Italian salami made in the USA – The history
The salami that tastes as it came from the old country made the old way. And in a way, it did, via San Francisco. That’s where producers make some of the best Italian salami sold in America.
A curious war made San Francisco the salami capital of America. From 1967 until 1970, a band of six determined Bay Area sausage makers argued to the U.S. Department of Agriculture that they deserved the right to not only use Italian methods but to call their product “Italian salami.” They were direct descendants of salami makers of Milan, Lucca, Parma, and Modena. Around the turn of the last century, they had settled in a city whose temperate climate might be the only one in the United States perfectly suited for dry-curing salami. They even had the right strain of penicillin mold to give the links a classic white bloom.
Sure, the Italian Americans wanted to keep a corner of meat processing to themselves, to prevent producers of cooked meat and fast-cured imitations from using the term. But at the heart of the argument was a pleasure.
The San Franciscans were intent on saving a revered delicacy from a fate worse than nonsense. Italian salami, they contended, is a food every bit as noble as cheese or wine. Looking back, it seems evident that the Bay Area salami makers were Slow Foodists of their day. At the heart of their argument, they insisted that real salami could not achieve quickly, or by cooking the sausages like hot dogs, or in a short hanging period, or by spiking the meat with unique flavorings.
In letter after letter to bleary USDA officials, they outlined the echt way to make it, the way, more or less, Italians had made it since the 5th century BC. Salami must consist mainly of pork and fat, they said. This pork should come from the shoulder (haunches go-to ham), with large chunks of fat that won’t melt. This meat must be chopped, never pureed like a hot dog emulsion. It could be combined with wine, garlic, pepper, curing salts, maybe a touch of mace.
They used a lactic acid starter to start a slow fermentation that would dry-cook the product. Dried milk was permissible as a binding agent between the meat and fat. They could then pack the meat into either cellulose or pork-gut casing. These sausages were then hung, first in drip rooms, then in aging rooms, for weeks, or months, depending on the chub’s size.
They stressed that the optimum range of curing temperatures was the same as San Francisco’s temperate climate. As the salami dried, the links fermented, and a change in acidity effectively cooked the meat and produced the complex spectrum of flavors. As this happened, the sausages would also dry. The meat would lose roughly 30% of its water weight. A penicillin mold would form on the coat, checking the meat’s exposure to air, thus stopping oxidation and preventing rancid flavors.
To press their case, the San Franciscans hired a lawyer. They formed something called the Dry Salami Institute. They prepared detailed family histories, paraded ribbons from salami competitions in Rome, and bombarded bureaucrats with long letters with even longer appendixes to the utter authenticity of their every salami-stuffing step. And, reader, they prevailed. Find the words “Italian salami” or “Italian Dry Salami” on a California chub, and you are guaranteed food that at least tries to hold its own in Italy.
Today the same Californian producers successfully lobby to maintain the prehistoric, archaic FDA regulations against import of original “made in Italy” salami. They joined in the effort by big Italian salami producers that have opened up factories in the USA to circumvent the FDA rules and deliver a “mass-market” product to the American supermarkets.
Finally, the real stuff is coming to the USA!
From 2014 on, the United States opened the frontiers of semi-manufactured salami made in Italy, such as salami, bacon, cups, and culatelli. The freeway has come from the Aphis (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) authorities that have officially recognized the Lombard, Emilia-Romagna, Veneto, and Piedmont regions, as well as the autonomous provinces of Trento and Bolzano, free from swine vesicular disease.