I'm not certain whether it was through dumb luck or divine intervention that I came to try cacciatorino.

Standing in line at the neighborhood Italian deli, I had only sweet soppressata on my mind, the dried sausage made from pork meat and fat, usually subtly flavored with spices.

"You want the cacciatorino?" countered the brusque woman behind the butcher case.

I repeated my original request -- for soppressata (soh-preh-SAH-tah). The woman stared sternly at me.

"You want the cacciatorino," she repeated. I now understood it to be a statement, not a question. She reached for a short, stubby, lumpy link of Old World-style sausage, snipped it loose, wrapped it in butcher paper and plunked the package on the counter, the soppressata banished from my thoughts. I went home, sliced off a smidgen, peeled off the casing and nibbled.

It was chewy with an intense flavor -- a robust meatiness. Despite an occasional black peppercorn, the richness was tempered by sweetness. It's a flavor and a texture that develop as the meat ages until properly firm, but not hard. (Cacciatorino that has been vacuum-sealed in plastic loses its characteristic chewy texture.)

Unlike soppressata, which is made of tightly packed ground meat that must be thinly sliced, cacciatorino (kah-chuh-TOR-ee-no) is a fairly loose arrangement of finely chopped pork or beef (though it sometimes is crafted from venison or wild boar).

The best cacciatorino, according to Martin Stiglio of the Italian Cultural Institute in Washington, comes from Felino in Emilia-Romagna. (Not that you can taste it outside of Italy; most true salami, including cacciatorino, can not be imported to the United States.)

Translated as "little hunter," the salami got its name when hunters tucked the inexpensive, nonperishable and portable sustenance in their pockets. Today in Italy it is brought out midafternoon to tide one over until dinner, preferably thickly sliced with chewy bread and red wine. One link, ample for a single appetite, is not quite sufficient for two.

-- Renee Schettler

Cacciatorino is available locally for about $8.99 per pound at Italian delis and some specialty stores.