You say salami, I say salumi. But what's the difference between the two terms for delicious cured meats? That's amongst the questions we posted to Pete Balistreri, the sausage-bearing mastermind behind P. Balistreri Salumi. Here, the executive chef at San Diego's Tender Greens explains how he got his bosses to let him launch a salumi line, and helps demystify the cured sausage world for those of you who haven't been following along with our Butchery & Charcuterie series.
How did you become interested in salumi?
I first became interested in salumi when I was working as a sous chef at Rose Pistola in San Francisco. I was butchering whole animals every day and studying butchery to learn the art of using every part of the animal. I became very intrigued with salumi-making.
I imagine you must get asked socially about making salumi. How do you explain to people what salumi is and why it's not just salami, and whether it differs from charcuterie?
I do get asked a lot. Salumi is an Italian term for sausage-making, cured and smoked meats, as charcuterie is in French. There's no difference that I know of in the definition. The difference between salumi and salami is, salami is one of the many items that fall under the umbrella of salumi. Like guanciale, lardo and prosciutto. All of these items are types of Salumi. Salumi is a general term but salami is a specific type of product.
It seems like more and more chefs are getting interested in making salumi and charcuterie. Why do you think that is?
Salumi tastes great and is fun to make. It's also extremely difficult to learn the craft. I think the challenge and fulfillment that comes along with making something and waiting long periods of time to then find out it turned out great is very intriguing for a certain type of chef.
Can you briefly explain how your role as chef at Tender Greens helped you realize your goal of starting a salumi brand?
At Tender Greens, we knew that the salumi-making would help elevate us into a craft restaurant and help see Tender Greens beyond just a salad restaurant. We were already farm-to-table, and the salumi helped put us on the map in San Diego. We were already making everything from scratch in the restaurants and curing our own bacon, so I started experimenting with salumi and ran them as specials. The product developed a cult following and our customers would tell us how amazing it was, so I was then able to convince the owners to invest in a curing chamber. Because we have the freedom to experiment, cook and make hand crafted food items at Tender Greens, it was a wonderful testing ground to get the recipe just right, invest in the equipment to do it right in the stores and meet the right partners who helped us take P. Balistreri Salumi to the next level as a packaged product for restaurants, chefs and specialty grocery stores.
Lastly, how much do you experiment with spices and techniques, if at all? Can you tell us about that?
I have hundreds of recipes from over the years that I've experimented that come from all over. So yes, I'm always testing. More salt, less salt. A little bit of this and that until the cure is just right. There were several occasions when we'd taste a batch of proscuitto and there was just way too much salt or not enough. The key is to get the right balance of flavors to shine through without overpowering the meat — while still being able to taste it. The Salami Point Loma "Rosemary and Garlic" is my favorite. I even named it after my hometown, because you can smell and taste the rosemary, even see tiny flecks in the meat when you slice it really thin. The rosemary is a subtle flavor that's just the right balance with the garlic, meat and salt.
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