It doesn’t take any kind of special knowledge to know that Italy is a culture of craftsmanship. Simply notice the manner in which Italians approach the making of anything of importance, whether that thing is a building, a sculpture, a sports car or bicycle, and you will see the level of care that goes in to the work. Sure, finely-crafted Italian items can be found in museums, shops, factories and homes—places where this may be expected—but there is also a level of craftsmanship that enters the day-to-day lives of Italians in the food they eat and the clothes they wear. It’s this kind of everyday interaction with well-made things that helps define the Italian character, and is one of the reasons why people from all over the world are drawn to the myriad of beautiful, inspiring and delicious things produced with the “Made in Italy” label attached.
Words: John Madruga
Image: Tim Schamber
A key to craftsmanship is being aware of process, how to transform raw materials into something greater than the parts, and to do so with an eye for detail, eliminating anything not essential to the method. This is not accidental, it happens through choice—working in such a way to make the finest things possible and having the willingness to be patient. Such things are never rushed. Only the Italians can turn raw high-mod carbon into the asymmetrical shape and distinct style of the Pinarello Dogma.
It’s perfectly crafted, and therefore perfectly Italian. What matters is not just the final result, how the thing looks and functions once it is finished, but how it is created. Examples of this wonderfully Italian sensibility are evident around the world, everywhere Italians live, infusing a definite tradition of craftsmanship into whatever is being designed or built.
One place in the U.S. where this Italian spirit is alive and well is at Salumi, a very modest shop/deli/ restaurant located in the historic Pioneer Square area of downtown Seattle. It’s now-retired founder Armandino Batali (Mario Batali’s father) has a personal story that is well documented but deserves retelling since it fits well with his path of becoming one of America’s finest salumists—a person who dries and cures meats (primarily pork) in the Italian artisanal tradition. After a long career as a process control engineer at Boeing, Batali spent two years in Italy learning the art of charcuterie. which is, as author Michael Rulhman says, “the technique of transforming raw meat and fat, whether a sausage or a whole muscle, into something delicious without using heat.” The larger title of Batali’s business is Salumi Artisan Cured Meats, and it has developed a reputation for creating some of the finest, most authentic Italian salumi in the U.S. Just ask food journalist Anthony Bourdain, who has called Salumi “a shining beacon of hope pointing toward the future,” and he will tell you the same thing.
Just like Italian winemakers, dressmakers, bike builders or carmakers, Batali is a true craftsmen, the only difference between his work and these other occupations is that his raw materials come in the form of various meat and fat parts from a pig. Besides that, he is mindful of his process and has the patience to wait—and it can be a long wait—for his product to be just right. Any cured product takes time, but Italian salumi doesn’t just hang there waiting to be eaten on a certain date. It has to be strictly monitored all the time, and this is what makes the job of the salumist a kind of atmospheric undertaking. To be done correctly Jand safely), the job deals not only with time, but temperature, air circulation and humidity. For example, as Batali says, “We produce our culatello paying special attention to our very special Northwest mocroclimate: rain, a moderate amount of humidity, occasional fog and wonderful soft temperatures. We are right on Puget Sound and encircled by the Snohomish River and many others all heading for Puget Sound and the salty sea in Northwest Washington. Add to this the controlled environmental curing process that we here at Salumi developed whilst adding the ability to input Puget Sound environment during our curing process gives us our new tradition not so far from the old.” Batali, the former engineer, is well acquainted with the importance of process, so following strict FDA rules regarding curing meat (remember, there is no heat involved at all) has never been a problem. “My interest in science and discipline fit right into the food scene, especially making salami. The science and the artisanship marry very well, “ Batali says.
Generally, it takes just 24 to 29 weeks for newborn piglets to be ready for the marketplace, an astounding thought given the fact that these swine can reach well over 300 pounds by the time they are processed. In a nice contrast to that super rapid growth timeframe, it takes Batali far longer to make his final product. “It takes at least a year to develop new flavors— four to six weeks to cure, then redo. It takes time.” But it’s worth the wait. Again, in the words of Anthony Bourdain: “I would cheerfully crawl naked across broken glass for what they serve here.” Here’s what we decided to sample from Salumi:
HOT SOPRESSATA (far left)
Some things are worth waiting for and the best salami money can buy is one of them. “It takes a year to develop a commercially viable salami,” Batali says. You will thank him for the time and attention he has put into his craft so that your taste buds can experience true greatness. The flavor of fat and spice is balanced perfectly.
GUANCIALE (third from left)
Richer in flavor than more popular cured pork belly products like pancetta, guanciale is made from hog jowls. The flavor is distinguished and rich—definitely not for every day although you may wish it were.
PANCETTA (fourth from left)
Unwrapping a whole pancetta from Salumi is a treat in itself. Rolled with true handcrafted attention and spiced with black pepper, the look is fantastic, nothing like the pancetta you’ve seen at the local market. The flavor is even better, far surpassing any notions of bacon you may have had in the past.
COPPA (second from left)
Food writer Michael Ruhlman describes the process and product well: “Coppa is made with chunks of pork … that are cured and seasoned, but not ground, and simply stuffed into large casings, typically beef middles, by hand.” Salumi cures its coppa in sugar and salt and spices it with cayenne and chili peppers. Sliced paper thin, it makes the perfect sandwich.
LOMO (far right)
Our lomo arrived as a flat, rectangular slab of boneless pork loin with a thick layer of fat to ensure a rich flavor. Batali calls lomo “a muscle product” and prefers to make it from a larger pig, 300 to 350 pounds, “because the fat marbling is better.” Take his word for it and enjoy the wonderful flavor of Salumi’s lomo.
From issue 21. Buy it here.