Confused about Salami? Here's What you Should Know


A lot of consumers, novice chefs, and even food business owners often wonder 'what is salami and what is salami made of?' Though not as straightforward, salami is a cured meat sausage made of air-dried, preserved, and fermented pork that finds its origins in ancient Italy, possibly predating even the Roman period. People also commonly ask what kind of meat is salami - although the authentic salamis are made of pork and pork fat, newer variants have made their way to the market. Modern types of salami are also made of venison, beef, chicken, mutton, and also a combination of different meats. However, in Italy, the term is generally used to specify various types of encased meat. Salamis are available in a variety of different types, with these variants running into several hundred. Salami is a great additive not only to Italian cuisine but also makes way for a rich source of taste and enjoyment with continental food. Read on as we discuss what is salami, the types of salami, and storing salami. 

The Origins of Salami

The history of salami stretches beyond 2500 years in the past. Since people in the past had no access to commercial refrigerators, the meat had to be salted and cured to be preserved and used over a long period. The word salami itself finds origins in Latin, being derived from the words ‘salumen’ and ‘salare’. While the former refers to a salted combination of meats, the latter was the word for the process of salting. People in the past had to come up with ingenious ways on how to store salami and meat, leading to the development of several processes like fermentation and drying. Though Italian salami happens to be one of the most popular in the world, it's not the only country that produces salami. Several countries across continents have their traditions of making salami that date back several centuries with ingredients and meat unique to their respective areas. 

What is Salami Made of and how is it Made?

Salami is most commonly made from pork meat and involves a diverse range of cuts that are added to the mix. The lean meat is mixed with pork fat, condiments, salt, spices, and other elements like garnishes to bring about a smooth and sticky mixture of lean meat and fat. The condiments and spices include a mixture of salt, powdered fennel seeds, cinnamon, pepper, and garlic. The seasoning tends to change based on different varieties, considering there are over 150 varieties of salami in Italy alone. Many varieties also require wine to be added to the mix before setting it up for fermentation. 

Now that you know what meat is salami, the next part in the process involves the fermentation and drying of the meat. Fermentation aims to utilize the beneficial bacteria in the environment like Lactobacillus so that they can produce lactic acid to acidify the meat and make it uninhabitable for harmful and disease-causing bacteria. The fermentation process is kickstarted by adding a starter mix added to the meat mixture mentioned earlier. The fermentation continues for up to or even beyond 36 hours depending on how the process has progressed. The fermentation process can be done in a dark, dry place. This is an important step as it is the first step in answering the integral question of how to store salami. 

The next step in storing salami is by adding the fermented meat mixture in a casing and leaving it out to dry. Drying the meat has several advantages as it removes any opportunity for microbial infestation in the different types of salami. This process also allows the meat to become compact due to water loss. The loss of water also tightly packs all the different flavors, giving the salami a very unique and balanced taste profile. 

Types of Salami

types of salami

There are different types of salami produced around the world, however, this list enumerates some of the most popular varieties to help you understand what is salami and what they are best served with. They include: 
Sopressata: This happens to be one of the most popular types of salami and finds its origins in Italy. It is now widely preferred in North America and is a household favorite. The preparation includes a blend of pork with black & red pepper, sugar, sea salt, garlic, and a few other spices. It pairs well with cheese, beer, and wine.
Pepperoni: Though not an authentic Italian salami, this variant was first made by Italian American settlers. Made with pork, paprika, sugar, salt, and sunflower oil, this is one of the most popular toppings in several dishes. It goes well on pizza, with beer, and also in salads. 
Genoa: As the name suggests, this variety of salami originated in Genoa, Italy. It is a combination of both veal and pork mixed with garlic, salt, pepper, and wine. It is one of the most popular types of salami in Europe and can be paired with bread, wine, and peppers. 
Chorizo: Chorizo is a type of salami that originated in Spain and eventually had a variant that was developed in Mexico. Both Spanish and Mexican variants are distinct as only the Spanish Chorizo is cured, whereas the Mexican Chorizo is marketed fresh. A blend of spices, pork, salt, spices, and natural flavor make their way into the salami. It's best served with olives and wine. 
Cacciatore: This is one of the earliest and simplest salamis that were popularized. It contains a mix of pork, sugar, salt, garlic, and other spices like pepper. It was first created by the hunters of Italy and has made its way to every other meat store in the world. It pairs excellently with bread and beer. It can even be had as a snack. 
Prosciutto: This is a unique type of salami that is made of cured ham and pork mixed with a blend of sea salt, spices, and sugar. It goes well with bread, as a snack, and with Italian wine. 
Napoletano: Another popular variety of salami from Italy, the Napoletano salami was produced in Naples traditionally. It has now found popularity all over Europe and North America due to its distinct flavor created by pork, red pepper, and garlic. It is served with bread, cheese, and white wine. 

How to Store Salami

Since salami is a cured meat, the reason it exists in itself is for preservation and for the meat to last long. Irrespective of what kind of meat is salami, it'll hold up well for months. You can either string it up in a cool, dark, and dry place or allow it to sit in an area that doesn't see much activity. Alternatively, you can also choose to store salami in the commercial refrigerator, whether a conventional model or a dual-temp refrigerator, depends on your establishment's operational style and capability. 

Answering the question of what is salami is one full of rich history and culinary science. There are various types of salami that give restaurateurs a wide variety to choose from and employ in their recipes. No matter what type of salami you choose for your establishment, ensure they're sourced from authentic suppliers that have cured, dried, and stored their salami right. 

Posted by Damon Shrauner on