I have always enjoyed Italian food, Italian culture and the Italian way of life and can see myself living there one day.
My wife and I often holiday in Italy. We have visited many places such as Rome, Sorrento, Venice ,Verona, Florence and in recent years have toured around southern Sicily, Umbria, Tuscany and Puglia. An essential part of the holiday is sampling the local cuisine.
Noted for its regional diversity and abundance of difference in taste, Italian cuisine is one of the most popular in the world. Characterised by its simplicity, Italian cooks, just like their counterparts in Yorkshire who are also justifiably proud of their local produce, rely on high quality ingredients to make the plate sing, rather than on elaborate preparation.
In Sicily, we enjoyed snacking on creamy balls of arancini while strolling around the island’s streets, as well as caponata – the fried aubergine ‘stew’ that is arguably Sicily’s most famous export and, of course, cannoli – delicious, deep-fried pastry piped full of the creamy ricotta so beloved of Sicily’s own Inspector Montalbano.
But it is cured meats and salamis – or “salumi” that is the way to my heart. My wife despairs at my inability to walk past the many butchers sporting intriguing windows of tempting salumi, all of which requires careful examination, tasting and invariably purchasing.
Originally salumi was a method to preserve meats – usually cuts of pork – before the advent of refrigeration. Drying, cooking or salting the dried meat products, such as sausages, bacon, ham, sausage, terrines, galantines, ballotines and confit, ensured they had a longer shelf life so that charcuterie was long-regarded as the ‘preserve’ of the peasantry. These days the method is used as much to enhance the flavours derived from the preservation processes as for the preservation itself.
Back at home, my wife and I are keen consumers of Italian cuisine. Until about five years ago I would buy blocks of genuine Umbrian pancetta from our local supermarket until they discontinued it owing to insufficient demand.
Well, this started something: how hard could it be to make my own?
Much watching of YouTube and rummaging through meat curing books later and turning a piece of humble pork – locally sourced from Yorkshire, of course – into pancetta, prosciutto, guanciale and salami or even the not-so-humble sausage has developed into a semi-obsession for me.
I have invested in all the necessary kit from a sausage stuffer to a vacuum packer and meat slicer and carefully source real intestines and flavourings from professional suppliers.
The secret to successful salumi is good quality ingredients – I have been lucky enough to be able to perform my alchemy upon a friend’s home reared organic pork – just the right amount of salt to start the process and a great deal of patience. Curing salami, for example, takes at least six weeks; a leg of prosciutto several months at least. I have recently started curing trout and salmon with a touch of gin thrown into the cure!
I find the whole idea of curing food fascinating and, who knows, maybe one day I will end up running a salumi shop in Assisi or Spoleto!
Please note this information is provided by way of example and may not be complete and is certainly not intended to constitute legal advice. You should take bespoke advice for your circumstances.