This past weekend I was welcomed into the inner sanctum; I worshipped at the church of pork, was baptised in the cool flowing river of mince,
In other words, I made Salami.
This new awakening started with an actual awakening, at 4am, dragging myself out of a warm bed into the icy morning to drive three and a half hours to even icier Bright in the Victorian Alpine Region, or more accurately be driven to Bright by my lovely girlfriend who only fell asleep once behind the wheel. Accompanied by James my trusty beer guy, we were there to meet a brewer and a salami maker – Scott from Bright Brewery had invited us to spend the day with his old friend Ralph, an Italian gentleman and long-time resident of Bright who has been making salami for longer than I’ve been alive. Suffice to say he was a bit of an expert.
We were greeted at the door and bundled inside, bleary eyed and desperately in need of caffeine, and welcomed into the room that I will now only refer to as the Room of Salami Awesomeness!! (*double exclamation point mandatory). A large white table dominated. The action had already begun by the time we arrived, so we were handed a sharp knife, a chunk of pork and were instructed to trim, slice and dice to prepare the meat for mincing. We de-boned, de-sinewed, de-fatted skin and generally reduced a 130kg pig into piles of its various parts. (Sadly no offal or head as these are kept by the abattoir).
Next the mincing. After processing most of the mince into a course grind with their regular mincer, the guys cracked out their semi-industrial number to go through the skin and blood meat, for the cotechino. Then we discussed, over a table spread with mince, what styles of salami we would like to make. We settled on about one-fifth plain, two-fifths garlic, and the rest chilli and garlic.
The first step in seasoning is the salt and pepper. Salt was added in the exact percentage (2.7% if you’re curious) but pepper was an estimate based on years of experience. Trying to get a recipe is ludicrous as “about this much” doesn’t quite cut it in an ingredients list. Ralph spread these liberally over the mix and we began the task of mixing it by hand. The instruction was to mix it until the texture was sticky, and when your hands are too cold and tired to move, you’re about half way there. Here is where I developed my patented “punching” technique to mix the meat – something that caused much amusement to my fellow charcuterers. With freezing, aching hands we divided the meat up, added the chilli and garlic (again, recipe not: “about this much” and “enough” respectively) and then it was a break for an early lunch before the stuffing began (keep in mind this was still well before midday).
But lunch… I mean LUNCH! Wow! I would do the early morning thing and freezing our buns off thing and aching hands thing just to have a crack at this lunch. It was a simple but amazing spread of last year’s salami (plain and chilli), four types of cheese, pickled wild mushrooms (from their top secret foraging grounds), pickled eggplant, bread, home made wine… and then Scott says anyone for a beer. Perfection. I cannot begin to express the generosity of the people we’d met only that morning.
NB: We tried his experimental blueberry and blackberry wild ales, and his 18% abv ice-distilled dubbel. All delicious.
Wine in hand we had a quick tour of the Zonta property. It brought the surface all our fantasies of living the agrarian ideal, being almost entirely self sufficient with vegetable gardens, vines, smoking house, various poultry; basically everything but a pig. I offered to become their surrogate son in order to have a crack at playing on their land, but I think their own son Roger, who gave us the tour, is probably far more qualified for the role, seeing as he had a major hand in the salami making, building of the property, upkeep et al.
Back into the warmth of the wood-fired stove, we got on to the stuffing. These guys had salvaged and restored an old water-powered sausage-stuffing machine from an ex-butcher shop. This baby was seriously impressive, holding around 40kg of meat per go, being run completely on the town water pressure, and completely silent. They affixed a beautiful brass nozzle and the fun began. The skins (real intestine, ground, remade, dried and reconstituted in warm water) were threaded onto the nozzle. Salami after salami were quickly filled, dunked in hot water to tighten the skins, expertly tied and netted and then “spoodged”. Clearly not a traditional Italian term, probably spoodging is something amusing these guys made up to describe pricking the salami, which still sounds rude. Really, anything to do with sausage, salami, pricking, stuffing, spoodging sounds rude. However when googling “spoodge” and “salami”, lets just say it wasn’t edible meat I found…
Anyway, minds out of the gutter, after all the pricking and spoodging the salami is hung (sorry, couldn’t resist) in a cool, dry place with lots of circulating air for two months – so we can’t get our grubby little hands on it until September.
Next we made the cotechino, which is a favourite for sure. It’s made from all the leftover bits – the skin, fat, bloody meat that can’t go into the salami. We tried the Zonta’s own version and it was an orgy of sticky, porky, need a moment alone goodness.
A few more drinks and a long goodbye (and cleanup) and it was over. A perfect day in perfect company making (hopefully) perfect salami. Mind you, the day wasn’t quite over, as we headed straight off to Bright Brewery for a little more Alpine hospitality from Scott and his crew.
Did I mention that Salami is a fantastic accompaniment to beer such as 3 Ravens Dark (smoked beer), Samuel Smith India Ale or the Brother Thelonious Belgian Style Abbey Ale.