Dry cured salumi charcuterie dish garnished with arugula, shaved parmesan, and edible flowers on a white plate.

Insight into Antipasto, Antipasti and Antipasta

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Writer / Enthusiast / Meat Curer / Forager / Harvester | About Tom

For decades, immersed in studying, working, learning, and teaching in the craft of meat curing, now sharing his passion with you through eat cured meat online resource.

Antipasta does not mean anything at all.

I have had hundreds of variations of these appetizer platters, and I’ve enjoyed variations of them across all regions of Italy.

Antipasto is singular and refers to one portion. Antipasti is plural and refers to multiple portions. Antipasta is a misinterpretation of the Italian language and has no official meaning.

It’s often outside of Italy where this needs clarification. As a purveyor of antipasti, salumi, salami, and charcuterie, I’ll explain all this in detail.

Key Points:

  • Antipasti Tradition: These appetizers typically feature cured meats, cheeses, and preserved vegetables.
  • Cultural Significance: Antipasti symbolizes sharing and connection before a meal, akin to the old biblical tradition of “breaking bread.”
  • Italian Meal Structure: Antipasti is just the beginning of a traditional Italian meal, followed by primo, secondo, contorno, dolce, and caffe (For a formal Italian Meal).

Since antipasti and antipasto are associated with cured meats and salumi.

Charcuterie is a modern word for what was called an ‘appetizer’ or meat & cheese platter in the 1980s.

Rather than just defining the difference, let’s explore what is a classic interpretation and fully educate you on this topic.

Difference Between Antipasti, Antipasto & Antipasta

Italian charcuterie salumi board 1 large
Italian Matteo & I put this together in Northern Tuscany- Porcini Country too!

Antipasto and Antipasti translate to ‘pre-meal‘ (wiki link here). They almost always include cured meats, cheeses, and preserved vegetables.

Antipasto is ‘singular’, referring to one portion. Antipasti is ‘plural’, which refers to more than one.

Antipasta is a misinterpretation of the Italian language and doesn’t mean anything, yes I got it wrong for a long time!

Why Antipasti/Antipasto

Antipasto antipasti main ingredients
24 month – culatello & parma prosciutto -Devine

The old biblical term for ‘breaking bread’ parallels the antipasti enjoyed in Italy and throughout the world today.

Sharing to ‘Break the Ice’

When I think about sharing, it’s all about sharing at the start of the meal—if you’re sharing something together, you feel more connected to the people you’re with, rather than having your own plate of food to guard and eat individually.

In English Antipasti/Antipasto is an ‘Appetizer’

It’s probably the easiest way to think about it, or it’s just the easiest way for me to think about it.

It is a shared appetizer at the start of the meal. Many of the Italian antipasto experiences we have had end up being so big that we are pretty much complete after the appetizer. Italians know how to eat big!

Or if you’re going to a bar for an apertivo (tapa-style, but Italian drink with often appetizers for free) light food that comes out with a hopefully slightly more expensive drink before a full dinner.

Again, we had aperitivo’s that filled us up for the night!

Formal Breakdown Italian Courses

Antipasto is a singular word referring to one. In the Italian language, there are masculine and feminine words, so antipasto is masculine.

Antipasti is plural – more than one.

Antipasta is when people miss hearing the word or do not understand Italian.

Pasto in Italian means meal, and anti-, when translated, is before; therefore, antipasto means,

before the meal

Other names for Antipasti

In the modern context, across a lot of the world, charcuterie platter or board is used, and it’s probably a little bit different since you’ll find crackers, fruit, pesto, spreads, chutney, and many other editions – in the modern context.

Charcuterie salumi board
Antipasti Salumi Board – a bit of this and that – from the garden and from the curing chamber of course!

You are, however, highly unlikely to find any of this on antipasto boards in Italy (maybe in Rome or another big city, though). I wrote another post about traditional French and Italian pre-meal appetizer boards; check out that post here.

Confusion with Pasta & Antipasta

Another theory that floats around is the word pasta, which is very Italian; one knows that pasta ends with an a. It kind of makes sense that anti-pasta is ‘o’.

What to Put on an Antipasti or Antipasto Board/Platter

Here are some of my favorites and also some of the classics.

Before I go into list mode, I want to highlight what I see all the time in Italy

A regional type of Prosciutto was often on antipasti at somebody’s house or in a restaurant. (dry-cured whole leg of quality pork – usually finished on nuts and whey – hopefully, with 12 months minimum of drying).

Prosciutto parma ham in parma
Prosciutto Parma Ham in Parma – the sweetest cured mat I have had (24 drying months for this one). Not rushed to slaughter grown slowly and has a little extra marbling as you can see.

Parma Ham from Parma (yes I stayed in Parma, visited Parma factories, and ate my share of Parma in Parma). Parma is a light slightly sweet prosciutto protected by European law and they make sure the pigs, quality, and the process have been adhered to in a strictly traditional manner. Here is a link that explains it way better than me – (DOP – in Italian or PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) in English).

I can eat Parma until the preverbal “cows (or pigs) come home”; it’s what I would call session salumi. I heard the term “session” concerning craft beer and copied it.

Salumi (Which Includes Salami), Cured Meat

If you want to make or buy some of these, I will put a few links in to guide you to decent resources. Either I have written about it, or I can send you down the right track to order/eat or make it even!

Dry Cured Meat for an Antipasti Platter

Prosciutto (Dry Cured Pork Leg)Dry Cured Salami
Braesola (Dry Cured Beef)Pancetta (Dry Cured Pork Belly)
Coppa (Dry Cured Upper Loin Neck Pork)Mortadella (Emulsified salami)

Cheeses and Marinated Vegetables

  • Marinated Olives (in Extra Virgin Olive Oil)
    • Here is a great quick recipe
    • I found this authentic supplier – buy here
  • Preserved Courgettes (in Extra Virgin Olive Oil (not pickled)
    • Favorite recipe
    • To buy something decent online – check out these guys

I am, of course, always keen for variation, and the spice of life is, of course, trying new things. But specifically, I am all for the classics now and then as well.

History of Antipasti

From what I have read, it dates back to medieval Europe, specifically Italy. I need to read more to grasp a deeper understanding of the history surrounding this.

Regional Variations of Antipasti

Northern Italy

There is an overlapping of regions across northern Italy, i.e., Austria, which lends it a taste slightly more toward Central Europe.

However, it’s an area I need to explore more. Here are some examples I see across Northern Italy:

  • Classic Basil Pesto
  • Prosciutto de Parma
  • Olive Tapenade

Around Parma in the Emilia-Romagna region, food culture is prolific, with the province of Modena and the ‘real’ balsamic, which is DOP and comes in 12 or 25-year bottles.

We did experience with a fantastic Italian man, I was lucky enough to taste a 50-year-old authentic Modena Balsamic that his father started when the son was born.

Here is a link to a 12-year Balsamic 12 year old that I brought back from Italy and gave to a close friend. To be real Modena balsamic, the shape of the bottle can only be this.

Then, of course, cullatello and felino salami spring to mind – all from the same region.

12-month minimum (to 5 years) DOP Parmigiano-Reggiano is also born in this region. Astonishing really.

Central Italy

Umbria / Tuscany

Salumi antipasti in umbria italy
Salumi Antipasti in Umbria Italy

They are very different but quite similar in ways. I had all sorts of delicious cinghiale (wild boar – pronounced ‘shing-gaal-lee’) variations of cured meat and salumi in Umbria.

  • Gorgonzola cheese (awesome Italian blue cheese)
  • Fresh fennel
  • seafood and cured meats of Tuscany (Tuscany has it all!)

Southern Italy

The spicy influence of Africa and seafood surrounding the area come to party on the plate around here!

  • Njuda – a spreadable salami of pork meat, pork fat, and Calabrian chillis (I left the area recently with 4 pounds of it from a home producer with pigs for friends and family!)
  • Burrata – Think Mozzarella with rich cream inside
  • Buffalo Mozzarella DOP
  • Preserved Seafood – like white anchovies and pickled octopus (especially in the Puglia region)

Sicily (it’s an Island South)

Sicily is considered to be contrasting to mainland Italy. The home of the Godfather and the Mafia, Sicily is a unique and fascinating place. I have only visited once for three weeks, driving around the coast.

Seafood is king and the African influences come out – antipasti is very ocean-orientated in my experiences.

Traditional Italy Meal Course

So many formal dinners, or even informal I have had in Italy or with Italians has had the full progression of course, which is:

Aperitivo: a small dose of liqueur enjoyed before the meal, like Prosecco or Campari.

The antipasto: A traditional Italian meal starts with something to nibble on, called an antipasto, which translates into English as “before the meal.” It can include hot and cold appetizers like cheese, sopprasatta, bread, and dressed vegetables.

The primo: In Italy, pasta is a first course, or primo, served as an appetizer, not as the main event. Soup, rice, and polenta are the other options for the primo.

The secondo: The main course is called il secondo, or the second course. Chicken, meat, or fish are the usual choices, and portions are generally small. These main courses are usually fairly simple, especially if a rich pasta or rice dish precedes them.

The contorno: A platter of vegetables usually accompanies the main course. This side dish highlights the simple goodness of the vegetable.

The dolce: A dolce (or sweet) ends a traditional Italian meal.

Caffe: coffee and its permutations. A must with the dolce.

Digestivo: a “digestive” or after dinner liqueur like grappa and limoncello

THE CLASSIC ITALIAN MEAL STRUCTURE – http://www.speakitalian.org/the-classic-italian-meal-structure.html

Resources for Antipasti and Antipasto

Over and above the author’s knowledge of the subject, these resources are also cited as research into this to clarify the information.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antipasto

https://www.delallo.com/blog/antipasti-meal-social-gathering-or-both/

https://lepoissonbleu.com/2019/05/11/antipasti-or-antipasto


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Comments

  1. Great explanation. I can be clever now and call for antipasto/i and embarrass many restaurants!!

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