The Italian grocery store is a common and welcome sight across the US. Stepping inside feels like entering a treasure trove. Maybe you’ll be amazed by the vibrant Calabrian chiles or the bulk pasta or even the olive oil containers that have that slight film on the tins. Today we are going to talk about fermented foods and how salami is made.
Among all these sights and smells, one stands out above the rest: the ever-present Salami chubs hanging from beams and pillars around the shop. Yet as you’re browsing you’ve no doubt had numerous questions about how Salami is made.
We hope to answer those questions and help fill in the gaps in your fermented food knowledge. Salami is a product with a long history and refined craft — one we’ve spent over 100 years studying. We’ll cover all the steps necessary to create a quality batch of Salami from selecting and preparing the meat to the in-depth fermentation process.
Before we get into the actual details of the Salami making, let’s brush up on some key terms that you’re bound to see.
First, Salume is the Italian term for a category of specialty meats that are salted, cured, and aged over an extended period of time. Most Salume is made from pork, only a small portion of Italian salume is made with beef.
Next, Salumi. This refers to the vast majority of cured pork products originating from Italy including items like Prosciutto, Pancetta, Guanciale, and even cooked pork products like Mortadella. Salami is a specific type of Salumi that is made up of pork that is ground, seasoned, and packed into a casing to cure.
Curing is the process used to preserve meat. We’ll cover that in greater detail later in this article. Now that we’re on the same page, let’s begin.
Typically when discussing types of charcuterie, we focus first on the cut of meat specific to the product. However, Salami isn’t always made of one specific cut of meat. It is almost always made of ground pork, a mixture of lean muscle and high-quality bright back fat, the combination of which imparts a unique flavor profile to the end product.
Once the meat is selected, it’s chilled and then put through a grinder until it reaches the desired grain. At the end of this step, we’re left with a mix of meat ready for fragrant spices.
So far, we’ve created the ideal pork mixture. Now, we start to introduce more ingredients that will start to define how Salami is made.
First, salt is added to the mixture. This is a critical step as salt helps to inhibit the growth of bacteria. Without the proper salt ratio, the Salami will become rancid and inedible. Afterward, we start adding a variety of seasonings.
The types of seasonings that get used are extremely wide and limited only by the imagination of the Master Salumiere at hand. There are dozens of different Salami varieties — all created by combining different seasonings in various proportions.
The most common ingredients include garlic, black pepper, fennel, and warm spices. However, chances are that your favorite spices are used in one of the many varieties of Salami.
Sometimes liquid ingredients like wine are added. These can introduce additional sugar content to the mixture which affects the fermentation process. They also make for some tasty pairings.
One thing to consider when purchasing cured meat products is whether they have added nitrates or nitrites. These are compounds that are meant to protect the meat from bad bacteria but have potential negative health implications. At Volpi, we never add synthetic nitrates or nitrites to our products, instead, we allow the natural process of fermentation to protect the meat.
Now we delve into the step where the true magic happens. Each salame undergoes 2 critical steps to make it safe for consumption and to develop that signature umami flavor.
The first step is fermentation – a process that inhibits the growth of bad bacteria within the meat. This step is critical in salami making, without a proper ferment, the meat can spoil and be rendered inedible. Cure Masters are able to control a slow, cold fermentation over several days by making slight adjustments to temperature and humidity in order to slowly drop the pH of the salami without leaving a sour aftertaste.
Once fermentation is complete, each salami enters a drying phase. This step in the process draws out water molecules from the center of the log to the outside air through a process called osmosis. Again, this is a very delicate process best managed by expert Cure Masters – Master Salumieri – to assure the molecular chain is not broken. A significant amount of water must be removed from the salami before it is considered safe for consumption.
After that standard water activity is met, elongated drying time is used to assist in flavor and texture development of the product. In the United States, salami eaters prefer a drier, harder salame which may require additional drying time or slight changes to temperature, humidity, and airflow.
No Salami is complete until it’s been properly served and enjoyed by friends and family. The easiest way is to cut off thick slices and enjoy them on their own or as part of a charcuterie board.
However, we’d also like to suggest a few different ideas to use this delicious Salami now that you have a greater understanding and appreciation for it.
Consider this Volpi take on an American party classic when entertaining guests at your next party.
Spice up some vegetables with Salami in this healthy Okra dish.
Bring more depth to your after-dinner drink by introducing some quality Salami to the mix.
Salami is part of a long heritage of culinary traditions. Remember that the next time you stride into your Italian grocer and see it hanging from any available surface, chances are many skilled and proud hands have taken part in delivering this spectacular treasure to you. Now you get to be part of the tradition of fermented foods.