DURING THE revolution, in the days when hippies were smuggling dope from Morocco, I had an Italy/England commuter friend who went to a great deal of trouble to slip large links of salami past customs inspectors.
After each illegal importation, he would take the salami home and hang it on a special hook in the kitchen where it would drip melted fat all over the floor. He never offered a slice to anyone except his Burmese cat.
I couldn't understand why this fellow wanted to risk getting nabbed by customs officials for bringing food into the country, just for a couple slices of luncheon meat.
Presliced and plastic-wrapped, greasy, fatty, salty, ho-hum luncheon meat?
Baloney! True, it might not be a particularily slimming meat (about 2,250 calories and 175 grams of fat per pound), but to those who know hard sausage there is a lot more to it than Oscar Mayer. We found 28 varieties readily available in Washington, and may have missed a few. All the salamis we found were made in America; none was imported.
The making of an Old World salami is basically the same in all meat-packing houses. The beef or pork is ground with seasonings, or wine, salt and sodium nitrite.The uncooked mixture is pressed into casings divided into smaller sections called chubs and tied off. The salamis (or salame) are then hung in a room where temperature and humidity, the primary factors in curing salami, are carefully regulated.
A penicillin-like mold, which forms on the outside of the casing, is washed off after about a week. The theory is that the mold draws water away from the porous casing, causing the chub to shrink which in turn concentrates flavors. In the final state the salami may be left in the drying or curing room for three to six weeks. The longer a sausage hangs, the more moisture is lost and the harder it becomes. Kosher salami like Hebrew National, and summer sausage, may be sold in the early, soft stage or left for a few weeks to dry and harden further.
Although salami makers insist that the outer mold gives a distinctive flavor to the finished sausage, Dr. George York, a food scientist at the University of California at Davis, believes the outer bacteria actually get into the fat and turn it into lactic acid. It is this acid, York believes, which preserves the meat.
Salami may be made in similar ways all over the world, but the sausage is subject to different standards in Italy, France, Germany, Switzerland and other countries. The ratio of meat (pork of beef) to fat may change, the grinds may vary and different proportions of spices are used.
German salami tends to be smokier while Italian hard sausages are hotter and have been aged longer. Someone used to cold-cut salami may want to start out with the milder salamis like Venetian or Thuringer and move on to the hard, coarse salamis like soppressata or a garlicky Hungarian. The leaner the meat, the saltier the taste. The fatty ones, like everything that is bad for you, are more flavorful. Hard salami should be very thinly sliced; the softer salamis sliced thicker. While the hard salamis do not spoil as quickly when refrigerated as the soft salamis, both go off quickly when sliced. So if possible, buy a whole chub and slice it yourself.
Most of the markets below will offer samples to taste if you are unsure which you prefer. The salamis are available at more stores than listed, but these are recommended. ITALIAN
Abruzzi: A spicy dry sausage made from finely ground fresh pork, cured and air-dried. Usually served with anti-pasto. Available at Litteri's, 517-19 Morse Ave, NE (544-0183 and 543-7193); The Italian Gourmet, 505 Maple Ave., Vienna, Va. (938-4141) and Viagreggio's, 3740 12th St. NE (526-5030).
Cacciatori or Milano: Small, wax-coated finger salami made from pork and beef seasoned with garlic, salt, pepper and white wine. Available at Vace, 3510 Connecticut Ave. NW (363-1999).
Capocolla: This is really a cured ham or pork shoulder, spiced with hot red peppers and air-dried. The meat is not ground, but cured whole. Available at Mancuso's, 2208 Rhode Island Ave. NE (529-6225).
Coppa: A cured ham, or capocolla, but it is hard and will come sliced very thin -- smoky but delicately flavored with pepper. Available at Marinelli's, 2506 University Blvd., Hyattsville, Md. (422-8422).
D'annunzio: A Neopolitan-style sausage, mild and finely ground. Available at Litteri's.
Filsette: Mild, Genoa-type soft salami. Available at the French Market, 1632 Wisconsin Ave. NW (338-4828).
Genoa: The most common salami, sold at almost all cold-cut counters. A deep mahogany red, peppery, finely ground. This kind of salami is a familiar ingredient of submarine sandwiches. It is available at supermarkets -- look for Hormel brand or Eskay.
Lebanon Bologna: This isn't really salami but that is what it tastes like. A Pennsylvania Dutch interpretation from Lebanon, Pa. -- very smoky and sweet, medium soft and dark mahogany color. Available at deli counters at supermarkets, but best at the Reading Terminal market in Philadelphia.
Pepperoni: In Italy pepperoni means green pepper; the hot sausage is called salame picante. The skinny type is especially for pizza, but the larger salami pepperoni is for eating or scrambled with eggs. It is dried for a long time and heavily spiced with red and black pepper. Available at all Italian delis and supermarkets but look for the Cudahy brand.
Piccolo: Pork and beef plus beef hearts (medium coarse grind) spiced with garlic and pepper. Very hard and chewy, should be sliced thin. Available at Marinelli's.
Soppressata: Chunky ground pork, high fat content, seasoned with peppercorns. Very pungent and tangy. An irregular soppresatta shaped like a gnarled oak tree is sold at Litteri's. Marchone's, 11224 Triangle Lane, Wheaton, (949-4150) sells a loaf-style soppresatta with hot and mild seasonings.
Toscana: Like a soppresatta, but medium coarse grind, peppery and sharp. Available at Vace.
Venetian: Very mild, no pepper or garlic, very flat and oval shaped. Sold at Marinelli's, where all the salamis have natural casings. GERMAN
The following places sell a large assortment of German hard sausage:
Wenzel's European Deli, 7185 Lee Hwy., Falls Church, Va. (534-1908).
Gunthers German Deli, 3205 Columbia Pike, Arlington, Va. (979-3757).
The German Deli, 814 11th St. NW (347-5732).
The variety of sausages sold may change with availability, so call.
Berliner: A mildly seasoned, faintly smoky and finely ground pork and beef sausage.
Cervelat: Spicy smoked pork and beef, thick and fine grind, dried and cooked. It comes in several varieties.
Holsteiner: The smokiest of the German sausages. Shaped in a ring, but of a lesser quality meat. Higher amount of fat and aged longer than touristwurst (see below).
Hungarian: Very garlicky and sweetly spiced with paprika, pepper and white wine. Finely ground but fatty.
Landjager: This means "hunter." It is the sausage landjagers (and hikers) take with them because it is very dry and will not spoil. A thin flat dried stick, smoked and reddish brown (often seasoned with Burgundy wine and caraway seeds), good for picnics.
Rugenwalder: Medium-grind meat from the ham section of pork, coarse and chewy. Named after a town in the Black Forest where the law requires that the sausage contain no more than 32 percent fat.
Touristwurst: So called because they hang in big rings in the windows of German butchers to attract tourists. Tastes like a cervelat -- heavily smoked, but dry and hard.
Thuringer: Medium dry and tangy, but lightly spiced.
Usinger's: Of Milwaukee. Excellent domestic products. Not smoky or spicy; beef soft summer sausage and pork summer sausage are available. MISCELLANEOUS
Danish: Smoked and sold in small logs like cervelat. Available at supermarkets.
Kosher: All beef, of course, smoked and seasoned with garlic. Sold either soft or hard; when soft the sausage is bitter and tangy, when hard or hung to dry the meat is sweeter and pepperier. Sold at all kosher deli's such as Nunberg's, 11238 Georgia Ave., Wheaton (942-9742) and Katz Kosher Market, 4860 Boiling Brook Pkw., Rockville (468-0400).
Hungarian Csabai: Hungarian sausage, sweetly spiced with paprika, shaped in a ring. Sold in some German delis.
French Salami: Regular -- mild and sweet; country -- coarser grind, smoky, but sweet, available at the French Market in Georgetown and Chevy Chase, Md.
Sauccisson: The French Market in Georgetown makes their own chunky, cooked fresh pork sausage, which is delicious and garlicky.
Spanish Salami: Butifara -- (Argentina) minced fat pork mixed with white wine, cloves, nutmeg, salt and pepper.Available at Pena's Spanish Store, 1636 17th St. NW. (462-2222).