Salami (Salame in Italian) is yet another example of an Italian sausage tradition that has been abused by mass production and over processing. In America salami has been reduced to pre-sliced waxy discs on sandwiches and pizza that barely resembles their namesake. However just like many foods still made in their time-honored way in Italy, Salami (or Salame) is way beyond similarly named products found in most supermarkets.
Salami (Salame) is not one specific sausage; it is a generic term describing any type of encased (insaccati) meat product. The origin of the word comes from the Latin word “Salumen” which describes a mix of salted meats. Like many other Italian pork products, Salami has a long history even pre-dating ancient Rome. Over these centuries regional variations as well as preparation techniques have created various types of these sausages.
Each type of Salami (Salame) is made different then any other, that is why it is hard to describe a general production method. However they are all part of the same family of pork sausages and go through the same stages. Salami is differentiated by the fineness of the ground meat and each variety has a different type of meat consistency as well as a different spice mix. However all salami is made with pork, which has been blended with a particular ratio of high quality pork fat. Favorite spices and flavorings include salt, pepper, garlic, wine, mace, fennel and sometimes cinnamon. Some preservatives are used, but only in amounts allowed by food purity laws and some salami is also colored. Once these meat and spice combinations are blended and packed in natural or synthetic (for cooked salami) casings, the sausage is aged in dark cool cellars.
Salami can be prepared in either fresh, cooked or dry-cured varieties. Dry-cured salami (often seen hanging in markets, butcher shops or Italian grocerias) is ready to eat once it is sliced, while the fresh variety must be cooked beforehand. Both fresh and cooked varieties do not have a long shelf life and must be eaten shortly after slicing. All varieties of salami should share some certain characteristics: the meat must be well compacted with a red/pink interior speckled with fine grains of white fat. Much like another famous sausage Mortadella di Bologna, these fat bits should not separate from the meat when sliced.