Antipasto (plural antipasti) , often spelled and/or pronounced as antipasta (antipasta salad), means "before the meal" and is the traditional first course of a formal Italian meal. Traditional antipasto includes cured meats, olives, peperoncini, mushrooms, anchovies, artichoke hearts, various cheeses (such as provolone or mozzarella), pickled meats and vegetables (both in oil or in vinegar).
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The contents of an antipasto vary greatly according to regional cuisine. It is quite possible to find in the south of Italy different preparations of saltwater fish and traditional southern cured meats (like soppressata or 'nduja), while in the north it will contain more different kinds of cured meats and mushrooms and probably, especially near lakes, preparations of freshwater fish. The cheeses included also vary significantly between regions.
Many compare antipasto to hors d'oeuvre, but antipasto is served at the table and signifies the official beginning of the Italian meal. It may also be referred to as a starter, or an entrée.