As much as food changes with the trends, one thing remains consistent—there’s always something new to try. Whether it’s an unusual vegetable that pops up at the farmer’s market or a complex sauce with a difficult name, gastronomy is a world that never seems to cease offering new pleasures and challenges. Which is why, even for those who try to keep an eye on our food definitions, there are times when something on the plate prompts the question: what is that? Or when we realize that something we’ve eaten a million times is still a little murky in our head, like some of these items.
You Say Salami, I Say Salumi
When I first heard the term salumi, I thought it was a mispronunciation of salami, the cured meat you’re likely to find between two slices of deli roll. But after ordering a salumi plate and being faced with mortadella, prosciutto, and lardo (more on this guy later), I quickly realized that salumi and salami are not one in the same.
Salumi (singular salume) is the umbrella term for Italian-style cured or preserved meats, meaning that salami is in fact a type of salumi. Although salumi is usually pork, any meat that is cured, preserved, or fermented can be a salumi. A similar term is charcuterie, which is basically the French version of salumi.
Salami, which refers to a specific type of cured and fermented meat that is hung to dry, also has multiple subtypes, including pepperoni, sopressata, and Genoese.
Lardo: Not Just a Playground Insult
Not to dwell on pig parts, but I think lardo is something that needs a bit of an explanation, because of its striking similarity, in name, to lard. Although they both come from pig, they bear little resemblance to one another. Lard is made by rendering pig fat and is usually used as a solid fat in cooking. Lardo is a type of salumi, made by curing pig fat with rosemary and other spices. Lardo is usually served in soft, white ribbons, on top of a crostini, on a salumi plate, or on a wood-fired pizza. (You won’t find it in a big block.) Its texture is light, in a melt-in-your-mouth type of way, though not in a way any vegetarian would consider pleasurable. If you like the white ribbons in bacon, foie gras, and pate, you’ll like lardo.
Big Pickle, Little Gherkin, and Cornichon
They look like tiny pickles, but they aren’t called tiny pickles. Instead, gherkins, which are made from small, green cucumbers that are pickled in brine, have found their way into menus and recipes, as have cornichons, the French gherkin. The difference comes from the type of cucumber used to make the pickle. Gherkins and cornichons are one to three inches long while American dill pickles are four inches or longer.
Crème Fraiche: Cream with a Sour Attitude
I see crème fraiche everywhere and love its tangy, yet rich flavor. But its price got me thinking—isn’t it just runny sour cream? Not really, although a homemade version can be made for a fraction of the price of what you’ll pay in some stores. In France, it’s made from unpasteurized cream; the naturally occurring bacteria cause it to thicken. Since all our dairy is pasteurized, we can make our own crème fraiche by adding buttermilk or sour cream to whipping cream and letting it sit for a day at room temperature.
Big Prawn, Little Shrimp?
There is much confusion in the world of prawns and shrimp. We all know what a shrimp is, but then the word prawn crawled into the marketplace and now it seems that big shrimp = prawn, although sometimes the words are used interchangeably.
In reality, prawns are a relative of the shrimp. Both are part of the Decapoda order, but are in different suborders. They have different gill structures and prawns have longer legs. However, when you buy them, you’re not likely to be able to tell the difference between the two. Throw in the word scampi (used in Italy for prawns, also name of a dish) and all you’re likely to be sure of is that it’s a crustacean that tastes good.
Jam, Jelly, Preserve, or Marmalade?
Though you’ve probably eaten them a million times, we tend to call jam jelly, jelly jam, or both preserves. The differences are simple. Jelly is made from fruit juice; jam is made from fruit and fruit juice, so it often has pieces of fruit in it; preserves are basically the same as jam, although sometimes preserves are considered as such when they contain larger parts of the fruit, including seeds. Marmalade is typically citrus-based and often uses the rind of the citrus fruit. Jams, jellies, and preserves can also be vegetable-based.
There are numerous other confusing and new terms that show up in recipes, in stores, and on restaurant menus. But deciphering what they are, either by reading or tasting, is part of the fun.