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MANO FORMATE: the girl & the fig's Cured Meat & Salumi Brand

About fifteen years ago, the only salumi you could get was from a specialty supplier, usually imported, but cured meats have taken off in the past three years; many chefs and restaurants around the U.S. are making their own. We started making salumi when we had ESTATE, our Italian restaurant (closed in 2011), and we increased our cured meat production as part of our menu concept. With the success and quality of the few items we started to make, we realized that we could attempt to produce all of our cured meat for the company.

Now we make our own pancetta, sausage, mortadella, salame, and bacon.

“My first attempt to make salumi was in 1998 when I tried to cure my own prosciutto leg,” says John. “I cured it for a year in the walk-in, and no one would try it but me. Their loss; it was delicious.”

After that first successful foray into cured meats, and lots of studying, experimenting, and trial and error, we’ve perfected our salumi process. John, along with our chefs including Dustin, devote one day each week to salumi production and we go through between 200 and 300 pounds of pork (including 10 to 20 bellies) each week based on the level of business.

Salumi is air-dried, salted, cooked, smoked, or processed with a combination of methods. John has developed recipes and ratios for each type of salumi, though “salumi is essentially controlled spoilage,” says John, “but you spoil it your way.”

There are four elements that are crucial in making any type of salumi. The quality of the meat is the most important factor. Using the right temperatures at the right time is the next key component; if it’s too hot the risk of bacteria skyrockets, and the fat literally melts. Fat is like butter—once it melts you can’t put it back together and it’s useless. (If you’re grinding your own meat and it starts to smear like butter, the meat has gotten too warm and you should start over.) Because of this, we keep everything extremely cold; we even freeze the grinder attachment. Our favorite time to make salumi is on cold winter days; that should tell you how important the temperature is!

Balancing the pH (acidity) levels is also critical, because this is what prevents spoilage. Fat is another critical ingredient. We use back fat, and the fat ratio changes according to the type of salumi. The fat should be fresh. If you’re making your own salumi, you can buy fat from any reputable butcher. John age cures the fat (called lardo) and uses it to top pizzas and salads.

A high-quality lardo should melt in your mouth.

Finally, the use of nitrates and nitrites are important to prevent botulism, spoilage, and to enhance color and flavor. These are chemical compounds that are frequently used in salumi products. They come in synthetic form but they also occur naturally in vegetables like carrots and spinach. (Celery has the highest level of naturally occurring nitrates, and celery juice is the most common ingredient in nitrate-free meat products.)

We believe that to get a premium product you have to start with good meat. We use a variety of breeds, knowing that the breed will change the flavor the same way the feed might. Flavorings are where the salumi maker can get creative. We only use dried herbs and stay fairly traditional in the Italian sense, selecting fennel and anise seeds, black pepper, and pimentón, depending on the recipe. Fresh herbs are never used because of their moisture content, which increases the risk of bacteria.

excerpts from Plats du Jour

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