(photo: notice the natural mold on the exterior of the Creminelli product; this mold imparts lots of taste on meat and also prevents it from drying out, along with the casing)
There are certain items or products that are immediately associated with a given country, for example: ice hockey and Canada, beer and Germany, haute cuisine and France, hot dogs and the USA, and vodka and Russia. As a first generation Italian-American kid growing up in New Jersey, I secretly associated Italy with just one magical product, and it wasn’t Ferrari or Soccer (calcio), but rather salami! Yes, salami (or salumi, as the Italians would say), that seductive product comprised of salty / cured / spiced perfection!
(photo: I sliced up four different types of Columbus Artisan product for a Thanksgiving appetizer)
My love of salami started as a young child during summer vacations in Southern Italy, as I described in my recent Guide to Italian Cured Meats
and I thought it was a short lived love affair until I rediscovered that there are, indeed, high quality salumi that are being hand crafted and sold in the US (one doesn’t need to hop on an Alitalia flight to Rome to find pork perfection).
With the above said, I recently had the pleasure of sampling eight distinct salumi from two US producers: Creminelli Fine Meats of Springville, Utah
and Columbus Artisan Collection from San Francisco, CA
. On the Creminelli side, I sampled Cacciatore, Sopressata, Piccante
and on the Columbus Artisan Collection I tried Cacciatore, Finocchiona, Crespone, Salami Secchi, and Sopressata
. Not only did I try the salumi but all of the varieties were tasted by immediate family including many salumi dignitaries who have produced and sampled hundreds of products both in Italy and the US. Some of the comments I heard at the gathering included:
“Is this from Italy?”
“Wow, what great flavor and texture!”
“Vinny, did you fly to Italy this weekend, where did you get this?!”
(photo: I think the packaging on the Creminelli product is top notch!)
I’ll begin by saying that the Creminelli packaging is top notch. Each individual sausage is hand wraped in fine butcher paper and held together by an elegant sticker with the Criminelli logo, name of the product, and ingredients. The passionate owner Christiano Creminelli
understands that along with a great tasting product, a customer starts his or her food “user experience” with their eyes and hands. Christiano uses no sodium nitrates in his products and his salumi recipes originated in Italy and are now being duplicated, by hand, in the US (Christiano is a Maestro of Salumi!
). The Creminelli products I sampled were naturally molded salumi and were soft to the touch out of the packaging. I would have preferred to have had the salami age for 1-2 months in my cellar before sampling the product so that more complex flavor could develop, but I couldn’t wait (I tried the product after having the product sit in fridge for 4 days)!
(photo: Creminelli exterior)
(photo: starting from upper right clockwise: Creminelli Piccante, Sopressata, and Cacciatore)
Sopressata is traditionally made with wine and garlic and Creminelli’s sopressata was no different, yet the wine and garlic flavor was muted letting the intensity and quality of the pork come through. The meat to fat ratio was also ideal, which is tough to get right in Sopressata. I would have preffered a bit more garlic flavor in the Sopressata and little bit less upfront salt but overall it is a fine salumi. Creminelli Sopressata would work well in a sandwhich combined with other ingredients.
(Photo: Creminelli product)
My favorite of the bunch and not overly spiced with red pepper. The salt content was perfect in the Picante and the combination of high quality pork with mild heat made me quite happy. The color of the Picante was also well done, it’s not the typical fiery red color you see in most spiced salami.
(photo: Columbus Artisan Cacciatore)
The first thing that jumped out was the subtle juniper berry flavor in the Cacciatore! Moreover, the consistency and texture was typical old world, as was the physical size of the sausage itself (very small; afterall, tradition has it that hunter’s stored the salami in their coats and when they got hungry in the forest they simply cut a few pieces and had a quick bite). Next to the Piccante, I really enjoyed the Cacciatore. There were some bitter components (at the very end) that may have been coming out of homemade wine I was having when sampling the salami, but overall you could tell that high quality ingredients were used in production. Finally, this salami also had a wonderful scent! This is a great all around salami to keep in the house for a quick meal on the weekend or for impromptu quests.
As I said above, I would have liked to have tried the Creminelli salumi after the aging process has a bit more time to do it’s thing and, in fact, I do have a few samples aging in my cellar and I’m excited to retry the product in a month or so (stay tuned for an update here).
(photo: The Columbus Artisan collection is top notch and miles ahead of the standard fair salumi, the taste, texture, and ingredients are all old world and fabulous)
Next I moved on to the Columbus Artisan Collection salami which are produced in San Francisco and differ, to a large extent, from the mass production line of cured meats from the same company. Columbus does use sodium nitrates in their products and the salami did arrive pre-aged and hard to the touch. Like Creminelli, Columbus Artisan has a natural mold skin with all natural imported casings.
(photo: Columbus Artisan Finocchiona, my favorite amongst both the Creminelli and Columbus products)
Columbus Artisan Finocchiona
Let me qualify the following sentence first by saying that fennel seed was one of the key ingredients in my grandfather’s salumi making arsenal and, as a result, I’ve been pre-programmed to respond positively to fennel flavor. And there’s tons of authentic fennel seed flavor in the Finocchiona, in fact it was my favorite salumi out of the 9 products sampled. The Finocchiona had great texture, rich and flavorful pork, and the perfect balance of salt and bitter that is needed in any artisan salami.
(Photo: Along with the Creminelli cacciatore, the Columbus Artisan Salame Secchi would be an excellent overall choice for pre-dinner appetizers, small parties, and to enjoy with a glass of wine and good bread)
Columbus Salami Secchi
Columbus claims this is their oldest recipe and product and it shows. The Salami Secchi (meaning very dry) is the most subtle of the Columbus salami’s I tried and I love the ratio of fat to pork. The salt and spice seasoning was also idle. This type of Salami is a good all round choice for keeping in the house at all times, while the Finocchiona, for example, would be something that you would consume a little less frequently (just because of the intensity of the fennel seed).
(photo: Columbus Artisan Cacciatore)
My first thought when trying this cacciatore was, wow, this is kind of sweet tasting with lots of deep flavor. It was difficult to pick a winner between the Columbus and Cremenilli cacciatore, but Columbus had an advantage because the product seemed to have been pre-aged and, of course, the sodium nitrates help quicken the hardening process in the refrigerator. I think with more aging time, the Cremenilli would come out on top because of better ingredients (stay tuned!).
Columbus Crespone and Columbus Sopressata
Similar to the Finocchiona but without the fennel seed Crespone is a very rustic interpretation of salami (I should also say that Crespone and Finocchiona are also slightly larger in size than the rest of the salamis sampled). I found the Crespone, similar to a sopressata, to have a bit more fat composition than I ordinarily like but I did appreciate the simplicity and adaptability of the product (it went well with basic bread and cheese). A bit more course in texture than the Cremenilli sopressata, Columbus Sopressata was also a good basic salami but I would have liked a little bit more flavor profile. The sopressata was my least favorite of the Columbus salamis, but still light years ahead of any mass produced salami in the US market.
(Photo: Columbus Artisan Crespone, Sopressata, Cacciatore, and Salame Secchi, from left to right)
Where to Buy
- You can buy Columbus products online
or at your local retailer
One observation that many of my family members made about both artisan salamis was the price! At between $25 – $30 per pound for the Creminelli product and between $11 – $15 for the Columbus Artisan, the salamis aren’t cheap and are on par with a product like Prosciutto di Parma (which is one of the few Italian cured pork product allowed to be imported into the US). Charging the same amount of money (or more) for a US salumi product is a big risk for hardcore Europeans customers who are particular about value.