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Salami

A salami is a cured (fermented and air-dried) sausage of Italian tradition. The name comes from the Italian verb salare, meaning to salt.

A traditional salami is made from a mixture which may include the following: chopped pork, beef, wine, salt, and various herbs and spices. More modern (but still traditional) mixtures include additional ingredients to assist in fermenting: nonfat dry milk, dextrose, lactic acid starter culture (bacteria), ascorbic acid, sodium nitrite, and sodium nitrate. These more modern ingredients simply take the guesswork out of traditional curing and can be found in many of the finest salami varieties in the world, although some producers eschew the nitrates and nitrites due to health concerns. 

The raw meat mixture is usually allowed to ferment for a day and then the mixture is either stuffed in an edible natural or non-edible artificial casings and hung to cure. The casings are often treated with an edible mold (Penicillium) culture as well. Mold imparts flavor and prevents spoilage during the curing process. Most salami have the mold or the casing removed before being brought to the United States market. Purists insist that the mold should be left intact.

In Italy, salami come in many regional varieties. Other national varieties exist, and, throughout the world, amateurs enjoy the art form as well. Though uncooked, salami are not raw; it has been prepared via curing. The term cotto salame refers to salami cooked or smoked before or after curing. This is done to impart a specific flavor but not to cook the meat. Before curing, a cotto salame is still considered raw and is not ready to be eaten.

Styles of salami are as varied as types of cheese. Many Old World salami are named after the region or country of their origin. Examples include Arles, Genoa, Hungarian and Milano salami. Many are flavored with garlic. Some types � including a few varieties from Spain, most Hungarian types, and southern Italian styles (such as pepperoni, derived from salsiccia Napoletana piccante) include paprika or chili powder. Varieties are also differentiated by the coarseness or fineness of the chopped meat as well as the size and style of the casing used. The length of curing process is directly affected by the climate of the curing environment and the size and style of casing.

The process of curing does not just involve drying. It also involves fermentation with lactic acid bacteria, which are safe for human ingestion. The acid produced by the bacteria makes the meat an inhospitable environment for other, dangerous bacteria and imparts the tangy flavor that separates salami from machine-dried pork. The flavor of a salame relies just as much on how this bacteria is cultivated as it does on quality and variety of other ingredients. Originally, the bacteria were introduced into the meat mixture with wine, which contains other types of beneficial bacteria; now, starter cultures are used.

One of the most expensive and well-regarded types of salame, the Felino, brings a great amount of money to the local industry of the province of Parma and Emilia-Romagna in general. There is, in fact, a small statue in the town of Felino dedicated to the pig. According to what was written in the inscription of the statue, the people of these areas brought out the best quality of the pig to create the grandest of all pork-derived products in Italy if not in the whole known world: the Salame di Felino and Prosciutto di Parma. This gives a bit of perspective of how much pride and dignity Italians have for these traditions.

In the United States, traditional salami are either imported or referred to as an "Italian Salami", the protected term for salami made in the United States with authentic traditions. Other salami may include non-traditional ingredients, such as mechanically separated chicken, beef hearts, water, and corn syrup.

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