All right, kiddos! To kick off the Festa di Salumi, I teamed up with my friend Scott, an avid DIYer and Punk Domestics contributor, to take on some projects from the book. Salame is the order of the day, and so we each picked one that piqued our interest most. For me, finocchiona, one of my favorite salami, and for Scott, the porcini salame. After all, who doesn't love a little porcini?
Making salame isn't actually all that hard, but it does require a lot of steps, no small amount of attention to detail, and more than a little luck when it comes to the curing phase. But at the front end of the process, the most important part is planning and prep. You want everything ready to go so you can move quickly from one step to the next. Make sure your meat and fatback are cubed and well chilled, nearly frozen. While you're at it, place your grinder attachment and accoutrements as well as the bowl in the freezer, too. The colder everything is, the better off you'll be.
For the finocchiona, Scott first toasted the fennel seeds in a dry skillet.
After which it's time to take the mortar and pestle to them. Oh, the smell. Like the perfume of angels.
Get your mise en place in order -- you don't want to waste time measuring out spices and whatnot while your meat is hanging around, getting warm.
And don't forget to soak your casings. We used beef middles that Scott ordered from Butcher & Packer.
Okay, everything in place? Good. Then it's time to grind.
Curiously, Salumi calls for running both the meat and fatback through the grinder. In the case of the finocchiona, he called for the extra-large die, which is not readily available for the standard Kitchenaid grinder, so we just used the largest one we had. For the finnochiona, the meat and fat are ground separately and then integrated; for the porcini, he calls for grinding them all together.
This differs from the way we made salame in Italy in January. There, the norcino ground the meat, and cut the fat by hand into tiny cubettti, which would then be integrated by hand. In my opinion, this results in a more authentic salame, with satisfying chunks of fat, rather than ground fat, but I think the flavor will work out just the same.
Once the meat is ground, it gets mixed with the seasonings (including the bacteria), and then goes back in the freezer for another chill, and it's time to get the casing on the stuffer.
This is a mildly awkward and unsettling task. There is no way not to notice what the provenance of the casing is. You're handling a cow's intestines, and you just have to be okay with that.
And you stuff. Meat goes in the hopper, guided by the augur, and into the casing. This takes a bit of finesse, holding the casing in place with just enough tension to make sure the meat fills the casing, yet not allowing it to overfill and burst. One thing is for sure, it's a heck of a lot easier when there's two of you doing it. It's also why we have no pictures of that part of the process.
Once the casings are stuffed, they may seem a little uneven and lumpy. Simply massage them gently to distribute the meat and even the salame out. Try to work out any air bubbles you see in the casing, but gently -- you don't want to burst the casing.
You should end up with about 36" of stuffed salame. If you happen to have a curing chamber that can accommodate that, great. Otherwise, you're going to need to pinch it into the lengths you can handle. Make sure to leave enough casing in between, so you can tie them off adequately.
Ruhlman helpfully includes information in the book on knot-tying for the purposes of salumi. The preferred method is the bubble knot, which he illustrates very well. Basically it's a modified square knot followed by a hitch about 1/2" farther out. The net result is a knot that maintains tension and is strong enough to support the salame as it hangs.
Once tied off, pierce the salame all over with a pin or sausage pricker to allow air to escape. If you see air bubbles under the casing, make sure you prick that area well enough to allow the air to escape.
There. Not perfect, but not bad for a couple of amateurs. Weigh the salami now; you ultimately are looking for 30% loss of weight by water from this stage.
Don't forget to label your salame with their initial weight, date and type.
For the first 24 hours, the salame must incubate in a relatively warm place to allow the bacteria to activate. Ideally, you want it about 80ºF. Scott's oven with the light on got up into the upper 70s, and so it would have to do. By the next day, the salame had dried considerably, and the curing salts had brightened the color of the meat.
Time to truss them up so they maintain their svelte figures. Again, this is illustrated in the book.
Scott also had some netting, which is even easier.
They get a nice spritz with a mold solution.
And into the curing chamber they go.
What's that? You don't happen to have a space where you can meticulously control the temperature, humidity and air circulation for curing meat? Oh, but you can. Scott has done a great job of modifying a mini fridge. If you want to hack a chamber of your own, then Matt's post on it is an absolute must-read.
And now, we wait. These are relatively small, and so the curing time should only be about three weeks. But, again, you want to pay less attention to time and more to weight. When the salami have lost 30% of their initial weight, then they have cured appropriately. And then we eat.
So you like to make salumi, do ya? Well, why don't you join us for a week-long trip to Emilia-Romagna, Italy, to learn to make salumi, preserves, pasta, piadina and more at the hands of local artisans who do it the way it's been done for generation upon generation. Tickets are on sale now!