“The pig is an encyclopedic animal, a meal on legs.”
“Dans le cochon, tout est bon (Everything in a pig is good).”
Making our salumi begins with selection of the meat, the specific muscles or muscle groups on the hog that best suit the character of the product. The choice of particular lean muscle cuts, the type of fat used, and the proportions of both significantly affect the overall taste impression as well as the “face” and complexion — from pastel pink to rosy to wine red — of our salumi.
The range of products we currently offer utilizes the better part of the whole hog. The muscles and tasty fat of the lower forequarter find their way into fresh and fully cooked sausages and our unique Salame Rosa. Marbled shoulder end loin and the succulent meat surrounding the shoulder blade combine with lean muscles from the leg in our salami. Belly and “cushion” meat from the shoulder, together with cuts high in collagen and savory fat from the jowl, make up the distinctive blend of our Classic Mortadella. Whole muscles from the hind legs are used for our Smoked Ham and Rosemary Ham. Hand-trimmed shoulder is used for our Spicy Capicollo, and we trim whole pork bellies for special use in our Pancetta and our Smoked Pancetta.
Preparing the meat for dry salame first involves the removal of intramuscular tendons and glands that would otherwise affect the integrity of the slice. Once the meat has been sectioned from primal cuts, we strip away the tendons and trim each piece by hand. The meat is then laid out on racks and sent to a cellar where it is chilled to the proper temperature and partially dried prior to cutting and grinding. This critical step contributes to the quality of the final grind, the goal of which is to reduce the meat to sharply defined particles. Removal of some of the water through pre-drying facilitates a more accurate engagement of blades and meat. Since “particle definition” is paramount and enhanced by cold temperatures and sharp cutting tools, we work in a very chilly room and hone our blades and plates frequently.
Once the meat has been cut, we weigh out seasonings, spices, and wine and carefully mix all elements according to hand feel. When the meat is mixed with salt, proteins contained in the muscle fibers unravel and bind with the water present — lean pork muscle contains on average between 65-70% water. We mix our blends for salame only so much as to allow for the distribution of seasonings, wine, and culture. Over mixing is detrimental to salame as the coating of lean particles with smeared fat or extracted protein prevents water from escaping, resulting in salame that does not dry properly.
The mixing of our fresh sausage, Classic Mortadella, Salame Rosa, and fully-cooked sausages is a different matter. Extracted proteins form a sticky film around the particles of meat and fat which later “gels” during cooking. Proper mixing results in water retention and yields juicy, tender, fresh and cooked ground sausages and moist slices of Classic Mortadella and Salame Rosa.
We use only natural pork casings for all of our dry salame. We use salted casings from pork intestine for products such as dry salame because of the very desirable aroma they impart. Natural casings are also the perfect host to beneficial mold and yeasts. Following stuffing, we hand tie all of our salame one by one with hemp or linen twine and prepare them for their safe hanging on racks during fermentation, drying, and aging. Since no two casings are alike, this step requires practiced skill in hitching and knotting, in gauging the proper tension to encourage binding of the meat inside, and in shaping salame that is pleasing to the eye.
Once the salami have been loaded on racks, they are wheeled into our fermentation cellars where they undergo the remarkable transformation from raw to ripened sausage. During this period of fermentation, aptly also called “dripping”, our salame loses considerable weight through water loss. Lactic acid bacteria cause protein breakdown and the release of water previously held tightly within muscle cells. Fermentation also leaves its tangy traces and the gamy aromas later to be perfected in the stages of maturation and aging.
During the close of the fermentation phase, we also tend the growth of beneficial mold on the surface of the casing. Mold assists in the even drying of the salame, provides protection from light and oxygen, contributes to aroma development, and has a balancing affect on the tangy acidity developed during fermentation. We ferment at low temperatures as experience and tradition show that this results in salame with greater and more nuanced aroma.
Drying follows. Drying is the most sensitive stage in the process and involves constant adjustments to temperature, humidity, and air movement based on a skilled reading of the progress of the salame. If the cellar is too dry, the salame can develop a dry rim and soft center; too wet and the mold grows out of control. If the room is not adequately ventilated with changes of fresh air, the product can take on undesirable aromas. The goal of drying is to manage the surrounding air so that moisture is removed at the same rate that it migrates from the core of the product to its surface. While our state of the art air handling equipment is quick to respond to our commands, it is nevertheless ignorant of the special demands of each type of salame we make. Differences in casing type and thickness, in diameter of the product, in the size of the grind, and in salt content call for a continual reckoning of the adjustments to the air quality of our cellars. Our sensory evaluation of the evolving product leads us to regularly adjust our equipment and recalibrate our rooms for the best possible drying environment.
Aging is the most advanced stage and the one at which extensive chemical changes take place in the matrix of seasoned meat. These changes involve further transformation of the lean and fat content of the salame and ultimately determine its final taste, aroma and mouth feel. Once our salame has dried sufficiently, it is moved to our cantina where it completes itself. Like wine, salame mellows over time and the seasonings added at its earliest stage marry harmoniously with what it has gained through the process of maturation and aging.