19 Muscles In Animals Are Often Found In Pairs Because Coppiette – Italy’s Answer to Beef Jerky

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Coppiette – Italy’s Answer to Beef Jerky

Every year, spread over the first ten days of May, the Festival of Coppiette is held in the town of Marcellina, about thirty kilometers northeast of Rome in the province of Lazio. Organized by the Committee of Butteri (mountain shepherds), it reflects the simultaneous celebrations dedicated to the Madonna del Ginestre. However, the committee deals less with the hunger of the soul and more with that of the stomach.

Coppiette are strips of meat that have been dried, cured with salt and pepper, and then seasoned with dill and pepperoncino (hot Italian chili peppers). Southeast of Rome, in the province of Frosinone, locals include garlic and white wine to make coppiette ciociare. This is a simple fare and was part of the staple diet enjoyed in times gone by by farmers and common peasants alike. There are some close relatives. Coppiette would have been understood as strange to the pioneers who opened up the American West in the nineteenth century and to the native Indians the settlers encountered. The Dutch Voortrekkers (which literally means money pullers) who made the great journey across South Africa to escape the British in the 1830s and 1840s were supported by something eerily similar – they called it biltong.

It’s not hard to understand its appeal. These dried meats are rich in protein and residual fat. They also have high levels of salt added during the drying process to inhibit any bacterial activity. The tired and hydrated Lazian farm worker, after a day in the field, munched on the coppiette and was quickly revived by a concentrated hit of energy and nutrients. These ‘sticks’ of meat packed almost nothing in his pocket; they were also stable because all excess fat and moisture had been removed. Tucked away in the dark recesses of a package or pocket, they can last for days or even months.

Then and now, the raw material used to make roast meat depends on the location. Cowboys and Native Americans cut strips from beef and game species, including buffalo, elk, and moose. In South Africa biltong made from beef remains the most common variety available, but today the Afrikaaner also uses ostrich and game species including kudu, wildebeest and springbok. In the Lazio region of Italy, horse and donkey were the usual options available. Today most coppiette are made from pork.

However, with their aversion to pork, the Jewish community makes its own version using beef. A good butcher may be able to sell you some coppiette using meat sourced from the prestigious Maremmana, a breed of cattle raised in the Maremma, the former marshland that straddles southern Tuscany and northern Lazio. If you visit the small town of Genzano, the residents can offer you their rare specialty using donkey meat.

In former times, no part of the animal was wasted; today’s butchers, and those who still do it at home, focus on the sharp muscle tissue that surrounds the ham, shoulder or belly. Strips 10-15 centimeters long and 2 centimeters thick are cut from the carcass and seasoned in wooden containers, before being gently roasted for half an hour in a brush-fired firebrick oven. Any excess water is drained off and the meat is cooked for another half hour before being left to dry for up to 48 hours in wire racks.

Coppiette, like their South African cousin biltong, differ from the weird in this respect. While the latter is dried in the sun or over fires, the more traditional biltong and coppiette are air-dried in the cold winter months. Lazio makes his specialty throughout the year and in the other months he follows the drying method and uses a special drying room. In both cases, the dried meat is tied together with string in pairs or coppiette (meaning ‘little pairs’) and cured for two months. After a final, very light smoking, the finished product is bagged or packed in trays ready for sale to taverns, butchers and wine shops.

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