Often when I explore our city through markets and food events I am amazed at what incredible local talent we have. What was previously latent is suddenly flourishing in a kind of artisanal spring. One team that showcased this is a father and son duo who specialise in authentic Italian-style cured meats. They had a deli platter laid out at one of the markets I visited and I gave their samples a taste. I haven’t been to Italy, so although I can’t lay claim to being an authentic Italian meats expert, I can, however, compare it to all the other cured meats I’ve tasted so far in my life. And I was really impressed with what I tasted: well-seasoned, savoury without being over-salted, no greasy mouth-feel aftertaste that I often get with other salami, and no gristle. I felt that these guys deserved to have their product and efforts showcased, especially in the context of having such a gastronomical gem in our very own backyard. Hylton and Paul Rabinowitz, of Coltempo Meats, very kindly allowed me to make a nuisance of myself in their little factory. I was given the opportunity to observe the making of a new batch of their Salami Milano. Paul spent 3 years in Italy, becoming fluent in Italian and establishing connections with industry locals. He and his father, Hylton, traveled to Calabria in South Italy and befriended a salumaio (salami maker) who took them to many small salumieri (places where you make and sell salami) and the experience allowed them to learn how to craft their salami in true Italian style. They were made privy to a few family secrets and supplied with invaluable tips and advice. They returned home and converted the garden cottage in their house to a temperature-and-humidity-controlled mini salumiera of their own and allowed me a peak inside. They source their meat from local KZN suppliers. Greenfields provides them with free-range, grass-fed beef and Loving Hams delivers the pork. Both are up the road, in the Midlands. They apparently used to source regular beef but when they tasted the results of using free-range and grass fed they realised it was the only way forward. Happy cows made for much tastier meats.
The salami they were making on the day I popped in was a salami Milano. To make it, they weighed out chopped pork, chopped silverside beef and frozen pork fat. They don’t use offcuts and the meat is cleaned and trimmed of all gristle, bone and sinew. Only the good stuff makes a good sausie! The meat is weighed and then added to the mincer in batches. The fat needs to be frozen or it becomes too soft for mincing and clumps into a solid mass. It is important to have the fat in the mix because it is the flavour conduit and it keeps the meat moist, otherwise it would become dry and unpalatable.
After mincing, the meat is scooped up and then put into a giant mixer. A sprinkling of sodium nitrate is added, as it is added to all curing meats and has been used for hundreds of years (back then they used saltpeter, a very strong form of nitrate that is no longer in use). Nitrites prevent the lethal Clostridium Botulinum bacteria, that causes botulism, from growing in the meat and are thus critical to the process.
Afterwards, dextrose is added to get the fermentation process going, which cures the meat. For the health nut hippies reading this with increasing alarm, all cured meats have it. Dextrose is a sugar that feeds the good bacteria that “cook” the meat by curing it, it also increases the pH level and prevents the bad bacteria from forming. Yeast is the sugar used to activate the little buggers that make bread rise. Dextrose is what makes the little buggers in meat work. No dextrose, no salami, capisce?
Then seasoning is dusted in, along with my favourite part, a good glug of red wine. And it can’t be cheap plonk either because it can ruin the flavour. I offered to sample all the bottles to ensure quality. The offer is still stands. Once the mixing is done, the minced and seasoned meat is fed into a hand filling machine. Presoaked casings are placed over the nozzle end and as the meat is squashed down, it fills the casing. For some types of cured meats, like an abruzzo, a natural casing is used, which they import directly from Italy. It looks like translucent parchment paper and is quite delicate.
When the casing is full, it’s tied up and then all the salamis are hung and aged, in a carefully controlled environment and at a low temperature, for about 6 weeks. The sausage will be about 30% of it’s original size by the time it’s ready. When sliced, it will have that beautiful confetti mix of rouged meat and white fat, which goes beautifully on pizzas and in gourmet sarmies, amongst other wonderful delectables.
The do all kinds of meats. I got to sample a magnificent bresaola which I will be buying stacks of in future. Some of the product I saw currently hanging up in addition to their pepperoni and cacciatore salami was coppa and abruzzo salamis.
You can find Coltempo Meats at the I Heart Market, Ballito Foodmarket, the Durban Food Market and Green With Envy market.