C'est Cheese Slips Us the Salumi
First, to get the lessons out of the way, all salami is salumi but not all salumi is salami. (Plus it's great to have more words to rhyme with swami and pastrami and fond of me.) That is, if the borrowings from Italians can be trusted, that salumi is any cured pork product while salami is specifically a cured product made from ground pork. That means prosciutto, which we didn't taste, is a salumi, but since it's not ground, it doesn't have grounds to be called a salami. The salami we're all most familiar with from childhood, the one with the first name, last name, ear-worm jingle, and nifty programmatic vehicle to promote it, that's ground, after all, so earns its salami-ness honorably. When in doubt, go French, and let's call the whole thing charcuterie.
Since Michael is the guy with the salumi (if that's not redundant) at C'est Cheese, he led the proceedings, and as usual at their events, told us all about the history and makings of cured pork without boaring us (haha, funny bad spelling!). We even got a lesson in nitrates and nitrites and how foods get to be nitrate free--instead of adding nitrates themselves, they add things like celery juice, which are high in natural nitrates. So, celery is on the label, and everyone feels healthy...while getting their nitrates.
As one might expect in a tasting of 87.5% American product, the names Fra'mani and Salumi kept popping up as producer, given Paul Bertolli and Armandino Batali, respectively, are two of the most respected salumi slingers in the charcuterevolution ("don't grind till you see the whites of their jowls!"). Their stuff is wonderful, so flavor-packed in different ways, Bertolli trying to revive the classics, Batali doing his own yummily wacky things like a mole that is flavored with chocolate, cinammon, ancho and chipotle peppers, and you can taste all of that and more (pork takes spice better than most meats, if you ask me).
That said, two magical meats stood out for me, and that sounds a lot dirtier than I meant it to. The first came from Norwalk, Iowa and the producer La Quercia, something I loved more than a bushel and a speck. As it was speck, the clever shift on prosciutto that means they don't just cure the pork leg, but lightly smoke it, too, giving it this ethereal lift at the end. Great stuff.
They also spoiled us with Pata Negra, which I shouldn't like as it's as good an emblem as any of foodie culture gone bourgeois--it's the rare Spanish dry cured pork shoulder from acorn-fed black-hoofed pigs that just started coming into the country, and sells for $60 a pound. But then you taste it, that extra layer of nearly gelatinous fat, that depth from the acorns, something truly woodsy and real and not America at all. Then the finish, it stays with you, rivals the tannic tail of the Napa-iest cab. Incredible stuff and worth the legend.