I've often thought that I could live on beef tartare and cured meats alone. But the true testament to my obsession is that I still think that after trying 20 of the country's most highly rated salumi. In one sitting.
Here are my favorite dry-cured salami that are not only worth their salt hangover, but 100% worth going out of your way to order online if you can't find them at a specialty shop near you. Though they're all very different, each one has an excellent porky flavor, a satisfying meaty texture, and a balanced flavor with fresh-tasting spices.
May they bring you salty, smoky, meaty joy, whether you serve them as an antipasto—which literally means "before a meal"—or just for snacking with cheese and wine.
Tip: Slicing salami very thin helps this pricey meat go farther. It's much easier to slice when very cold, but tastier when the chill lifts, as the fat softens and the flavors open up. For this reason you should slice right out of the refrigerator, but let it sit at room temperature for at least 15 minutes before serving.
Also, make sure to peel the salami before digging in. Most of the brands I tasted use a natural casing (the old-school way), which is harmless to eat, but Europeans and salami connoisseurs consider this akin to eating a shrimp cocktail with the peels still on: TACKY. At best, it doesn't do much for the tasting experience, and in the case of thicker casings, it can interfere with the flavor and texture. According to this video from salumi maker Cristiano Cremenelli, you should score the salami casing gently with a sharp knife to making peeling easier before slicing into quarter-size rounds, or at a 60 degree angle to create ovals.
For Traditionalists: Fra'Mani Soppressata
Paul Bertolli—the founder and curemaster behind Fra'Mani—presided over Chez Panisse as Chef for almost 10 years. But salami-making is what really made him famous. Over the past 20 years, he has studied alongside some of the best producers in Italy to hone his craft. The largest salame in their line, this is a gorgeous example of classic Italian-styled Soppressata. Made from heritage Berkshire pork raised on small family farms, it smells and tastes deeply porky with subtle hints of clove. Thanks to plenty of fat, every bite is moist and lightly chewy. Slice paper thin to best enjoy the texture and taste.
For Adventurous Eaters: Olympic Provisions Loukanika
Hailing from Oregon's first USDA-approved salumeria, Olympic Provsions this Greek-inspired salami is the kind of thing that makes you stop in your tracks and try to figure out what the heck is going on in your mouth—in a good way. Thick and extra-chewy, Loukanika (loo-KAH-nik-ah) loaded with a heavy dose of sweet-spicy cumin and garlic that breaks through the rich, fatty pork taste, balanced by a tiny bit of bitter-fresh orange peel. As you chew, the flavors meld into an incredible mix of almost-smoky tasting meatiness that lingers for minutes.
For Fennel-Lovers: Olli Salumeria Toscano
Newcomer Olli Salumeria was founded four years ago by master salumiere Oliviero (Olli) Colmignoli and his friend Charles Vosmik. Based on 160-year old family recipes, Olli's products are made in Manakin Sabot, Virginia. Called Toscano because fennel grows wild in the Tuscan hills of Italy, this is like the dried version of the fresh Italian sausage I grew up eating. Studded with fennel pollen—in all its salty licorice glory—it is quite aromatic and intense. The chewy pork gets its deep, dark hue and rich, earthy complexity from the addition of a little Sangiovese.
For Spice Seekers: Salumeria Biellese Napolitana Hot Dry Sausage
This not-too-hard and not-too-soft salami is medium hot, spiced by a blend of hot pepper and paprika that gives it a rich red color. Unlike some of the other spicy options I tried, it doesn't taste aggressively over-spiced or smoky. Salt and wine up front give it a tangy-hot flavor that reminds me of my favorite vinegary hot sauce, balanced by a little brown sugar to soften the blow of spice on the tongue and round out the flavor. The roof of your mouth will tingle just a bit, coated with clean pork flavor and heat, while the tang sits squarely on your tongue. FYI, the longer you let it sit out and warm up, the spicier it tastes. Founded in New York in 1925, Salumeria Biellese products are carried in many of the top artisan meat and cheese purveyors on the East Coast, in addition to fine food retailers such as Dean & Deluca and Eataly.
For Truffle Addicts: Creminelli Tartufo
I can smell truffles on someone if they ate them earlier in the day. It's like a shark to blood for me. Laced with lots of earthy black summer truffles, this pungent salami is truly a treat that should be eaten slowly and savored. What starts as a soft, chewy, fatty pork Felino blend spiced simply with salt, black pepper, and sugar, the truffles elevate both smell and taste to something extraordinary. Thick casing is used for a long slow aging that accentuates these complex mushroomy flavors and produces a rich, lengthy finish on the palate. Also a newcomer in the United States, Creminelli opened shop in Salt Lake City, UT in 2007.