Pane e Salame

Pane e Salame
Artisanal Bread

Few things to me can be as satisfying and heart-warming as a few slices of a good salame with freshly-baked, rustic bread and a nice glass of wine. Honestly, does it get any easier, tastier or any more Italian than that?

The biggest issue at hand, as you often read in my posts is about the quality of each ingredient in such a simple preparation. And finding the right ingredient, in this particular case, can more or less challenging, depending on where you live.

Growing up, I was so used to freshly baked bread that I would have never, ever imagined one day it would have become a luxury that I could afford to enjoy only once in a while. We used to have so many great bakers in the small town where I lived that my family bought fresh bread alternatively from three or four of our favorites because each excelled in a particular bread which would influence our choice for the day.  So one day we bought from one baker, and the next day from another but one thing was for sure - we purchased bread daily, religiously. Except for Sunday, when all the bakers were closed. Bummer.

Given the choice, my favorite bread to enjoy with a good salame, (or prosciutto, lardo, coppa, or pancetta) is by far Pane Toscano, Tuscan bread is a style with considerably less salt than most breads, and supports the flavor of the meat by having its own very, subtle flavor. This might be difficult to imagine if you've never had the opportunity to taste it, so for now you'll need to trust me when I say, "there's no comparison."

Now, living in upstate New York, it is much more difficult for me to purchase great bread freshly-baked on a daily basis.  And although there are some great bakers in the area like Bread Alone, for example, is just not feasible for me to buy daily or even every other day, considering the distance. Who knows, maybe one day bakers will join forces with or UPS and find a way to deliver daily bread still piping hot. Wouldn't that be cool?

So for the moment my best option is to stock it when I drive up the Catskills, or down to the Culinary Institute of America or even "more down" to NYC. There one of my new favorites is Sullivan Street Bakery, though I know there are many more. But even with all of the variety, I have yet to find my beloved Pane Toscano. (All possible leads welcome.)

Now as for the salame part of this exquisite pairing, let me first clarify the spelling. In Italian, salame refers to cured ground meat and fat contained in a casing. Salami in Italian is the plural for salame, while salumi refers to all sorts of cured meats, not only made from ground meat, but including solid cuts like prosciutto, coppa, pancetta, and many more.

This life-long love affair I have with Pane e Salame goes way back.  It was my Uncle Egidio's salame that started it all, and set the standard by which all others would be and still are judged, including some of the greats I have had the pleasure of tasting throughout Italy.  Though sad in a way (because it is a rare delight) I am obliged to mention it because the quintessential pairing of an artisanal salame from the Marche with slices of freshly baked Pane Toscano is an experience all red-meat eaters should have the privilege of tasting.

Finding these works of art, is the next big challenge, particularly because importing a good number of my Italian favorites is restricted by law. Only a small selection of cured meats pass the FDA requirements for importation and to my knowledge include only, prosciutto crudo, prosciutto cotto, speck and Mortadella di Bologna. So no Italian-made salami in the US that I know of.

Having said that, and having determined that most of my other salami favorites from my Italian past life are off limits here in the U.S., I must convey that I was lucky to find some interesting "local" producers who offer artisanal products of remarkable quality.

Two terrific options are Paul Bertolli's  Fra'Mani in Berkley, CA and Armandino Batali's Salumi in Seattle, WA. They both offer fantastic products, in my opinion, and they ship right to your door.  But as with my Tuscan bread appeal, any other leads to great domestic producers are welcome.

Lastly, we come to the subject of the wine.  To that end, there are many good fits both white and red, but my suggestion is to try a traditional Lambrusco. It is a less known and less prestigious Italian wine and comes predominantly from the Emilia-Romagna region. Relatively inexpensive, it is an easy drinking, sparkling red, which is delicious slightly chilled and great with cured meats. Almost impossible to find in the U.S. ten years ago, you can now find Lambrusco from a variety of producers, though you may have to go your favorite higher volume store to find it, such as Astor Wine in NYC. which ships via UPS to most states.

In my experience, the Pruno Nero from Cleto Carli offers a nice combination of quality and price, though it is just one among many.  Just know that when shopping for your Lambrusco you should steer away from any classified or labeled as amabile, which means "slightly sweet" and is not a variety appropriate for salumi in my opinion.

Lastly, if you're in NYC and just want to sit yourself down and have someone bring you you Pane e salame e Lambrusco, consider two great options:

Taralluci e Vino and Salumeria Rosi whose domestically produced pancetta is the best thing I've seen since my last visit to Italy.

In conclusion, I hope that my love and passion for one of the simplest Italian delicacies inspires you to seek out options that work for you and that your Pane e Salame experience will be one to remember.