The federal government’s decision to allow the import of more Italian cured meats has food lovers salivating. Ask for particulars, and they will reply almost in unison: “Culatello.”

Almost unknown in this country, culatello is the “heart” of a prosciutto ham, removed and cured separately. It has a silky texture and profound pork flavor. So great is its renown, in Italy it is known as the king of salumi.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s decision cleared six Italian provinces for export of pork products to the United States starting this week. The provinces — Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, Venice, Piedmont, Trento and Bolzano — also happen to be some of the most salumi-happy areas in all of Italy.

The decision was based on a finding that those areas are now free of swine vesicular disease, a malady first detected in the mid-1960s that can survive cooking and even long curing.

Almost as anticipated as culatello is something most Americans think of as lunch meat: salami. But salami in Italy is very different. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of types.

— Russ Parsons

Los Angeles Times