If there is a better smallgoods butcher than Pino Tomini Foresti of Pino’s Dolce Vita in Sydney or indeed Australia, then I’d like to know who it is.
I’ve had the privilege of watching Pino work many times, the last an offal demonstration which I stupidly didn’t record either properly in words or with images. But watching this superb craftsman extract, identify, clean and cook all the bits we forget to eat was eye-opening – and palate challenging. I bravely ate a testicle schnitzel only to find that I loved it. Sweet, nutty (hah) like sweetbreads. But try putting it on a menu.
Anyway on a recent Sunday I was invited to watch Pino and a bunch of chefs from my friend Stefano Manfredi’s restaurant Balla learn how to make salami, Pino’s way.
We stood around the large stainless steel bench in the kitchen behind the butcher shop. There was head chef Gabriele, Roberto, Francesco, Bobby, a young Chinese chef who was brought up in Bologna, a Greek Australian boy whose name I didn’t get but who I called El Greco, Judy (I think) a Malaysian pastry chef, another whose name I didn’t get. Helping were Pino’s wife Pia, his two sons Marco and Fabiano and Massimiliano, the son of a butcher friend of Pino’s from Garda.
The first thing he did was to show us what he called a salame nobile which is produced all over Italy and incorporates meat from many muscles of the pig. Most important is that the meat comes from a large pig, around 130kg dressed, 160kg live.It had what Manfredi called a ‘lovely perfume’, sweet fat, a mild and what I would call a quintessential salame flavour: meaty and savoury. While we were tasting it, Pino told us that in Calabria, salami are served with seasonal fruit.
Two legs one still attached to the hind quarter were brought in, and Pino and Massimo began to cut them down into muscles The meat for a pig to be made into salami must not be aged – it doesn’t need tenderising. For hand made traditional fresh salami, it must be processed no longer than four days after slaughter. Four days for the carcass to dry and to get rid of any residual blood. Pino cut away the loin (lonza), then both he and Massimo broke down the legs and the rest of the animal into separate muscles. They were:
Eye of silverside ( this didn’t go in the salame)
Belly, or pancetta
As Pino cut away the pancetta he also showed us the different kinds of fat, only some of which, the firmest, around 14-22mls thick, is good for adding to the salami. This is a matter of experience. We felt some fat which was too stringy, others too dry. For example, the middle fat from the loin is used, but not the inner and outer layers.
Traditional – and traditionally – Salami are best and most safely made in winter, and in Australia that has been from the Queen’s birthday weekend (June in all of Australia but for WA) until August. We were just a little outside that safety zone, but it was a cool day.
Now the cuts were handed around the table for trimming, of fat, sinew and cartilage. And this was an eye-opener. It took 8 chefs three hours to trim the meat and then cut it onto the thumb tip sized pieces needed for the salami. Pino told us at one stage he’d eaten a salame in Perugia that had been made in 12 hours, “and it almost fooled me” he said, looking very upset, “but in the end there was a nasty flavour, no aroma.”
In Italy, he told us, while all were working, there are many regional ways to butcher a pig. “Here, there is only one way.” So Pino only buys carcasses so he can butcher his way for the cuts he wants.
‘Now trimming the topside of four small slivers of fat’ my notes read. All the meat cut to salami size is out in two of the three large square stainless bins in the middle of the table. All the off cuts are put into the third one. Nothing will be wasted, some will be used for cotechino, the thicker off cuts will be grilled, everything, even the skin is used after being boiled for cotechino and salsicce. Six muscles altogether go into making the nobile including the silverside and the scamone, or rump and the fillet
Pino holds up one of the thin strips of pork before it is cut into little cubes, and tells us this is used to make coppiete which is marinated in white wine and garlic for up to three weeks and dried in the oven: sort of an Italian jerky.
Now all the meat has been cut and cubed, the fat is being chopped into similar size pieces. The salami will be 30 per cent fat. Pino is de-boning the ribs to take out the fat.
Now a saucepan of wine and rosemary is put on the flame, and a blow torch burns off the alcohol. This is then cooled and will be added to the pork and pork fat mix. For 5kgs of meat, threw will be 1.5kg of fat. He measures the fat on the scales to the last 10gms. Precision is important Now, having weighed it equally meticulously, he turns the meat onto the bench.
Pino now pours the wine, rosemary and cloves into the fat and mixes it through with his hands. This helps to distribute the fat throughout the meat. He now adds the fat to the meat. There follows a long period of kneading, in order to firstly mix the meat and fat evenly, and secondly to build up the stickiness of the mixture by bringing out the protein so that it holds together in the casing. Now part of the salt is added 16gms per kg for flavour (and 4gms of pepper per kg) then, jut before filling in the casing, after it has sat at 18/22 degrees overnight, another 12gms per kg to preserve. We are all invited to come and knead and smell the mixture after carefully washing our hands. We do. It is deeply satisfying and smells wonderful, winey, porky and salami like.
And now, with the salami ready for filling tomorrow, we go to lunch. The Balla chefs have prepared a veal head ragu, a beef ragu, a lasagne and a big pan of polenta. And Pino supplies bottles of red wine. Salud!
Watching the agonising, painstaking, time-consuming repetition of this work reminds me once again of the lack of reality in understanding the work of a chef, the sheer hard work that is behind every dish that appears on the table, and that is missing from the mindless celebrity chef worship. And when you buy a real, traditionally and artisanally made fair dinkum salami, pick up a slice, inhale it’s ‘lovely perfume’ deeply then chew slowly, savouring every bit. In honour of those who made it and the time it took them.