Salumi boom

Local artisans are creating great cured meats, from culatello to lardo

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Blackbelly Market’s finest charcuterie.
Susan France

The word of the moment on menus seems to be “salumi.” You see it among the starters, appetizers, small plates and tapas at local restaurants ranging from Frasca to the Roadhouse Boulder Depot, and on the shelves at stores from Cured to King Soopers.

A lot of us grew up on salumi but didn’t know it at the time. As the son of a first generation Sicilian-American and an immigrant Austrian-American, I grew up loving “cold cuts.” That meant sweet or hot capocollo — we pronounced it “kappa coal” — as well as tart summer sausage thinly sliced on sandwiches along with cooked, smoked and pickled meats like ham, roast beef and corned beef. Then there was the great mystery sausage, pepperoni.     

“Salumi” is not the plural of “salami,” but rather raw meat’s leap to immortality and includes all manner of cured, dried and preserved meats, mostly pork, beef, lamb and game. Salami is ground meat, fat and spices dry cured in a casing and aged from weeks to months that turns raw meat into a range of flavors and textures. Salami is a mold-made fermented food, like cheese, beer, yogurt and kombucha.

Some salumi is made from whole muscles — things like prosciutto and bresaola. The French word charcuterie includes many of the same items as salumi along with tasty cooked treats like fresh sausages, confit, pâté and rillettes.

The salumi boom goes hand-in-hoof with the rise in artisan, nose-to-tail butchers and the need for the sustainable use of whole animals, not just the tender parts. It means rediscovering all the ancient ways of preserving meat used across the globe and before refrigeration.

American salumi — like American bread, beer and cheese — took a while to rise to the quality of the imports but almost every supermarket in the Boulder area now carries top-notch salumi by Creminelli (Utah), Fra’ Mani (California), La Quercia (Iowa), Salumeria Biellese (New York) and many other U.S. producers.

Colorado is for local salami lovers

A wide variety of cured meats are produced at Denver’s Il Porcellino. Kim Long
A wide variety of cured meats are produced at Denver’s Il Porcellino.

Colorado is home to salumi makers in restaurants and shops using mainly meat raised in this state. Chef Hosea Rosenberg’s Blackbelly Market (blackbelly.com) is the only restaurant in Boulder licensed to make dry-aged salami (like Spanish chorizo and nduja) and whole cured meats like coppa. The artisan butcher shop also produces fresh sausages and charcuterie.

North Denver’s Il Porcellino Salumi (ilporcellinodenver.com) is a butcher shop, eatery and salumi enterprise that just won two 2017 Good Food “Oscars.” The brainchild of Bill Miner and Brian Albano produces the state’s widest variety of preserved meats including mortadella, bison pastrami, head cheese, scrapple, salamis including cacciatore, plus culatello and hams.

Chef Justin Brunson has championed sustainable whole-animal butchery for years at his Denver establishments including Old Major and Culture Meat & Cheese. His curing room is producing coppa and other many other preserved meats. Old Major (oldmajordenver.com) features Nose to Tail, a dish including sausage, confit belly, crispy ears and pork shoulder ragù.

Chef Frank Bonanno oversees a small empire of eateries but his passion is for artisan food-crafting. In a basement kitchen under Denver’s Salt & Grinder restaurant he makes coppa, bresaola, culatello, guanciale and sometimes salami to serve upstairs and at Osteria Marco and Luca d’Italia.

Denver’s recently opened, wholesale-only Elevation Artisan Meats (elevationmeats.com) has started producing artisan salumi including fennel pollen salami, Spanish-style chorizo and Mexican mole salami.

Knowing your culatello from your lardo

A world of salumi hangs from the ceiling at Calabria Pork Store on Arthur Avenue in New York. Kim Long
A world of salumi hangs from the ceiling at Calabria Pork Store on Arthur Avenue in New York.

There are hundreds of varieties of salumi. Here are just some available in Boulder and Colorado.

Bresaola: (bres-so-luh) Seasoned, air-cured whole muscle beef called carne de sol in Brazil, bindenfleisch in Switzerland and its first cousin, Native American bison jerky.

Chorizo: (cho-ree-zo) A fermented, air-cured sausage made in Spain and Portugal flavored with smoked paprika and garlic. Mexican chorizo is a fresh sausage that requires cooking.

Coppa: (koe-puh) Also called capocollo (kap-ah-kole-uh) and, on The Sopranos, gah-ba-gool. It is pork equivalent of bresaola made in two varieties, hot and sweet.

Culatello: (coo-lah-tell-uh) Made from a single pork muscle, rubbed with red wine and salt, dry-aged for three to 12 months.

Guanciale: (gwan-tshee-ahl-lee) Salted, air-dried, seasoned pork cheek and jowl meat similar to un-smoked bacon but with a chewier texture and a pork-ier flavor.

Lardo: Yes, it’s lard and absolutely delicious. Fatback is salt- and herb-cured and sliced thin atop warm bruschetta or pizza. There is also a whipped spreadable version. In Eastern Europe it’s called salo or slanina.

Mortadella: A large cooked salami made from pork, with bits of fat, wine, white pepper, pistachios and/or green olives. Mortadella comes from the city of Bologna, hence the American descendant pronounced ba-loan-ee. Feel free to sing the jingle.

Nduja: (En-doo-ja) An addictive, spreadable form of salami.

Prosciutto: It’s Italian for ham, but it has come to mean the best salted and cured ham from Parma. Several U.S. producers are selling great, less expensive prosciutto, including La Quercia.

Salami: Genoa salami is your regular cured (fermented), round pork and beef salami and comes in a thousand varieties. Sopressatta (so-press-saht-tah) is a salami laced with garlic and peppers with flat sides. This is what pepperoni would like to be when it grows up. Pepperoni is a thin American creation modeled on spicy, Southern Italian salamis. Cacciatore (kah-chuh-tohr-ay) is a small, hand-sized salami spiked with black pepper, juniper and wine.

Local Food News

Wood Grain Bagels, a Montreal-style bagel and coffee place, will open at 2525 Arapahoe Ave. where Cuba Cuba Sandwicheria was formerly located. … I hope that the legislature approves a special Pueblo Chile license plate honoring the state’s remarkable green and red chilies, clearly the best-tasting in the nation. The license plate would also likely aggravate the folks in New Mexico who oversell the virtues of Hatch chilies. … At the Flavors Without Borders “resistance dinner” Feb. 19 at Café Aion, Boulder chefs Kyle Mendenhall of Arcana and Dakota Soifer at Café Aion will prepare dishes from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. The four-course meal with beer and wine benefits the ACLU. Tickets: cafeaion.com.

Taste of the Week

Pasta with Bolognese sauce is on the menu at Arugula restaurant.John Lehndorff
Pasta with Bolognese sauce is on the menu at Arugula restaurant.

Boulder’s freshly relaunched Arugula Restaurant has a new menu of Mediterranean comfort food favorites I got to taste at a benefit event. My favorite was the thick and nearly perfect Bolognese sauce made with bison, beef and pork, minced carrots and onions and pecorino cheese with orecchiette pasta or “little ears.” It hits every note of my personal yumminess rating system. Other hard-to-resist dishes include arancini (fried mushroom and fontina risotto balls); pear and gorgonzola gnocchi; and mussels with perfect frites. 

Words to Chew On

“Man does not live by bread alone. Every now and then he needs a cookie.” — Groucho Marx 

John Lehndorff co-published the 2011 American Salumi Calendar. He hosts Radio Nibbles on KGNU.