This is how salami is really made

Everyone and their mom has a favorite charcuterie product, but when push comes to shove, you'd be hard-pressed to find a meat lover who doesn't like a good slice of salami. The popular deli meat is as versatile as it is tasty. It keeps well, and comes in enough varieties that you can change your favorite type every week and you're still set for years. 

In fact, salami is so ingrained in our cuisine that it's easy to forget just how truly odd it is. It's pretty easy to see where other favorite cured meat products come from. Bacon is famously salt-cured pork belly or back. Ham is a pork leg cut. Pastrami is all about beef cuts. When it comes to salami, however, it can be difficult to say just what its compact, fat-speckled meat really is, apart from pure, artery-clogging deliciousness. How do these hard logs of salty, savory goodness come to existence? Let's take a look at how salami is really made.

There are a great many different types of salami. As Life in Italy notes, the inexpensive, pre-sliced stuff you buy from the supermarket can be a far cry from the original Italian article. In fact, the very word "salami" is basically a term for an encased meat product, so there's lots of leeway when it comes to size, shape and taste.

What's a salami, anyway?

Don't think that a chef can just stuff a fistful of hamburger in a Christmas stocking and take their creation to the salami convention, though. Salami was already an old invention in the times of ancient Rome, and over the years, people have figured out a few specific ways to prepare it. The classic salami logs you see hanging in grocery stores are dry-cured, and good to eat once you slice them up. There's also a cooked version of salami called Salami Cotto, says Meats and Sausages, which has a shorter shelf life, and according to Del Vecchio, a fresh version known as Salame Fresco, which must be cooked before eating.

The contents of the meaty mix of chewy deliciousness that is a salami might seem mysterious to the untrained eye, but the basic ingredients are actually fairly simple. According to food writer Vincent Scordo, the base ingredient of salami is typically pork, but there's no ground rule for the specific cut used, as long as its quality is high. The journey usually starts by chopping the meat, and then grinding it. After that, it's time for salt and spices. Most types of salami have around three percent salt, but the use of spices and the general composition of the sausage mixture varies heavily, depending on the type in question.

Dry-aging a delicacy

Generally, however, the average salami sausage — if there is such a thing — consists of meat, quality pork fat, salt, and an assortment of flavorings that include (but are by no means not limited to) things like garlic, fennel, pepper, and even gung-ho stuff like wine and cinnamon. After the ingredients are good and mixed, in the casing it all goes. At this point, if the salami maker deals in cooked Cotto or fresh Fresco, their path veers toward easier cooking methods. Dry-cured salami, the all-time classic, is about to take a much longer, stranger path from raw to ready.

Once the sausage mixture is stuffed in a casing, the delicate process of fermenting a tube of meat filling into proper salami can truly begin. Dry-curing may be an ancient method, but salami-making is actually a pretty scientific process, per the University of Melbourne. The sausage gets its distinct taste from strains of beneficial bacteria, which make the sausage more acidic and help its contents gain dry-aged salami's famously pleasant, chewy texture. Meanwhile, the salt pulls the excess moisture out of the mixture. 

It's a time-consuming process that involves storing salami in specific temperature- and humidity-controlled conditions for weeks, even months. As anyone who has tasted great salami can probably attest, the end result is easily worth it.