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Authentic Southern Italian Cuisine
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Spectacular Salumi

January 24, 2013 Carlino's Restaurant no comments

"House-made specialties have led to a new boom in creative antipasto dishes featuring unique cured meats"

To the uninitiated, salumi might look like a typo for salami. The Italian word for cured meats, salumi does mean salami, but it also encompasses so much more: soppressata, pepperoni, mortadella, pancetta, capicola and the queen of preserved meats, prosciutto di Parma. Just reading the names aloud is enough to whet your appetite, isn’t it?

Salumi takes its name from the same root as “salt,” and salt is the active ingredient in many types of salumi. When food is salted, it sheds much of its moisture. Without moisture, flavors become intensely concentrated. That’s why a slice of salami or a lardon of pancetta has such potent flavor. Great salumi makers also boost the flavor with spices; cracked peppercorns, paprika, capers and garlic are just some of the flavors you might find in certain types of salumi.

Salting originated as a way to store meats before refrigeration was available. As salt removes moisture, it preserves foods and keeps them good to eat for months or even years. In warm Mediterranean climates, having flavorful meat that didn’t spoil was vital to health. Over time, the salting that was once a necessity became an art form, evolving into brine cures and dry cures, each of which also featured unique combinations of meats and spices.

Sometimes the salt in salumi came in the form of a pickling solution. Pickled meats aren’t as common in Italian and Mediterranean culinary traditions as in northern European ones, but individual salumi makers often try their hand at brining cuts of meat. When thinking of brine-cured meat, you might think of pastrami, but although its name sounds Italian, its roots are farther east in Romania. That hasn’t stopped the popular meat from sharing space in deli counters with salami and soppressata.

Smoked meats also count as salumi, including certain varieties of bacon and ham. Hard summer sausages are often smoked, too. Like salting, smoking started as a way to keep food fresh and tasty throughout the seasons. Smoky flavors have their own deliciously complex appeal, so salumi makers experimented with smoking, too. By varying the type of wood smoke used, incorporating herbs or spices, and using a cold-smoking or hot-smoking process, artisans could create distinct regional tastes.

While salumi became more uniform for decades, recent trends toward house-made specialties has led to a new boom in creative antipasto dishes featuring unique cured meats. The juicy, wine-infused Italian sausage we make in-house at Carlino’s is a great example of the culinary creativity that transforms an ordinary meat dish into something special. Although our sausage is made fresh and not preserved, it borrows from the age-old traditions of great salumi makers throughout history.

Salumi artisans had hundreds of years in which to refine their recipes. A single bite of prosciutto represents the culmination of centuries of effort, and an Italian sandwich stacked with many types of salumi is a veritable tour of Italy on a plate. The next time you enjoy a slice of pepperoni pizza or a paper-thin slice of prosciutto di Parma, savor it as one of Italy’s most enjoyable forms of art.

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