The Process of Making Salami

From raising the animal humanely to preparation and eventually serving the meat, learn the steps by which salami is created.

Salami drying

“Campo Seco” at the beginning of the fermentation process (less than two hours old)

Photo courtesy Sterling Publishing

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Award-winning chef Charles Wekselbaum has written an entry-level guide to the dry-curing process for those who want to try it at home. In this book, Cured, which was inspired by flavors from Asia to Italy, you can learn the basics of curing salami, prosciutto, salmon, tuna, or even vegan options including cucumber and figs. Construct your own drying and fermentation chamber, arrange a charcuterie board, and learn some delicious drink pairings for the finished product.

From Farm to Kitchen: The Process of Making Salami

1. Raising animal The animal is raised, preferably in a clean, open environment, with access to the outdoors. It eats a clean and natural diet and is ideally not administered any antibiotics, growth hormones, growth stimulants or promoters.

2. Sacrifice The animal is sacrificed in as low stress a manner as possible. This includes, but is not limited to, orderly and smooth transport, ensuring that no other animals are present, performing the sacrifice quickly, so any pain the animal feels is kept to a minimum. The most “humane” way of doing this today by “stunning,” which imposes instant unconsciousness unto the animal.

3. Butchering Butchering can be done in a variety of ways. Styles of butchering consistently vary from country to country and region to region. The important information to remember when butchering for salami making, is to a) separate the lean meat from the hard fat and b) make sure it is trimmed of its nerves, tendons, and silver skin. While certain cuts are better for making salami than others, any cut can theoretically be used, as long as the meat and fat are properly separated and measured out.

4. Chopping/Grinding This is where the coarseness of your salami gets determined. It also plays a vital role in how your lean and fat are visually defined in the finished salami. Lean and fat should be kept cold during this process, and handled minimally, to keep them from smearing, and to ensure that the lean and the fat maintain their definition as much as possible. It is important that the lean meat does not become covered in fat, which will prevent it from drying and can cause the salami to spoil.

5. Mixing This is where salts, spices, and cultures get incorporated into the meat. The important thing to remember here is to mix only until the salt, spices, and cultures are just incorporated. Over mixing will warm the meat, and start to smear it, thus beginning to break down the proteins in the meats, which will affect the integrity of the salami.

6. Resting This will give your meat a chance to relax and, as I like to think of it, “regain its composure,” after the intense grinding and mixing process. It will also allow your spices to penetrate the meat thoroughly. This usually lasts one or two days.

7. Fermentation This is the initial stage of curing and the first of the two main steps that make non-heat treated salami safe to eat. During fermentation, beneficial bacteria present in the meat will consume any sugars present in the mixture. The product of this “digestion” of sugars is a form of acid, which creates an acidic environment, inhospitable to harmful bacteria. Fermentation is usually completed in 5 days or less. Slightly warmer temperatures encourage microbial activity, which enables the fermentation. The fermentation step is the point at which the “tanginess” of the salami will begin to take shape. The warmer the fermentation environment is, the faster the fermentation will occur, and the tangier the salami will be. The tangier it becomes, the more difficult it is to discern the individual flavors of the various spices and components of your salami. For this reason, I prefer a slower fermentation, so we get some tanginess, but also the flavors of the meat, salt, and spices. Our target PH for the salami to reach during fermentation is between 5.1 and 5.3. Below 5.1 and the salami becomes too acidic for my taste. Above 5.3, and the environment is not acidic enough to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.

8. Drying The length of this period varies widely. The idea is to dry until it has achieved shelf stability, as well as allowing the flavor profile to mature to your taste. A good drying room should be kept at moderate temperature, with sufficient humidity. The environment should feel like a misty morning in Fall. If the environment is not right (i.e. too cold, too warm, or too dry), the salami will not dry properly. This period typically lasts as little as two weeks for a more moist, smaller salami, or up to 6 months for a drier, larger salami.

9. Slicing and serving Slice it thin, slice it thick, slice it in between, cube it, slice it width-wise, slice it lengthwise. Just slice it how you like it! My favorite is lengthwise, in long and thin pieces. This is great if you have a slicer.

For more from this cookbook, see:

Spiced Chickpea Flatbread Recipe
Potaje with Chorizo Recipe

Reprinted with permission from Cured © 2016 by Charles Wekselbaum, Sterling Epicure, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Photography by Sterling Publishing.