Customer Reviews: Salumi: The Craft of Italian Dry Curing
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on August 23, 2012
It's great finally to have a book in English dedicated to the subject of Italian cured meats, but - since it's the only book we're likely to have - it's disappointing that's it's not better.

In several respects, this book does improve on their Charcuterie book. First, they no longer recommend the grinder attachment for the Kitchen Aid mixer, since it can't handle partially frozen meat, the auger churns it too much, and its dull blades smear rather than shear the fat, all resulting in sausages with poor texture. If they'd `fessed up about this 7 years ago, they'd have saved aspiring sausage makers a lot of frustration.

Second, their salami recipes now say that the meat should sit for up to a day after salting and grinding, before finally mixing and stuffing . This extra step allows the salt to extract myosin (a protein in meat, like the gluten in wheat), which makes for a good "bind" in the final product.

But in other respects, this book reads like time has stood still or the authors have missed out on new developments.

For curing whole muscles, they continue to rely on the traditional "salt-box" method, where the meat is simply kept covered with salt, one day for each couple of pounds. The fact that they equate 2 pounds to 1 kilogram (when it's actually 0.9) tells you a lot about the imprecision of this method. A better method, which yields more consistent results and won't have you going through boxes of salt is equilibrium brining. Once you know how much salt is to your liking, you weigh the meat (plus whatever liquid you're adding), use your ratio to calculate the amount of salt needed (I like .25 oz or 7 g per pound), and then hold it in a vacuum or Ziploc bag until the salt has been absorbed and the brine and the meat reach "equilibrium," injecting larger muscles with the cure.

You'll also find no mention of sodium phosphates, even though they've long been available from their favorite supply house, Butcher-Packer. As other recent books, such as Modernist Cuisine, explain, sodium phosphates are a useful additive for dissolving myosin and accelerating the development of a cured flavor. Similarly, you'll find no mention of vacuum-sealing, sous vide, or even the use of a simple temperature controller to create a precisely calibrated water bath.

And if you found some of the recipes in Charcuterie to be unpalatably salty (and I have quite a salt tooth), be warned: the amount of salt called for in Salumi is even higher, as much as 50% higher (consistently 3% of the mix, including curing salt).

Most distressing is their continued reliance on a single strain of bacterial culture to ferment all their salami: Bactoferm F-RM-52 (the strain they recommend on page 65). As Butcher-Packer's website explains, F-RM-52 is "the culture recommended for the production of traditional North European types of fermented, dry sausages with a sourly [sic] flavor note." Even Ruhlman and Polcyn confess that the lactic acid produced by this culture results "in a tanginess that is slightly overbearing" (p. 68).

Of course it is! This strain is designed to produce the strong sourness characteristic of German fermented sausages and is simply unsuited to making salami. The Christian Hansen culture formulated for southern European types of salami is T-SP-X, and it has been available from Butcher-Packer for about 5 years now. Other recent books on fermented sausages, such as those by Stanley Marianski, recognize that this is the appropriate culture for Italian salami.

Similarly, the ingredients called for by the recipes are perplexing. Trapani sea salt is recommended, as "an Italian sea salt from Sicily used all over Italy," but then they freely acknowledge that other ingredients they use a lot in their recipes, such as paprika, are actually uncommon in Italy. For example, their recipe for nduja calls for La Vera pimentón from Spain. If they're calling it "Nduja di Calabria," shouldn't they use actual Calabrian chili peppers, which are now readily available in this country (from The Sausage Debauchery, for example, which is listed among their Resources)?

Aside from such lapses or oddities, the book is simply skimpy on meat and long on filler. Those hoping to make Italian salami will find less than 75 pages of recipes, and even these are padded. The steps in making a salame hardly change from recipe to recipe (a different diameter die for the grind, a different diameter casing for the stuffing), yet the authors write out all the steps in full each time, ensuring each recipe fills up 2 pages. And some recipes are basically repetitions. On page 139, they have a recipe for Salamini Cacciatore, calling for equal portions of pork shoulder and wild boar. On page 155, is a recipe for Salsicca di Cinghiale Crudo, which is identical in all its seasonings, just altering the ratio 3 to 1 in favor of the boar and calling for beef middles instead of hog casings. A two-sentence note to one recipe, suggesting this variation, would have sufficed.

And the final section of the book is dedicated to "cooking with and serving salumi," with recipes for crostini, roasted garlic, pesto, pizza, chicken stock... Seriously? It's hard for me to believe that anyone who's fanatic enough about Italian food to break down a pig and cure their own pancetta or guanciale could need a recipe for crostini or spaghetti carbonara. Their recipe for serving prosciutto or coppa with fruit says "We have no specific instructions here other than finding excellent ingredients. In terms of quantities, use common sense... Put all the ingredients out on a cutting board, or arrange the ingredients on small plates..." Such "recipes" simply don't deserve the 63 pages that they take up.

Since many readers give this book 4 and 5 stars, some may have found my review unduly harsh and "pedantic." I freely admit to being a hard grader. But other readers have pointed out even more serious errors than ones I noted.

Writing about guanciale (on p. 88), they say "You can use sodium nitrite here if you wish, for a more bacony, pancetta-like flavor, using 0.25% of the weight of the meat . . . about 1/4 ounce for 5 pounds, or 6 grams for 2 kilograms of meat." This error is repeated on p. 68, in their introduction to dry-curing, where they say, "We believe . . . 0.25% sodium nitrate relative to the weight of the meat to be ideal."

If you follow this advice and add 0.25% sodium nitrate or nitrite relative to the weight of the meat, you will be adding 16 TIMES MORE THAN THE USDA ALLOWS AND APPROACHING LEVELS THAT ARE TOXIC. (As the authors note on p 63, 7.1 grams is the toxicity level for a person weighing 220 pounds.) Anyone familiar with curing salts will understand that they are referring instead to pre-mixed cures, cure #2 (which contains 5.67% sodium nitrite and 3.63% sodium nitrate) and cure #1 (which contains 6.25% sodium nitrite or 1/16 exactly) respectively. But for a novice who takes them at their word and makes nitrates/nitrites 0.25% of the mix, this could be a fatal mistake.

It's one thing to pad the book out and fail to mention things that could make the salumi better. It's another thing entirely to be inaccurate in your terminology in a way that could lead someone to poison themselves.
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on January 22, 2013
When you are taking on the task of dry curing meats, you want to be sure you are safely doing so. While I loved "Charcuterie", and was very excited to get my hands on "Salumi", I was disappointed, like many others, with the obvious lack of detailed editing and recipe testing in Salumi. I won't point out again what others have already pointed out, but I will add that the very first recipe that I was planning to make was the "Speck" recipe in the book, and found a couple of errors. The recipe gives the weight of the meat to be cured at a "4500 gram Pork Shoulder", which gives us the starting point to the rest of the recipe (which is based on the weight of the meat.) He then gives the salt cure measurements, which consist of "225 grams of salt (8.5% of the weight of meat)"...the problem is that 225 grams is only 5% of the weight of the 4500 gram shoulder they are curing, not 8.5%. This calls into question the rest of the cure, including the pink salt and other ingredients (are they based on the weight of meat or the weight of salt?).

Also, in the same recipe, the description of the recipe states that "Ours is heavily seasoned with pepper, bay leaf, juniper, nutmeg and cinnamon."...yet there is no cinnamon in the recipe at all. This, again, was the first recipe I've tried in the book, and found 2 errors...I'm a bit hesitant to try others.

I emailed Michael Ruhlman on Nov. 11 to inform him about the errors I've found, but never did ger a reply.

I do hope that the second printing of this book fixes the errors that I have found, as well as the ones others have found, as I think this could have been a good book. I do not recommend buying it until then.
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on September 7, 2012
I got and read it last week. Not awful but frankly I wasn't impressed overall. More of a recipe book plus discussion on quality of pork and butchering. I was hopeful there would be more information around "troubleshooting" issues such as case hardening as well as more in depth discussion on humidity, temp ranges. Said another way more "meat" around the actual curing process. Let's be honest, most of us can follow a recipe and have the equipment already - our struggles are with consistency and the actual end result for a variety of reasons. There is no discussion on the different fermentation cultures available and the resulting taste differences. They still recommend humidity of 60%-70% which based on my experience is way too low, especially initially.

All in all I would say this book would suit someone with a solid knowledge of curing already and then only as a reference for either butchering a hog or recipes, nothing more.
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on August 28, 2012
Thank god they finally recommended not using a Kitchen Aid grinder/stuffer, but the book could have easily been 100 pages shorter if they'd have spent two paragraphs explaining the simple grinding method and salt box method rather than re-printing the same instructions for each recipe. The final third of the book, dedicated to serving suggestions, offers nothing new in realm of salumi parings. While the resources section is helpful, actual photography of tying and butchery methods would have been more helpful than hand drawn illustrations, a good chunk of the book is spent romantically writing about time they'd spent in Itally. I could do without the bragging of your dream vacations. I've met both Mike and Brian, and they're great guys. However, this book seems to be more about them lamenting on the "research," their publisher funded than telling the reader how to make the best salumi. Perhaps their publisher forced them to dumb it down for a wider audience, but I'd rather reference a Marianski brothers' book than look to this one for guidance.
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on December 17, 2012
Others have done a great job summing up some of the major shortcomings of this book.

Carelessness with cure (a serious issue) lands this book one star.

I like books (and authors) who try to share some unique practical knowledge about their art. Authors who offer you insight that is usually gotten by long experience; insightful information that makes you wiser after reading. In that area, this book is extremely lacking.

I get the feeling that this was slapped together to make a fast buck; taking advantage of the success of their earlier work.

As one reviewer said...very little meat and a lot of filler.

Recipes for aioli, crostini, roasted garlic, pesto, tapenade, basic pizza dough, chicken stock, etc. etc. etc.

Really? In a Salumi book?

Hey, it's not all bad, the illustrations are great!
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VINE VOICEon August 15, 2012
Having delighted in Charcuterie by the same authors, I waited eagerly for this book's release, received it just hours ago, and have read about half of it already.

The first long, non-introductory chapter is entirely about butchering a hog, which is entirely appropriate here; they even give the economic breakdown of buying a whole or half hog, but of course you can approach the process more timidly if you prefer.

But I'm more of a "damn the torpedos" type, so I turned to the prosciutto chapter ... and stopped short: the short preamble is great, but the following recipe is two pages long. It certainly touches all the basic bases - breed, diet, butchering, draining, packing, weighing, larding on the strutto, hanging - but a chapter that opens with: "This is the most demanding cut to cure..." should, honestly, go into more detail than that. For instance, the chapter ends with: "Depending on the conditions of your drying chamber, you may be able to leave it there for up to two years. The danger in letting it dry too long, though, is that it can be come [sic] dry, leathery, and tough." Which conditons are most desirable for prosciutto? How about best temperature/humidity? There is a long, excellent chapter on general curing, but before I invest a year or two making a prosciutto, I want a more detailed treatment of its specific requirements.

[Update: Somebody wrote, then deleted, a comment about the above. I think what he had to say was informative, so I'm pasting it here, verbatim.
I really am not trying to bust your chops, but I feel that the book gives as much detail on curing prosciutto as is possible, without going into esoteric meat science-speak.
"The Environment: Creating a Place to Dry Cure Meat" [p. 76] gives very straightforward instructions for how to dry any salumi. Professionals hang their hams in the same chamber as their salamis, and so can we. As someone who has screwed up MANY a prosciutto, I can attest to the fact that they are indeed the most demanding cut to cure. They are so demanding not because there is a highly specific set of actions and environmental factors that are difficult to execute, but because they are massive, convoluted things, and there IS NO foolproof way to make them perfectly.
I hope he is wrong, but I suspect he is right. In the meantime I'm perfectly willing to delve into "esoteric meat-science-speak" if it will lead to more reliable results.

The other, less-daunting preparations seem to get the detail they need, though: the two pancetta recipes are simplicity themselves (to the point where I'm already calling around looking for a pastured pork belly), and the many salami recipes all seem within reach.

But the above gripes are minor: like Charcuterie before it, this is a cookbook, not a recipe book. In order to properly make some of these recipes, the whole subject needs to be studied in depth, and this book seems an excellent starting point.
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on December 17, 2013
Of the three books on charcuterie I have read this is probably the best for the novice who wants to remain closer to the Italian tradition of salted and cured meats.
The first few chapters deal with the what, why and how of charcuterie. There is even a section on how to butcher a hog, if one is so inclined. The instructions for the various preparations are detailed and the two color illustrations are very clear. The book provides tips on which cured meat are more suitable if the space to cure them is limited. The recipes using cured meats are valuable to any cook. Of the books on charcuterie I have read so far it is the only one to provide a recipe for "Zampone" and "Cotechino"
The retail price is a hair short of $ 40.00, but the book can be found on amazon both new and used for considerably less. Actually I found a new one for less than the price of a used one. I am thrilled with the book and determined to give charcuterie a serious try. This book provides all I need to do it successfully and almost feel that I know what I'm doing. It would make a splendid gift!
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on January 20, 2014
This book lays out step by step what you need to do to make home made dry cured meats. It has easy to understand instructions and goes into the why's behind what you are doing. Have have made 2 types of salumi since buying the book and both came out fantastic.
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on July 14, 2014
A good read.
Good photographs (learn to work with lighting better, guys).
And providing advice for working with both the "Italian style" and "American style" pig breakdown is nice.

While I fully understand this book is, for all intents and purposes, aimed squarely at working with pork, I really would have liked to see a few more alternate recipes for leaner meats such as lamb, venison, etc.
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on October 11, 2015
Although the recipes in this book are ok, the actual material quality of the book is terrible. The pages are cheap "paperback" quality. For a book at this price point, one would expect smooth, gloss pages with beautiful illustrations. A cook book with no illustrations/photos is absurd because the art of cooking strongly incorporates the visual sense. Additionally, all these recipes can be found on the internet and the authors do not teach by principle, but by individual recipe. This does not free the student from the confining bonds of ignorance. I returned the book- what a huge disappointment. I ended up buying "In the Charcuterie" which is a beautiful, well built, and informationally and gastronomic-wisdom dense masterpiece.
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