Salumi: The Craft of Italian Dry Curing

Carl Legge
Thursday, 13th December 2012

Learn the traditional art of Italian dry curing and form a deeper connection with the food you eat. Carl Legge reviews a book that explores the world of Italian salted and cured meats that is 'an essential read' for fans of Italian cuisine

This is a great book for omnivore permaculturalists. Not to be confused with salami dry cured sausages, salumi is the word for Italian salted and cured meats. The authors take you step-by-step through the process of choosing a pig, butchering it and then converting it into delicious, Italian style, dry cured preserves. Suitable for the chef, semi-pro or novice home practitioner, the book will at once help reconnect you with your food source and also provide you with many tasty recipes.

Salumi: The Craft of Italian Dry Curing is written by the authors of the acclaimed Charcuterie - Michael Ruhlman & Brian Polcyn. Rhulman has written and co-written many bestselling books about cooking. Polcyn is Professor of Butchery & Charcuterie at Schoolcraft College in Michigan and a chef/patron of his own restaurants. They both demonstrate a clear knowledge of the science of meat preservation coupled with a love & evangelism for good food, slowly and lovingly prepared and eaten.

Salumi is a tidy hardback book that’ll fit on your worktop while you work through the instructions. It’s divided into five chapters which take you systematically through the process of carcass to consumption. It’s illustrated throughout with really clear and helpful drawings by Alan Witschonke and contains many fun anecdotes that really bring the book alive.

In the first chapter the authors engage with the subject of salumi in its cultural and philosophical context. Now this may sound a little pretentious: but the way they express it is down to earth. While their original book Charcuterie was about the French tradition of meat curing and confit; Salumi is about the narrower, more focused and more difficult craft (in their view) of Italian dry curing of meat. They say: “Nature is the greatest artist, we are not the first to say, and this is what salumi is really about: taking what nature gives us and doing as little as possible to it to make it the best it can be.”

They emphasise the need for high quality meat but also for a responsible approach by those intending to prepare the animal: “…if you are not prepared, if you have a feeling bone in your body, you will experience the deep humiliation of having wasted a creature’s life because you were lazy.”

Quite so and well said. But the book is not all so earnest. “The Experience of Breaking Down a Whole Hog (Is This Your First Time, Sweetheart?)” is but a small taster of the humour that peeks cheekily through the book.

The first chapter gives really detailed instructions of how to butcher a whole pig. The drawings come into their own here and are very helpful. They say it’s hard work and needs from three to nine people to do but there are plenty of practical tips and advice to get you through it.

The second chapter sets out the basic why’s and how’s of curing. The authors deal with the safety and environmental/public health issues in a reassuring way. Like scuba diving, they say, if you follow the rules – you’ll be safe. They provide advice on necessary equipment and how to improvise with smokers and curing cabinets. The chapter ends with a basic recipe and some rules of thumb. 

In Chapter Three they describe and give recipes for the ‘Big Eight’ Italian dry cured meats. These are: guanciale, coppa, spalla, lardo, lonza, pancetta, prosciutto and (basic) salami. Each section describes the cuts and its uses, flavour, cure variations and gives relevant tips and things to look out for.

Chapter Four see’s Ruhlman & Polcyn go “Deeper into the Craft of Dry Curing and Preserving Meat”. This covers the making of more complex salami, whole muscle salami and cooked salumi. The recipes follow a similar format to those in Chapter Three and I found really inspired me to want to get to grips with the art of the Salumière.

Finally, in Chapter Five the art of how to cook with and serve salumi is revealed. There are six mouth-watering sections, which cover tagliere di salumi (the salumi board), crostini, pizza, pasta & polenta, soups & salads and classic combinations. There’s enough inspiration in here for many months and years of happy cooking.

I’ve kept, slaughtered and butchered my own pigs and made my own bacon, chorizo and sausages. If you’re an enthusiast for these processes and products or a big fan of Italian style cuisine, this book will soon look tired and battered as it is used, thumbed and drooled over. It’s an essential read for anyone interested in how to make preserved meats, or who wants to find out more about Italian cuisine.

Carl Legge lives on the Llyn Peninsula in Wales on a permaculture smallholding and writes a regular blog full of delicious recipes and more. He is currently writing The Permaculture Kitchen, a book of seasonal, local, home-grown delicious recipes for Permanent Publications, the book publishing arm of Permaculture magazine

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