Salami is a type of cured sausage consisting of fermented and air-dried meat, typically beef or pork. Historically, salami was popular among Southern European peasants because it stores at room temperature for up to 40 days once cut, potentially supplementing a meager or inconsistent supply of fresh meat. Countries and regions across Europe make their own traditional varieties.A traditional salame, with its typical marbled appearance, is made from pork or beef (sometimes specifically veal). The maker usually ferments the raw meat mixture for a day, then stuffs it into either an edible natural or inedible cellulose casing, and hangs it up to cure. Some recipes apply heat to about 40 °C (104°F) to accelerate fermentation and drying. Higher temperatures (about 60 °C (140°F)) stop the fermentation when the salami reaches the desired pH, but the product is not fullycooked (75 °C (167°F) or higher). Makers often treat the casings with an edible mold (Penicillium) culture. The mold imparts flavor, helps the drying process, and helps prevent spoilage during curing.
Although the exact origin is unknown, there is evidence that fermented sausages were made in the Mediterranean region more than 2000 years ago and this was the prevalent method to preserve in Roman and Greek times.
The meat was cured with salt. In fact Salami derives from the Italian “salare” meaning to salt. (Roman Legionnaires were often paid with salt, hence the word salary which also comes from “salare”.) Often other herbs and spices would be added as well.
Originally salami was made only from pork, but more recently other meats including beef have been used.
Types of Salami
Wherever Italian immigrants went, so did their sausage traditions. However, the Italian diaspora made their salami with whatever was local to their new home, thus trading tradition for freshness. While that may not be a bad thing outside of Italy, steps have been made in order to preserve the time-honored techniques of food making. Many Italian Salami have been given the PDO designation, which ensures that particular food products are made in their native geographical region using traditional methods. Each region has numerous varieties but there are a few that really stand out and should be sought after.
Salame di Felino originates from the food rich region around Parma. This dry aged sausage is recognized by its uneven shape, one end being smaller than the other. The salami is aged for three months in the same climactic conditions that create the world famous Prosciutto di Parma.
Salame Finocchiona is noted for its use of fennel seeds (finocchio) in its spice mix. This ten inch long variety is made with finely ground pork and fat and then dry aged for 3-4 months. This sausage has a spicy flavor and is served in thick slices.
Salame Napoletano is similar to pepperoni with its small diameter, distinctive red color and spicy peperoncino. However this variety is only made with lean pork (pepperoni has pork and beef) and a lesser amount of fat. This salami is not tied to the degree of many other varieties; it is simply folded in half and tied on each end. Salami Napoletano is dry aged for at least six months and comes in varieties of different levels of spiciness.
Soppressata di Calabria is an aged salami yet maintains a soft texture due to a short aging period. This salami is made from a mix italian salami from the lean meat from the head of the hog and coarsely ground. The meat is then mixed with backfat, pepper, spices and wine. Soppressata is then flattened and knotted horizontally to form several square sections before a 40-day aging cycle. This soft and delicate salami is sliced thin and by hand.
Salamini Italiani alla Cacciatora is a DOP sausage that is regulated by region, ingredients as well as dimensions. This salami is produced all over Italy and is recognized by its smallish size, suitable for a hunter (Cacciatora) to carry with him, slung on his shoulder. This little salami (salamino) can be no bigger than eight inches and weigh less than twelve ounces.
Soft or cooked Salami (Soppressata or Mortadella) should be sliced thin to get the most flavor and aroma. Hard or dry aged Salami should be cut thick; in fact it should be thick enough to be able to stand on its edge. Any type of salami is great as an appetizer since it is bold enough to be served alone or with other ingredients. Good hard cheeses like pecorino go well with a number of spicy dry cured salami. Green apples and pomegranates or fresh mozzarella complement softer and more delicate varieties like soppressata.
All types of salame can lend a unique, savory dimension to any tomato based pasta sauce. Salami also excels as a topping or a stuffing to main dishes way beyond pizza and calzones. However thousands of backpackers (including myself) and other travelers to Italy have discovered salami to be the perfect picnic food. The Italian hunters may have had the right idea after all. Taking their portable salamini, some cheese, olives and wine into the woods to have lunch under the trees.
To purchase products, head over to Italia Regina!