Salami and summer sausages are popular cured meats. Typically enjoyed on cheese boards, crackers, wine, or an easy picnic snack. But what are the differences between salami and summer sausages, and how do they compare?
The main difference between salami and summer sausage is the method of preparation. Salami is considered dry meat, having lost upward of twenty-five percent of its moisture during the drying process. At the same time, summer sausage is semi-dry meat, having retained about fifteen percent of its moisture.
Outside of the loss of moisture in the drying process, which will be discussed in further detail below, there are also subtle differences between the two and contextual/historical differences. Let’s explore them now:
What You Should Know About Salami
Despite the belief that salami is a specific type of cured pork that solely originated from Italy, salami’s history and composition are more nuanced and complex than what modern marketing campaigns would have you believe.
Salami originated among the peasantry in Southern, Eastern, and Central Europe as a means by which to preserve meat. The purpose of the preservation was out of necessity due to the lack of refrigeration and the meager meat supplies available to poorer communities.
Subsequently, salami refers to any dried and fermented meat which has been encased in a dried sausage, having derived from the Latin word salumen, meaning “salt” or “to salt.”
While salami usually consists of pork and/or beef that has been left to ferment and dry over a period of time until upward of twenty-five percent of the moisture has left the meat, there are numerous varieties of salami.
Different Types of Salami
Some popular varieties and variations include, but are not limited to:
- Halaal or Kosher salami: this variant of salami strictly excludes the use of pork products and fats while also requiring the use of kosher salt.
- Hungarian salami: this variant of salami requires intense smoking, meaning that the casing typically includes mold starters.
- North Italian salami: this variant of salami includes goose fat and/or wine as extra ingredients.
- Provence French salami: this variant of salami includes donkey meat and can typically only be purchased through street vendors.
There have also been accounts of salami made from venison, poultry, and/or horse meat—ether due to necessity or preferences. However, even these variants will typically include minced fat, giving it a distinct marbled appearance.
Manufacturing Process for Salami
The manufacturing process typically involves the following three steps, with slight variations depending on the salami being processed:
- Fermentation, and
To prepare meat for fermentation, butchers grind up raw meat and mix it into a coarse paste with other ingredients such as salt, sugar, spices, yeast, and lactic acid to promote edible mold growth (this mold later assists with preservation.)
While traditional salami butchers do not have a fermentation step, modern butchers typically include this step. Fermentation begins with the meat being inserted into casting, which is then hung in humid conditions between one and three days.
The purpose of fermentation is to preserve the uncooked meat and give salami a distinct tangy taste that machined dried meats typically don’t have.
After fermentation, the drying process can commence when the castings are hung in cool, humid conditions. The drying conditions and the time hung are all very important, as this changes fermented salami from semi-dry meat to dry meat.
This dry-meat classification is one of the key differences between salami and summer sausage. As it means salami has a longer shelf life and a firmer texture.
What You Should Know About Summer Sausage
Similar to salami, summer sausage is not a specific type of meat. Instead it is a catch-all American-English term to denote any type of sausage with a long shelf life that does not require refrigeration until opened.
Technically speaking, one could argue that salami is a type of summer sausage, but the accepted terminology is that summer sausages are semi-dry sausages while salamis are dry sausages.
The historical and contextual purpose for this difference in preparation is that, unlike salami, which was cured meat made by European peasantry for long storage periods, summer sausage was designed with long journeys in mind.
Namely, upon the arrival of European settlers to North America, long journeys across the continent coupled with arduous winters required a meat preservation method that could last approximately three months.
Therefore, a middle ground between fresh meat and salami was developed in the form of summer sausage. A method of preparation believed to have derived from Germanic communities.
Manufacturing of Summer Sausage
While the manufacturing process of summer sausage typically follows the aforementioned salami manufacturing process of preparation, fermentation, and drying. The key difference is the drying process which aims for semi-drying and not complete drying.
However, another key overlooked difference is that while nearly all salami is raw meat that has been preserved and dried. Most summer sausages are actually cooked meat that has been subsequently cured and dried.
In both instances, be it raw or dried meat during preparation, summer sausage usually has a slightly softer, fresher texture than salami.
Furthermore, summer sausage tends to focus on the meat casing as its primary source of texture and flavor. As a result, it usually has a more even taste than modern salami variations with strong, tangy flavors.
However, this is all dependent on the summer sausage in question. As certain types of summer sausages such as chorizo can have very powerful flavors!
In any event, summer sausage is equally as versatile as salami. It pairs well with complementary cheeses, wines, and snack platters.
Although I personally prefer salami. It has a drier texture that improves shelf life, with little to no refrigeration, even after removing the castings.
While it can be confusing to tell the difference between summer sausage and salami, the primary difference is moisture content. Therefore, you need to inspect the moisture content when purchasing dried sausage. It will help you better understand the textures and flavors the meat will offer!
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