Who: Greg Laketek of West Loop Salumi
Where: Chicago, IL
Yesterday we talked with Greg Laketek of West Loop Salumi in Chicago. Greg left his job and made a flying leap into making authentic Italian salumi right in Chicago. Here's a look at how West Loop makes their salumi, and how they think about the process.
It's All About the Meat
Much of West Loop Salumi is made with one hundred percent certified Heritage Berkshire pigs. Grass fed beef is imported from California for year-round access. Pork is also imported from Spain. Laketek describes acorn-fed, Spanish Iberico (known in the states as a Spanish Black) as the "perfect pig," with reliably hard fat and beautiful meat.
"When we choose different types of hogs we’re thinking about the quality of the meat and the quality of their fat," Greg explains. "We don’t want them to be too fatty. If they’re too fatty and it’s a soft fat we have to throw it out. If we were using commodity pork you would be able to tell because it would be pink. Our pork comes in bright red, so red we have to label the beef as "beef" and the pork as "pork" because our inspectors can’t tell the difference.”
The Process of Making Salumi
Different ingredients and different aging processes apply to each kind of salumi. Salami, for example, is best served young and West Loop Salumi will release some of their salami after after about fifteen days, minimum. Though each kind of salumi ages differently the basic process is the same: season, ferment, age.
To show us how it’s done, Greg walked me through the Ciauscolo making process. Ciauscolo is an uncommon spreadable salami; a family tradition from Ascoli piceno. Not spicy, like other salamis from Parma, Ciauscolo is mild, earthy and best served on extra crusty bread.
Start With the Meat
"When we get the hogs in I have the butchers take the skin off of everything and go through it all and make sure there’s no sinew, fat, just lean it out," Greg says. "There is no back fat in Ciauscolo which surprises people because it’s spreadable. People think ‘okay it’s spreadable it must be really fatty,’ but we use lean jowl meat, lean belly meat, shoulder, shank — an entire blend of different types of meats."
Once they have the meat lean the way they like it, it's time to blend it with different seasonings.
Seasoning the Meat
"With our garlic, the night before we’ll crush it and infuse it into the wine. We don’t want garlic chunks in the salami; it will cause weird drying and mold and it will turn green so garlic goes into the wine to get the flavor added in."
"We toast all our spices before we distribute it in the mix. For instance our chorizo, we toast all our paprika to release the oils, we toast our dried chili peppers, and it really shows a difference in the flavor."
Grind the Meat
After the spices and ingredients are added into the meat, it's time to grind it. "We grind it in three separate dies," Greg explains. "A large die, smaller, and then the smallest die." (A die is a part of the meat grinder)
Mix With Wine
The meat is then mixed in with six bottles of Lambrusco. Greg uses Lambrusco because he pays homage to the Italian salumi master who taught him.
Mix the Meat
"After that we’ll toss it into a tumbler with the seasoning and the wine and mix it until myosine develops. You can tell because it gets really tacky and once that happens it’s ready to stuff."
Stuff the Sausage
We encase it in a beef casing which is thinner than a hog casing — it allows it to dry faster on the outside while still remaining fresh on the inside.
After that we’ll put it in containers and roll it into balls so we can put it in our stuffer. It takes three people on the line to stuff the salami. Some one will stuff, another person will prick the salami and another person will truss them.
Even the twine used with the sausage casing is particular to Greg's standards. "All of our twine is natural hemp twine and all our sea salt comes from Sicily. Regulations require all salumi to be made with jute or twine."
Ferment the Salumi
After that it all goes onto a rack and it goes into a fermenting room. The fermenting room sits at 68-74 degrees. That’s relatively low considering many places do it 80-90 degrees so that there will be a faster rate of fermentation. 85% humidity for 4-5 days or until the ph level drops below 4.9.
Dry the Salumi
"After 4 to 5 days we take it out and we put it into the drying chamber which is at 14 to 18 degrees Celsius (50 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit) and it will rest there until it feel likes it’s ready to go. Ciauscolo, depending on the size, can dry for a month to a month and a half. Ciauscolo is younger so we let it dry for a minimum of 15 days before we release it."