best served thinly sliced, either lightly chilled or at room temperature. If slicing at home, use an extremely sharp knife to shave into thin slices.
To make bresaola at home, grass-fed beef (several different cuts are used) is trimmed of all fat and then rubbed with salt and spices before curing in the fridge for several days. It is then hung to air-dry for months. The 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.
What Does Bresaola Taste Like?
Bresaola is a lean cured meat, less fatty than prosciutto and milder in flavor. It's salty with hints of spice like garlic, pepper, and juniper. Like most cured meats, it has a very meaty taste. Bresaola made from horse meat or venison tends to be stronger in flavor, darker, and a little sweeter.
Bresaola vs. Prosciutto
Both bresaola and prosciutto are cured Italian meats that often appear on antipasto platters. Prosciutto crudo, what Americans know as simply prosciutto, is made using the hind leg of a pig, while bresaola is typically made using a lean cut of beef. Beyond the difference in meats, prosciutto tends to have a stronger, pork-forward flavor. Depending on its age, it is often saltier and lightly sweet. Bresaola has a slightly milder flavor with touches of spice.
Bresaola is most commonly made from beef, but it can be made with lean cuts of pork, venison, or horse meat. These variations aren't often found outside of Italy. Pork bresaola has the distinct flavor of cured pork, while venison and horse meat are gamier. Different brands of bresaola will have a slightly different spice mixture, making for a different flavor experience.
Bresaola may be on the expensive side, but a little goes a long way. It should be served sliced paper-thin, with 1 ounce covering a 10-inch plate—about right for a single serving.
The lean, cured meat is especially good when drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and fresh lemon. Serve sliced bresaola as part of an antipasto platter with Italian cheeses, olives, and nuts. It pairs wonderfully with a fresh arugula salad and salty cheese like Parmesan. Or make a summer no-cook meal of bresaola, crusty bread, and salad. Bresaola is also tasty draped atop freshly cooked pizza or focaccia.
Where to Buy Bresaola
True bresaola was not imported into the U.S. from the 1930s until 2000. It is relatively unknown to most Americans in comparison to Italian cured meats like prosciutto. Seek bresaola out at Italian markets and delis as well as online. It is sold by the pound as whole pieces of uncut, cured meat or, more commonly, already sliced. For a top-notch experience, look for "Bresaola della Valtellina."
Like most cured meat, whole or sliced shrink-wrapped bresaola will keep for several months stored in a cool, dark place. Once opened, store tightly wrapped in the refrigerator for up to a week. Read the package instructions for best practices. We do not recommend freezing bresaola.
Nutrition and Benefits of Bresaola
Bresaola is leaner than many other types of cured meats, making it a less fatty option than, say, bacon. As a beef product, it is high in protein, B-vitamins, zinc, and iron. However, bresaola is high in sodium. Since bresaola tends to be served in small amounts, it's a good option for plenty of flavor without an indulgent portion.