Crafting Artisan Cured Meat
Every Christmas my brother’s family, parents and grandparents all gather to my home. We have a large table that fits us all comfortably. Dinner always starts with an antipasto plate dominated by piles of cured meats. The flavors of the salami seem to sharpen our memory and as the wine begins to flow so do the family stories of weddings, births, mishaps and, of course, great meals.Cured meats play a big role in our family gatherings and traditions. They’ve also been our livelihood for many generations. I learned to make salami from my father, who learned from my grandfather. Curing meat was a trade of necessity for many of my ancestors who needed a reliable way to store meat. Many great food traditions start that way and like ours, many become a craft. Honing that craft becomes a consuming passion. We’re particularly proud of the family recipe for Casalingo salami. Every agricultural family in Italy has their own recipe for Casalingo. It’s one of my favorites that we make at Creminelli Fine Meats because its ingredients are simple and pure: meat, salt, pepper, a touch of nutmeg…and time.
The flavor, however, is anything but simple. The spiced meat is stuffed into a beef casing, hand tied, then hung in a curing room where the fermentation process begins. I can tell where the salami is in the curing process by the smell—my father taught me this. After fermentation we put it in the cantina where it slowly ages developing its characteristic flavor in the process. I don’t like to go fast when checking my salami; they have taught me patience. Being an artisan takes patience and perseverance. But, the rewards are satisfying. I love to watch people try good artisan salami for the first time. Often, their eyes light up as they tell me it’s the best salami they’ve tasted—this is my favorite part of my craft.