Friday, February 23, 2024 Feb 23, 2024
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The Magic of Salumi

In the curing locker at his new restaurant, David Uygur bends meat to his will.
Steven Visneau
David Uygur’s walk-in curing locker at Macellaio (the restaurant’s name means “butcher” in Italian) is full of hanging salumi, rosy or ocher under a delicate and velvety snow-white bloom. The encased meats are losing their moisture, gradually becoming soppressata or spicy chorizo. He opened Macellaio with his wife, Jennifer, in June. His hope was to expand on the repertoire of charcuterie that he started at the now-closed Lola, where he used a walk-in cooler for his experiments, and refined at the couple’s intimate Lucia. It’s a calculus, leveraging space relative to time. He says he learned “a couple of pâtés” in culinary school, but had to teach himself the process of dry-curing from books, opening the door to fermented, dried sausages and whole-muscle cuts, with their tangy, developed flavors. His curing locker is filled with the riches from heritage Red Wattle hogs that come in monthly. First comes careful butchery, then meticulous netting and tying to ensure that a cut keeps the right shape over time. Moisture and pH levels must be checked for weeks and months before the charcutier decides when to release them from their hooks—not too soft, not too firm—and bring them to the board. Uygur’s preference is to keep them cold until served, so when you pick up a slice the warmth of your fingers releases its flavors. During his self-guided tour of dried meats, Uygur has made a beautiful stained-glass window of ventricina al sangue, a brooding deep maroon color, with bits of hand-cut fat and fierce chile di Abruzzo heat mellowed by blood; mortadella, lightly smoked and studded invitingly with pistachios; coppa cured with chamomile; and mica, not cased, but left to dry flat, looking like a shaggy wheel of cheese. He keeps the flavors interesting: a salami with powdered candy cap mushrooms, sweet and maple-y; a whole-muscle cut cured with gin botanicals—juniper, coriander, rose petals, black pepper—and washed with gin. He understands that ventricina varies depending on location—a soft sausage here, a firm, spicy one there. Uygur visits meat lockers and invites fellow charcutiers to teach classes on working with koji. He once found himself breathing in the spores and musty funk of four stories of curing hams at a prosciutto producer in Abruzzo. For him, it’s always been about seeing exactly how the sausage is made.

A Salumi Primer

A guide to the funky, smoky, salty, spicy, tangy world of cured meats you need to be familiar with.

Spreadable sausages

‘Nduja—a bold, smoky spread, often spiked with Calabrian chiles; made from a blend of parts of the pig

Cooked sausages

Mortadella—a mild, smooth-textured sausage, light pink in color and studded with pistachios; lightly smoked, it’s thought to be from north-central Italy

Dry-cured whole muscle

Prosciutto—whole leg (pork), usually aged 2-3 years, sliced into paper-thin ribbons with melt-in-your-mouth softness and pronounced, nuanced flavor Culatello—a cut from the hind leg, it involves intricate tying and is aged for over a year Coppa—pork collar, heavily marbled and a dark red color Lonza—pork loin, an extremely lean cut, that shaves into slices with a dusky blush color Bresaola—leg of beef, shaved into lean, dark, almost purple slices

Fermented dried sausage

Dry-cured sausages with chopped or ground fillings, often enhanced with bits of extra hand-cut fat Saucisson sec—French, often seasoned simply with black pepper and garlic Soppressata—Italian, with many variations Chorizo—Spanish, savory, bold, and feisty, seasoned with garlic and a sunset color from its hallmark pimentón