Salumi – The Art of Cured Meats

“The pig is an encyclopedic animal, a meal on legs.”
“Dans le cochon, tout est bon (Everything in a pig is good).”

Grimod de La Reynière (1758-1837)

It’s not a misprint. Salumi is Italian for the whole family of salted, cured cuts of meat or sausages made primarily (but not exclusively) from pork. It is a category of cured meats that includes salami but also includes other products such as coppa (spicy cured pork shoulder), soppressata (spicy dried pork sausage) and bresaola (air dried beef). In Italian, cured meat products are generally referred to as affettati, the Italian equivalent of the French charcuterie.

Salumi Artisan Cured Meats, Seattle, Washington
Clockwise from top: Lardo, Oregano Salami, Lamb Prosciutto, Culatello, Salumi Salami, Hot Sopressata Salami, Mole Salami, Lomo, Guanciale, Finocchiona Salami, Smoked Paprika Salami. Center from top: Cotecchino, Cotto, Coppa, Pancetta.

There has been a renaissance of sorts. Call it a new appreciation for the the culinary artisan and the importance of the pig. As Thomas Keller said in the forward to Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing,

…few people recognize what charcuterie is or recognize it as the great branch of cooking that it is. [Cured meats] represent some of the oldest methods of cooking, and so has deep culinary roots and an important role in the development of civilization.

Keller goes on to say,

Charcuterie is important [because] it recognizes the pig as the superior creature that it is. From a culinary standpoint, the pig is unmatched in the diversity of flavors and textures it offers the cook and the uses it can be put to… it’s a marvel.

There is no great cured meats without great animals. The key is sourcing, shopping if you will. Know your animals. Great meat is raised with the freedom of space, well-fed, hormone-free, don’t rely on medications to keep them healthy, and under the watchful eye of the rancher that knows: knows their land, their animals and how to handle their charges from birth to market. It’s a lost art but one that MUST BE nurtured so that we don’t lose this valuable resource.

Thankfully, there are a number brave souls dedicating themselves to applying the knowledge and time needed to be true artisans. Here are my favorite U.S. artisan cured meat producers. They all source heritage, sustainably-raised, natural products.

Fra’ Mani, California
Founded in 2006 by Paul Bertolli, known for his tenure as Chef of Chez Panisse Restaurant in Berkeley, California (1982-1992) and Chef/Co-Owner of Oliveto Restaurant in Oakland, California (1995-2005). I’ve eaten his creations when he was at Oliveto (his entire pig dinners are amazing) and without losing a step, this grandson of an Italian butcher has translated his passion into a high-end nationally recognized producer. Try their Mortadella, a finely textured, delicately seasoned pork sausage studded with fat and whole peppercorns. You will never go back to that generic “bologna” again.

Salumi, Washington
Armandino Batali, Mario’s father, started Salumi as a dream after his retirement from Boeing. After a number of years learning from the best butchers in Italy, Armandino opened a small neighborhood deli and eventually expanded his operation it into a driving force in the artisan US market. His Lamb “Prosciutto” and Salumi Mole are unique and to die for.

La Quercia, Iowa
Their Organic Green Label Prosciutto has been proclaimed as the best American Prosciutto by everyone from best selling and James Beard award winning author Deborah Madison to Vogue food critic Jeffrey Steingarten. One of the participants at Slow Food Nation in San Francisco said that an Italian would “fall down on the floor and cry for more.”

Salumeria Biellese, New York
This New York institution has been making sausages and salumi since 1925. You can taste the Old World tradition maintained by the latest generation. Their quality is amazing. Just ask Daniel Boulud of Daniel and Thomas Keller of Per Se.

Boccalone, California
Founded by Chef Chris Cosentino and Mark Pestori of Incanto. Chris is know for his nose-to-tail philosophy and has been curing small batches in-house for years. They just recently opened their retail operation at San Francisco’s Ferry Building Marketplace.

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4 thoughts on “Salumi – The Art of Cured Meats”

  1. You talk above about the importance of the provenance of the pork that goes into charcuterie. However, of the companies you list, it seems that only one makes an effort to let their consumers know about the animals that make up the charcuterie- that would be La Quercia with their organic pork. What do you know about the other companies pork provenance?

  2. Growing up these meats were relegated to the culinary scrap heap, but in the last decade they have risen to star status as those who actually pay attention have come to appreciate the artisan quality and the centuries of history.

  3. I grew up in a italiam family and every yr about january in colorado we made soppressata i wish now i would have paid more attaion but i did not, I was wondering if you knew ware i could get a recupie for soppressata all i rember is my dad ground up the sholders of the pig made about 5 lbs loaf groung up meat one hand full of salt red peper and fennel seeds red wine (that we also made )black peper not sure after that then we stuffer it in casings hung it in celler smoked it and about april it was done.
    Please let me know if you know Tahnk You Don

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