Picks from Joyce's Little Black Book: Meats and Cheese to Bring Home from Italy

Culatello, salami, prosciutto, oh my!

For meat and dairy lovers, Italy can come pretty close to heaven, especially if you go straight to the source and sample Italy's fine cured meats and aged cheese on the farms where they're made.

But if you're looking to recreate your experience at home, here are my picks for the best meats and cheese to bring back with you, with a few tips on how to do it.

Bringing Home Italian Meat

On May 28, the USDA ban on importing Italian cured meats received an important update when Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, the Veneto and Piedmont were declared free of swine vesicular disease, an infection similar to foot-and-mouth disease that currently does not exist in the U.S.

While many previously unimportable meats are now ostensibly allowed into the U.S., enforcement of the new regulations is very unclear.

I recently received an email from a client whose culatello was confiscated at customers, even after the date of the proposed change.

Prosciutto is allowed even under the old regulations, so you should be in the clear with that even if the airport where you go through customs isn't up on new regulations.

Italian Meats to Buy

italian meats and cheeses
Image © Italian Concierge

Make sure your meat is shrink-wrapped and bring along documentation of its origin to help your case. At this point, I caution clients until the situation becomes more clear.

    • San Daniele though prosciutto from Parma is more of a household name, connoisseurs prefer the delicate flavor of the San Daniele prosciutto from Friuli.
    • Culatello: a famous type of cured pig. The best comes from Zibbibo in Emilia Romagna. Read more about my adventures with culatello in the June newsletter.
    • Finochiona: this delicious salami, a large Tuscan variety studded with fennel seeds, is extremely hard to find in the U.S.


Bringing Home Italian Cheese

italian meats and cheeses
Image © Italian Concierge

Regulations for returning home with Italian cheese haven't changed under the new USDA regulations, so you can still only bring back hard Italian cheeses.

This works out best for travelers in the end, because you can comfortably keep a wheel of cheese for a few days without refrigeration while you're in transit or if you find yourself in a hotel without a mini fridge, as long as it is an entire wheel with the rind intact.

For cheese, the best rule of thumb is to only purchase cheese when you are in the region that produces them. Elsewhere, you'll pay a mark-up (not as much as at home, but enough that it's probably not worth it to pack it) and the cheese won't be as fresh anyway.

But the most important tip I can give is not to forget your cheese in the hotel fridge!

Italian Cheese to Buy

italian meats and cheeses
Image © Italian Concierge

These are my favorites, the items you'll always find tucked into my suitcase--especially a 1-kilo wheel of Pecorino di Pienza, which you can read more about in this month's newsletter.

    • Parmigiano Reggiano: only bring home parmigiano you bought directly at the farm
    • Pecorino di Pienza: a sheep's milk cheese from the Italian pecora (sheep)
    • Ragusano DOP: an extremely rich cheese made only from the full fat milk of the local Modicana breed of cow
    • Bitto: a cheese from Valtellina off Lake Comothat requires 10 years of careful aging nearly went extinct until Slow Food efforts to preserve it

Read more about how to bring home meat and cheese from Italy and the details on the new legislation in our newsletter, Joyce's Little Black Book.

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