You Say Salumi I Say How High (& Please Vote for a Food Ninja)
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I can think of very few things more Food Ninja than charcuterie, so the remainder of this post will be spent on the fine art of curing and aging the most blessed of all tasty creatures, the pig. I had the recent pleasure of auditing a charcuterie workshop taught by the infamous Gabriel Claycamp, yes, THAT one, for those of you Seattle-ites in the know. Over the course of several hours I watched him dismantle an organic pig and, with the help of his students, place various body parts into curious concoctions meant to make meat amazing, oh and safe to eat too. Safety is a big issue with Claycamp, who has essentially written the book on how to be in compliance with the FDA and their pesky HACCP plans whilst curing meat. If you have a salient interest to cover your sausage in salt, Claycamp teaches regular classes which you can see here.
Now let’s get to the meat of the post- haha, I am sofa-king funny. Charcuterie, to those of you living under a lettuce leaf, is the fine art of curing meat. I’m going to go out on a limb here and completely alienate myself from Francophiles (whom I love) by saying that I cannot understand why the hell the globally-accepted term for the art is in French. I mean, hello, uh Italy? Sure, you may have heard the word Salumi, but I’m betting a good percentage of folks think that’s just some obscure spelling for Salami. I’m also betting those are the same people who make the mistake of ordering pizza ai peperoni in Italy and being surprised when it comes back with not meat but peppers. I digress.
Salumi is the family which contains salami as a species. In other words, all salami are salumi, but not all salumi are salami. Say that five times fast, I dare you. Examples of salumi that are not salami are whole muscle cuts such as prosciutto or bresaola. Bresaola is made from the eye of round of beef, and prosciutto, as most of you know, is from the leg or ham of a pig.
While I am sure you will never forget that the prosciutto is the ham if you’ve ever had a perfect slice of paper-thin San Daniele, I’m going to lodge a little gem in your brain so you’ll also always think of me when you think of pigs (wait?) and the strikingly-arcane knowledge I share with you. After all, I have to justify my purchase of the Oxford English Dictionary at a time of my life when I was starving and boozing my way through a creative writing degree in the tundric outlands of rural Montana (aka Missoula).
The word ham is curiously associated with clumsiness and ineffectuality. You know how we like to say “hamming it up?” Well that came to us via the longer version of the word, “hamfatter,” which was coined in the 19th century to describe an overemphatic actor who rants or overacts. Often when a person has a really great slice of prosciutto, or jamon iberico which is the name of my current paramour, they rant and overact. Therefore I have scientifically deduced that there must be something in the ham that makes people a touch off. Hence, the word ham. Stay tuned next time, where the word of the day will be finocchio, the Italian word for fennel (it has a curious double-meaning).
Back to salumi. Salami are a genus in the salumi family that consist of ground meat stuffed into some sort of casing (usually pig intestines). On this blissfully piggy evening, we got to try our hand at starting salami such as chorizo, and lots of salumi such as prosciutto, lomo, lardo and coppa. I say starting because, as you may know, charcuterie is an art for a patient man. Something large like prosciutto can cure for upwards of two years, and even a cut as small as bresaola still takes a month, give or take. If you want to whet your appetite whilst breaking down a pig, you can always toss scraps of skin into a big vat of stew for flavor and to fortify you while you parcel out your beast.
I shan’t be whittling down into the minutiae of swine (swinutiae?) in this very general post- I just wanted to touch the tip of the pig, so to speak. If you want to get slightly serious about it, think about starting with something easy and delicious like bacon. You can be merrily masticating smoky pork belly in a week or so, and it’s a fair bit of fun. If, on the other hand, you decide to go crazy and turn your randomly-amassed collection of old wine fridges into curing chambers and tackle something daunting like bresaola (my delicious nemesis), you’d do well to take a class from a pro like Claycamp. Here’s his schedule.