This is the real-deal salami, a traditional Italian artisan-crafted delicacy with no allergens or nitrites, which takes the cured-meat experience to a whole new gastronomic level. Concerns over Hep-e infected pork is the only thing preventing us giving it five stars.
I have eaten many varieties of salami, chorizo and saucisson sec – mostly the typical fare you can pick up in supermarkets. So I wasn’t prepared for this. My daughter ordered it online, and presented it to me recently. Well, it looked interesting. but what hit me next was the pungent aroma of smoke. I’m not usually a fan of smoked foods, so I hung the sausages in our utility room to deal with later. For the next week, whenever I went in there I was struck by the pervasive smell. They certainly didn’t want me to forget they were in there!
Eventually I found the right moment to try some. Taking one out of its simple brown paper bag I was immediately impressed: this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill salami – the texture of the skin suggested a beast of an entirely different and unfamiliar class. What was I dealing with?
No better way to find out than to plunge in… I cut a slice and popped it in my mouth. I was amazed. It was absolutely delicious! Compared to salami I’ve eaten before this was simply on another level.
I tried another slice, paying close attention. The flavour of the smoke combined with the spices in an unexpected and perfect union. This sausage has single-handedly converted me to smoked flavours – now I get it: smoking, when it’s done right, opens a whole level of gastronomic complexity. Done wrong – as almost all smoked products I’ve previously tasted – it’s a single flavour-note and a bit irritating at that. But not this!
The skin is nicely chewy, but not overly so and does not form a stupid plastic bag in the mouth; The salt complementary not dominant; The meat smooth, creamy – and with none of the gristle you find in less finely crafted mass-produced fare. Altogether this is a very superior and truly artisan food, and I love it!
At this point I realised I was dealing with something really quite special, so turned to the label which states …
Rustic cold cured smoked salami. Highest Quality.
pork, pork fat, salt, garlic, black pepper, allspice
This product does not contain any allergens
What? Is that it? No nitrates or nitrites? No ascorbic acid?? Not even any lactic cultures to ferment it???
I couldn’t get my head round what I was reading. I didn’t even know what ‘cold cured’ meant. Puzzled, I turned to Google for answers…
Cold Cured Salami – a traditional, artisan food
Cold curing, it turns out, is a traditional process of preserving meats without cooking or heating. The meat isn’t exactly raw as the curing process involves fermentation which changes the meat, bringing out distinctive rich flavours and preserving it. Once cut salami will keep for a month or more in a cool place.
- For details about the traditional meat curing in Italy, (info and videos) check out this page: Made in South Italy: Cured Cold Meats
Traditionally salamis are prepared from the raw ingredients, stuffed into natural casings (intestines) then hung in cool rooms where they become inoculated with air-borne bacteria and yeasts that start the fermentation process. This reliance on air-borne organisms is used in vinegar production and home fermentation where brined vegetables become preserved merely from the organisms that are on the vegetables and in the air. We have made elderflower champagne in the past (and exploded some bottles in the process); and you don’t need to add yeast to start the fermentation as there are sufficient wild yeasts present on the flowers themselves.
With cold cured salami, the inclusion of salt encourages beneficial bacteria over pathogenic ones, but in and of itself, the salt alone does not guarantee safety. Likewise, the smoking step is carried out at temperatures far too low to kill bacteria. The safety of the product, therefore, is in the hands of the artisan. Traditional salami producers know how to observe their products for tell-tale signs:
“When I don’t see mold on the outside, that’s when I get worried,” said Sal Lioni, an owner of the A&S Italian Pork Store in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. “If the mold isn’t on the outside, it’s on the inside.”
That quotation comes from a brilliant piece in The New York Times: Dry-Cured Sausages: Kissed by Air, Never by Fire. I highly recommend the article which explores the threats faced by traditional Italian Salami makers in New York whose art is misunderstood by the USDA health officials who can’t get their head round the idea of meat hanging around with no pathogen-killing preservatives or heat treatment “kill step”.
But this way of preserving meat has been around for hundreds, if not thousands of years. In Italy the traditional methods and skills have been passed down the generations.
“Salami is a funky product, no question,” said Sara Jenkins, the chef at Bread Tribeca, who grew up in Tuscany and now serves thin slices of imported salami with bread, butter and anchovies. “When I was growing up, everyone made their own — it was the first thing you were offered when visiting someone’s house — but the commercial product seems to be taking over.” NYT
And those commercial products found in the supermarkets just don’t cut the mustard. If you have never tasted artisan, cold cured salami like the one I am reviewing here, you don’t know what you are missing. Although not recommended during pregnancy, for the immunocompromised, or for people with liver disease, artisan salami is up there with the best unpasteurised cheeses.
A concern of eating raw pork products is the presence of hepatitis-e virus which we discussed in our post Pork: tradition and nutrition. It is a growing problem with up to 90% of pig herds in the UK infected. According to an article in the Independent last year, more than 60,000 people in Britain are reportedly experiencing flu-like symptoms each year after being infected with a new strain of the virus – primarily from undercooked sausages – and although the symptoms are mild for most people, in 2016 there were more serious cases of liver disease 1244 people (about 2%).
So, I was a little concerned that cold cured salami might be a source of infection, as it is uncooked. Digging around a little I have to conclude that the risk appears real, but quite low. Although one case mentioned in the Independent article was linked to Dutch Salami, a 2018 study published in the journal of food protection [abstract here] found traces of the virus only in sausages made from raw pigs liver (mortadella di fegato), whilst none of the 18 varieties of ‘raw’ salami tested contained any trace of the virus.
The virus is killed when cooked above 70°C, so if you are concerned about the Hep-E situation you can still enjoy salami in cooked dishes. My daughter (who is pregnant) did just that with her rustic cold cured salami – adding it to a stew.
Where to buy
The rustic cold smoked salami reviewed here was purchased from a really interesting online store: wildgamemeat.co.uk, but at the time of writing it’s out of stock would you believe it! The closest product on their store right now is an Organic Rustic Salami at £4.99 (500g). If you try it, let me know what you think!
They sell all sorts of interesting stuff, including tinned wild elk, beef jerky, deer sausage, and a range of salami made from elk, red deer and even beaver! Many of the products are gluten-free.
In fact, my daughter purchased some of their smoked bacon and pork, which went in our freezer, so I’ve not tasted it yet, but now I know how wonderful their salami is I’m looking forward to trying those next. I hope that freezing them is not considered sacrilegious!