I have to confess, I’m not much of a winter person. Don’t get me wrong, one of my favourite things of living in Ontario is that we enjoy all four seasons, including winter; but given the choice, I’ll take autumn colours, spring flowers, or summer bbq. That said, there is one thing that winter has that the others don’t: curing season.
Every year, for as long as I can remember, January and February were synonymous with all types of “salumi”: salsicia, sopresata, capocolo, pancetta, and prosciutto. That is the time of the year when temperatures allow for the family cantina to be at the perfect temperature for curing. It also happens to be the time of year when, either by coincidence or competition, the cost of the required pork meat is most affordable. When all was said and done, about 250 lbs of various cuts of pork would be hanging in the cantina, meticulously organized and monitored, for months.
Like all Italian cuisine, every region of Italy has its own distinct tastes and specialties when it comes to salumi. The defining ingredient for our family’s sausge recipe has always been fennel seed, or “Finnochio” in Italian. The subtle anise flavour of fennel will always mean sausage to me.
One of my favourite traditions of making sausages is testing the meat to check if enough, or too much, salt has been added. Like every other part of this process, it’s done the same way it has been done for decades, if not centuries: by taste. After the salt has been mixed into the meat, all production halts so that we can fry a bit of the meat and then pass it around to let everyone sample some; chew it slowly and carefully, paying close attention to the salt flavour. Once it gets the stamp of approval, production continues.
Our family has finished for this year. The cantina is full with pancetta, salsicia, sopresata, and capocolo (no prosciutto this year), all slowly curing. Now, the hard part: we wait.