Much like Brie is to French cheeses, prosciutto has become the household name of the Italian cured meats, ubiquitous in restaurants and for purchase even in big box supermarkets. But what about the rest of the salumi? Before we breakdown the terms, we chat salumi with chef Chad Colby of chi SPACCA, L.A.’s mecca for all things meat, to get the lowdown on his super popular affettati misti.
Molto is Mario Batali’s online publication of all things Italian, food, travel, and beyond.
Molto: Tell us about your salumi board, which is at once authentic and simple yet unique enough for its own hash tag. What’s the inspiration behind it and why did you pair everything together this way?
Chad: The inspiration behind making the salumi and creating the board was the whole animal. I wanted to bring in a whole pig and see what we could do with it. We use certain cuts for curing and certain parts as meat for the restaurant. Everything on the mixed board is a representation of different parts of the animal. It’s more true to traditional curing methods and process styles of Italians. And it’s much better quality this way.
Molto: How so?
Chad: Anytime a meat is portioned off and put in a plastic bag, the quality is not going to be as good as when you have the control of the butchery. You get better cuts doing it yourself. Harvesting specific pieces for specific cuts means I can get a bigger coppa, and I can get a bigger speck.
Molto: How does relying on the whole animal affect the board and what’s on it day-to-day?
Chad: We’ll make all our different cures as part of a weekly production, and what goes on the board depends partly on sales. If we sell through all our dry cures really fast we’ll do more of the fresh cures like the pâté, and if we’re selling things a little bit slow we’ll have more of all dry cured things available, like coppa, salami, speck, pancetta and lardo. We always have six items and I can pick and choose what to serve based on what’s been utilized.
There are a lot of things that are re-visited and consistent but I try to manage the inventory of products. That way, I can manage exactly what age I want to start the speck or coppa at and if my inventory isn’t quite there, I shift things around a bit. We like to push people to order the mixed board as opposed separate plates of meat, i.e. just a plate of speck or coppa, as it helps us sell the salumi how we purchase it, which is a little bit of everything.
Molto: What does a typical board look like?
Chad: On a typical board we have some trotter fritti, which uses the meat, skin and shanks of the pig, the byproducts, really. It’s crispy and delicious and a lot of people’s favorite thing. And then our pâté uses all the offal, the hind leg goes to the speck, the shoulder goes to the coppa and then the middle section ends up going to pork chops for the restaurant. We’ve kind of reached a perfect balance of supply and demand working this way. We don’t have a lot of waste from last week but we’re also not usually out of everything.
Molto: All of your salumi is cured and prepared in house. This must be an insane amount of work.
Chad: Yea. It’s kind of like an obsessed, methodical, living, breathing thing. So Wednesday the pig comes in and we’ll do the butchering. We have a butcher we’ve been working with for a long time that will do the cutting and dicing and everything. On Thursday, I’ll take the different pieces and do all the measurements and calculations for curing and make sure everything’s in salt. And the way it winds up is I have things from the previous weeks to do on Thursday also. I’ll re-introduce some salt to the previous week’s batch, I’ll flip and rotate the two-week-old batch and I’ll hang stuff for the third week’s batch. Every Thursday I know I’ll be smoking one of the specks and hanging the coppa. And then on Friday we do the stuffing for salami. It was butchered on Wednesday, salted on Thursday, and then stuffed on Friday. And then nothing for Saturday, which is nice because we’re kind of busy at the restaurant. And Sunday I do a PH test on the salami and Tuesday we hang them and also do our trotter and pâté. And then Wednesday we start the whole thing all over again.
Molto: Every region in Italy has its own salumi style and taste. Is there any particular region you look to for inspiration or styles you follow?
Chad: It’s true. Even within different towns within different regions you’ll see different styles. I get different inspiration from different areas. Anytime we have something we want to try I just make sure it’s very much a worthy representation of whatever region’s version it is. For example, when I do the Capicola, I look particularly to the style of Martina Franca in Puglia. I think that if anyone came from that town they would probably say that of course it’s not the same, but it’s really good.
Molto: What do you serve with your salumi and what would you recommend to those looking to create their own salumi board at home?
Chad: I like to create a spread of cured meats and things that pair well with them. To me, some house-cured pickles about the same size as the pieces of the meat work well. So, if you’re going to eat the whole piece of speck you have a piece of pickle the same size you can go back and forth with. Right now at the restaurant we’re serving up some squash blossoms with the salumi. We don’t fry them. This is something that we saw in Tuscany. We stuff them with ricotta and bake them in a wood-burning oven. We’ve done artichokes in a marinated, slightly acidic brine served at room temperature. We also have pecorino that sliced paper-thin that goes really well with the cures. And then some Lambrusco or Prosecco to drink.
So, you know, I’d recommend some cheese, pickles and olives, lots of stuff like that. And it should all be room temperature. And I like the idea that when you pair things together they have a similar size, bite and mouth feel. (The same goes for pasta—the vegetable should be the same size as the noodle.) You don’t really want a bacon on bacon on bacon kind of situation. There are choices to be had, and I don’t want it to be like a tasting menu, but rather a bountiful spread that you can taste around.
Molto: Besides the salumi, what is your favorite thing to make right now, either at the restaurant or at home?
Chad: Pasta. Fresh pasta. That’s always my favorite thing to make at home. And at the restaurant, I’m still pretty focused on the grill. It’s kind of an obsession. And working with the wood grill, the fire, and taking away the rules of two-minutes-flip, and kind of playing around with it.
Molto: This is unrelated, but what’s the best thing you ate this summer?
Chad: Ok. Let me think.
Molto: Yea, it’s kind of a loaded question.
Chad: Well, a couple weeks ago, we got some brioche from the farmer’s market and I made some pluot preserves. (Pluot’s are a mix between plums and apricots and are kind of better than both.) Then my wife made some French toast, dipped first in some crème anglaise. And we put the pluot preserves on top of that. Yea, it was pretty good.
NOW CHECK OUT Part 2, the Salumi Glossary, where we break down the lesser known of the Italian cured meats!