Long gone are the days when the words "lunch meat" conjured up an image of two slices of white bread wrapped around a lonely slice of bologna. Today's deli counters and refrigerated cold cut displays feature a broad selection of choices, with each offering its own variations as to the type of meat it's made from and how it was processed.
Lunch Meat Categories
Lunch meats fall into two broad categories: rolled, or sausage types, such as salami and bologna, and shaped roasts, such as turkey breast, roast beef or honey ham. All lunch meats are fully cooked, and in some instances, cured or smoked to prolong storage, and can be eaten without further cooking. This feature makes them appealing as quick snacks, on deli platters or as sandwich fillings. Due to their soft pate-like consistency, some bolognas are encased in an inedible rind that must be removed before eating. Others, such as pastrami, feature an edible outer coating of herbs that give them additional flavor.
Today's bologna varieties include those made from a single type of meat, such as beef, and cheaper varieties made from chicken, turkey, or a combination of chicken, turkey and pork. Within the world of bologna, you can also find olive or pickle loaf, made from a combination of chicken and pork and studded with bits of olives or pickles, as well as light varieties that contain fewer calories and less fat. Differences in the type of meat used, the ratio of lean meat to fat as well as variations in flavorings and seasonings result in other types of bologna such as German or mortadella, the Italian counterpart to bologna sold in the U.S., which is made entirely of pork.
Ham, Turkey, Roast Beef and Pastrami
Sliced from formed cooked loaves, deli ham, turkey and roast beef are available as sub-varieties depending primarily on flavorings and how they are prepared. Brown sugar and honey ham take on extra sweetness during processing, while smoked ham, Black Forest and Virginia ham undergo a longer curing period that develops more complex flavors. (Ref. 6) Sliced turkey breast is labeled as oven-roasted, smoked, or honey smoked, and some varieties depend on seasonings, such as cracked black pepper, for additional flavor. Roast beef is sliced from different cuts of meat, such as top round and eye round, while pastrami is cured in a variety of seasonings that include garlic, pepper and coriander.
The Salami Family
Named from their different points of origin in Italy, salamis are usually made from pork, beef or a blend of the two, and can be hard or soft, depending on how they are processed. Hard salami, such as Genoa, is dried, while cotto salami is cooked to make it softer. Soft salami may contain whole peppercorns or other visible seasonings, while hard salami, such as soppressata, has a visible marbling of fat.
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