what is salami

Salami is, arguably, the best-selling cured meat product in the world. It’s instantly recognizable visually and tends to be the go-to deli meat option for many people. However, that’s not what makes it reign supreme on the market. It’s because many people purchase salami without even knowing they’re buying it. How that’s possible? We’ll answer below, along with other frequently asked questions (at least according to Google).

If you’re interested in stocking up on gourmet salami (or other Italian cured meats), spare a few minutes to check out Yummy Bazaar’s assortment.

Meanwhile, we'll get right down to the business:

What is salami?

You might be surprised, but “what is salami” is actually a complicated question. Salami is an umbrella term for multiple sausage varieties made from fermented and air-dried meat. They can be made from different cuts of meats, seasoned with varying spice blends, and aged for different periods. Certain salami varieties may be referred to as such (ex. Genoa salami), but most aren’t. Pepperoni, for example, is a type of salami. So is soppressata. So is Finocchiona. And so long.

The easiest way to describe salami without confusing people is a dry-cured hard pork sausage, dark red in color, with generous specks of fat.

What kind of meat is in salami? Is salami from cow or pig?

As we discussed above, salami is an umbrella term for various Italian cured meats and can be made from pretty much any meat.

Commercially produced salami is made mainly either entirely from pork or a mixture of pork and beef. Pork is considered a safe option, as it’s widely consumed, often used in cured meats, and highly flavorful.

However, there are no constraints about which meats can be used in salami. You aren’t going to have much trouble finding salami made from beef, lamb, or turkey if you look past large manufacturers (though some of them offer beef and poultry options, along with traditional pork). Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find some artisans work with less conventional meats like venison, duck, bison, wild boar, and even horse and donkey (less common, but apparently traditional salami meats!).

Is salami made of donkey meat?

Sometimes, but not usually, no. As we discussed above, most commercial manufacturers stick to beef and pork. But donkey meat has historically been used in making salami and is still used today, most often with lean donkey meat mixed with pork fat at a classic 3:2 ratio.

The most high-quality donkey salami is produced in Vicenza province (Veneto region), made with Furlana species bred exclusively for their meat.

What does salami taste like?

Considering there are around 150-200 salami varieties around (rough estimates), there can be no ubiquitous answer to this question.

Salami is generally savory with varying degrees of saltiness, but it can have a distinct sweetness to it, as well as pepperiness and spiciness. It all depends on which type of salami we’re talking about and what seasonings were used during the manufacturing process.

In any case, you can expect the salami to have a robust flavor that’s not easy to overwhelm.

Is salami cooked or raw meat?

Neither. Salami is cured and dried, which is an entirely separate thing.

Okay, technically, traditional salami can be considered raw meat if we’re sticking to semantics, as it’s not cooked in any way. But in reality, since it’s cured and dried before being packaged and is safe for consumption, we cannot in good conscious refer to it as raw.

One exception would be Piedmont-style Salami Cotto. Cotto means “cooked” in Italian. This salami is cooked after the curing process instead of being left to dry.

Can I eat salami raw (straight from the package)?

Yes, salami is designed to be eaten straight from the package. It’s perfectly safe to consume salami without any additional thermal treatment. 

Is sausage the same as salami?

No, salami and sausage aren’t the same. Salami refers to dry-cured meat products, while sausages are generally raw and must be cooked before consumption.

One notable exception is summer sausage which looks like salami and is arguably a type of it. The main difference is that summer sausage is a semi-dry product, only losing about 15% of moisture during the aging process, while salami loses around 25% and is fully dry.

Are salami and pepperoni the same thing? Can salami replace pepperoni?

It’s a bit complicated. Pepperoni is a type of spicy salami. In fact, in Italian, “pepperoni” doesn’t refer to a meat product at all but a large pepper. What Americans call pepperoni, Italians call spicy salami. Pepperoni pizza is just salame pizza. 

So not all salami can replace pepperoni if it’s the spice you’re after. But if changes to spice levels don’t bother you, then yes, you can switch pepperoni for virtually any salami. If you want to maintain the peppery flavor, then salami Picante is your best bet.

What do you eat salami with?

The most popular use for salami is as deli meat. Its robust, savory flavor goes well with most cheeses and vegetables, making it a go-to addition to sandwiches, paninis, and bruschettas, as well as a pizza topping.

It also pairs well with more neutral ingredients like eggs, rice, and potatoes. Salami is frequently added to frittatas and polenta to amplify the flavor profile.

While not strictly traditional, it can substitute for other meats in more complex dishes. Use it for pasta, fritters, salads, etc.

And, of course, salami is commonly served on its own as an independent appetizer and is a mainstay of charcuterie boards.

Do you cook salami?

Salami doesn’t require cooking to be safe for consumption, but it can be cooked when used as an ingredient in other dishes.

For example, it can be grilled when added as a filling to a sandwich, baked as a pizza topping, or pan-fried when added to pasta.

What type of salami is good for pizza? What salami do Italians use on pizza?

There’s no such thing as bad salami when it comes to pizza. Italians have a much less rigid relationship with pizza toppings than we do. If you see salami pizza on the restaurant menu, it can refer to multiple varieties. What matters is that the salami is thinly sliced and paired with classic tomato sauce and cheese.

If you’re a spice lover, look for a pepperoni alternative, which will likely be salami Picante (spicy salami).

For the lovers of milder but robust flavors, there’s Genoa salami. Genoa salami is flavored with wine and garlic, but it's still quite mellow and a suitable option for kids.

And for those looking for something in between, there’s soppressata, which isn’t as peppery as salami Picante but still packs a distinct kick. 

If you’re ordering at a restaurant and are unsure, ask the waiter which salami they use. 

What’s the white stuff inside salami?

The question is slightly confusingly worded, but we said all frequently asked questions, so we couldn’t skip this one.

If you’re talking about the white dots throughout the salami, then it's just fat. But if you’re referring to the white powdery substance on the outer casing of the salami, then it’s mold. But don’t worry! It’s a good kind of mold, one of the penicillin species (Penicillium Nalgiovense)! 

We already talked about this in our previous FAQs, but when it comes to cured meats, penicillin mold is a good sign that curing was done with proper care, and the bacteria are being successfully fought off.

Do a sniff test to confirm it’s the “right” mold. It should have an earthy, mushroomy smell, nothing too pungent.

Can salami spoil? How long does salami last?

Yes, salami can spoil if it’s been improperly stored. Its main enemies are exposure to oxygen, high temperatures, and high levels of humidity. 

Once cut, bacteria can easily penetrate the meat, and pathogenic bacteria love humidity and high temperatures (until it reaches 140°F, at which point they start to die).

But adequately stored salami has a relatively long shelf life. Depending on where you keep it, it can last anywhere from six weeks to “indefinitely.”  

Does salami need to be refrigerated?

Not necessarily. But it’ll go a long way towards preserving the flavor and avoiding spoilage.

Unopened salami can last in a pantry for up to six weeks and a couple of days after opening, as long as the environment isn’t too hot or humid. 

Keeping salami in the fridge will automatically eliminate the need to consider heat or humidity levels. Unopened salami can last up to a year in the refrigerator and up to three weeks after the package has been opened. Do pay attention to the best-by date on the package, though, since the flavor and texture quality will decline after that deadline. 

Can you freeze salami?

Yes, technically, you can freeze salami to prolong its shelf life. You can do so by wrapping it and placing it in an air-tight container (better if you can vacuum-seal it). 

However, it’s decidedly not the best storing method. Freezing will pull out water from salami, and the diminished moisture levels will cause the flavor and texture quality to decline faster. 

Uncut salami can last up “indefinitely” in the freezer (according to the USDA), and sliced salami can last up to two months, but don’t expect either to taste as good thawed as they do fresh.

Why is my salami slimy?

There can be two reasons for it: one good and one not so much.

The outer casing may feel slimy to the touch when it develops penicillin mold. That’s fine. Cut it away and enjoy the salami.

When the overall texture starts feeling slimy (or if it feels slimy on the outside without mold as an explanation), it’s likely gone bad due to improper storage (has been contaminated with oxygen, held at too-warm temperature, etc.).

How can you tell if salami is bad?

As with most cured meats, catching salami going bad can be challenging. The most obvious clues are changes in the way it looks. While we discussed that usually, white mold is a good thing, penicillin is not the only type of mold salami can develop. When improperly stored and exposed to contaminants, it can quickly develop blue-gray-green mold that’s not safe for consumption. You may be able to catch spoilage at an earlier stage, with the salami developing gray edges or black fuzzy dots. Visual changes to the meat are usually the last stage of spoilage. If you can see it with the naked eye, it’s already too late to save salami, and it must be tossed. 

Changes in the texture are another obvious sign. As discussed above, the slimy texture usually means it’s gone bad. But so does the texture becoming hard and brittle.

Change in smell is another important indicator. Salami may look completely fine, but if you notice the meat giving out an intense, foul aroma (rancid meat, rotten eggs, ammonia, etc.), the reason is likely because it’s spoiled. 

And last but not least, examine the package once it gets to you. If  salami may look and smell fine, but package has been damaged, contact the manufacturer so they can instruct you about potential effects.

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