Issue No. 74: The New American Salami

A decade ago, the only way to eat good salami in the US was to smuggle it in from Europe. That’s an exaggeration, but not by much. Practically no one was making traditional salami in the US. How times have changed! In the last few years suddenly it seems like there’s a new salami maker popping up every other week.

It’s not a coincidence that the rise in American salami coincides with the growing interest in eating better meat and the rise of whole animal butchery. Using the whole animal means not discarding the fat and trimmings—and the traditional way to use them is to turn them into salami.

New traditions, old techniques.

In Europe, many of the best salamis are made by masters who have been curing meat most of their lives. To become a salami maker, you apprentice with a master for years or decades. Eventually, when the master is ready to retire, you take over the business. In the US, since we don’t have venerable old salami makers to apprentice under, the new crop of American salami makers are largely self-taught. They might reach out to an expert or go to Europe to work a brief stint with a butcher, but for the most part, they learned to make salami by reading books or watching videos and then tinkering until they come up with a recipe they really like.

But while they’re creating new salamis, they’re not inventing new techniques. As Herb Eckhouse, the founder and chief prosciutto maker at Iowa’s pork emporium La Quercia, puts it, “we didn’t make anything up.” The best new American salamis start with really good meat, which more times than not means heritage-breed pork raised on pasture without any hormones or antibiotics. The only other ingredients they add are simple and pronounceable, like garlic, wine, or sea salt. They encase the salamis in natural casings that grow patchy white mold on the outside (an essential part of the maturing process that protects the fat in the salami from going rancid while it cures). And they cure the salamis for weeks or months until they reach their peak of flavor.

Selecting and serving superior salami.

Not all of the salami made in the states these days is great. Some of them are overly spiced so you can’t taste the pork, or too small so they dry out quickly and get tough. But the good ones are really, really good—I’d even say that the best ones rival the best salamis made in Europe. When choosing a salami, look for one with a glowing pink color, a sweet, porky aroma, clean flavors without any sourness, and a pleasant texture that’s not too tough or too soft. Serve it at room temperature to get the maximum flavor. Eat the casing or not—your choice. Slice it yourself as you’re eating, that way it dries out less, and try some cut on the thicker side so you can
really taste the pork.