Who: Greg Laketek of West Loop Salumi
Where: Chicago, IL
This week we've been visiting Greg Laketek at West Loop Salumi, a maker of authentic Italian salumi in the heart of Chicago. But now that you've heard Greg's story and had a peek into how the salumi is made, you're probably hungry to eat some! Here are a few tips from Greg on what to look for in these Italian cured meats, and the best ways to serve them for snacking or a party.
What to Look for in Good Salumi
Biting into a piece of culatello, a salume similar to prosciutto, you'll find it earthy, tangy, and rich. It’s not the bite of saltiness that you may be accustomed to; the flavor is complex, meaty and satisfying.
"The longer you age it the more complex and flavorful the meat will get, but if there’s too much salt then it will just turn into a salt lick,” says Greg. To get the salt balance right, West Loop Salumi doesn’t rest the meat in a typical brine. Instead the meat is covered in salt and then shaken off and put to rest on drainage racks, "We only want to have it take on as much salt as it needs in order to be cured."
Flavors are also brought out in the different seasonings, which Greg worked on sourcing while in Italy. "For our finocchiona salami, we use fennel pollen and fennel seeds. The fennel pollen is just more robust. I hate when you bite into an Italian sausage and you get that fennel bite and it’s really spicy. We use two different types of fennel to make sure that that doesn’t happen: one from California and one from India. The fennel from California is more aromatic and the one from India is a little bit sweeter and then we’ll add Chianti to it to balance out the flavors."
The sopppressata is made with imported Calabrian chili peppers; fresh and dried. Basically exactly what you would get in Calabria. "We rely on really high quality meat and ingredients because we don’t want to mask anything."
While we sat for the interview a farmer from La Pryor farms in Illinois was sitting on the patio talking with the butcher. He told Greg, "I can taste my farm in this!"
Serving Salumi: 3 Tips
Once you have some high-quality salumi in hand, here are some tips for serving it.
- What to drink with salumi: Greg recommends pairing salumi with “Anything sparkling." Lambrusco was the affordable and abundant wine in Parma and is included in several of Laketek's recipes. Serve before dinner - While everything simmers and cooks, toast with Lambrusco or champagne and slice up some Culatello. (See some Lambrusco picks here.)
- Consider how many guests you’ll be serving. "If there are a lot of people at the party then I don’t want to buy salami because salami goes really fast. I would purchase whole muscle pieces like coppa, bresalola, guanciale, lardo or pancetta because the money goes a lot further. You slice it really thin so it covers more of a surface area and instead of biting on to a huge piece, you can easily have it melt in your mouth."
- Skip the condiments. "A lot of times salumi will just be eaten on its own or with fried dough. I don’t want to overpower the flavor with rich cheeses or pickles."
Thanks so much, Greg!
Visit West Loop Salumi in Chicago, IL
(Image credits: Lucy Hewett)