Though they hadn’t the faintest clue whether or not their efforts would go appreciated, seven years ago Micheal Rulhman and Brian Polcyn crossed their fingers and released Charcuterie out into the wild. It was the first time anyone had published a book that went into such depth detailing the artisanal techniques and processes of producing superior bacon, sausages, and cured salmon at home. But thanks to emerging trends—such as the slow food movement—and an information hungry food community, Charcuterie was an undisputed success.
Rulhman and Polcyn look to continue that success with Salumi: The Craft of Italian Dry Curing and, from my vantage point, they’ve done it. The content is solid and well researched, the delivery is clean and clear, and the drawings they’ve included through various parts of the book are both instructive and helpful for those of us looking to get our hands dirty.
There are—unshockingly—many similarities between Charcuterie and Salumi, and that’s a good thing. Both books supply the reader with important, clearly written information that is needed to understand and accomplish all of the possibilities contained within each tome.
Salumi starts off by introducing the reader to the eight different sections of the pig that are covered in the book, the names for each cut, followed by tutorials for butchering them yourself from a whole hog if you want to go that route. Interspersed is interesting pork-related vignettes about the difference between an Italian hog and an American, the financial ramifications of buying a whole beast verses just parts, and how confusing the art of Salumi can be, even to those who live it every day.
The book follows that with the basics of dry curing and the requirements for turning out world class goodies by yourself. Specifics on salts, bacteria, molds and even environment help the reader understand the “magic” that goes into curing without talking down to them. Quite honestly, I can see this book being issued to culinary students as a textbook for those interested in the subject. The fact that the information is enjoyable to take in is just icing on the cake.
Salumi covers those eight piggy parts that I mentioned earlier: Guanciale (Jowl), Coppa (Neck/Shoulder/Loin), Spalla (Shoulder), Lardo (Back Fat), Lonza (Loin), Pancetta (Belly), Prosciutto (Ham/Back Leg) and Salami. Each cut has its own section with tips and insights on what to look for when purchasing pig parts for curing, and simplified recipes to get the reader on the right path. If you’re already knowledgeable about the basics of Salumi, Rulhman and Polcyn have you covered with multiple variations on the aforementioned “Big Eight”.
Of special note is the fact the recipes are written with approximate weights per ingredient which allows for a higher level of precision and in turn, better results. This way of writing recipes should be embraced and encouraged, and I should point out that Charcuterie and numerous Rhulman books are like this as well. “1 cup” could mean lots of things to different people, but asking for a pound of something is straightforward and hard to get wrong.
Once you’ve produced your first Pancetta Testa, Salumi still has your back with page after page of recipes to utilize your freshly cured goodness to its maximum potential. The White Pizza recipe on page 229 in particular caught my eye. I love lardo on a pizza and look forward to trying this recipe myself.
It’s easy to walk into a supermarket and buy a few slices of Prosciutto. It’ll likely be half decent Prosciutto, too. But there is nothing like investing your time and effort into making your own, personalized cured goods. You can ensure a higher level of quality ingredients and care simply because you tried your hand at creating something amazing. This is what Salumi aims helps you accomplish. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some back fat calling my name. Lardo doesn’t make itself.
Full Disclosure: I was contacted by W. W. Norton & Company and they were kind enough to send me a copy to review.