Italian flavors: Varzi Salami
- WTI Magazine #124 Feb 16, 2020
The production of salumi (cured meats) was introduced to the Staffora Valley and the surrounding area by the Lombards, who settled there in the Dark Ages. The Lombards had learned how to consume ground animal meat without cooking it from the Tartars, thereby testing out the first procedures for the production of sausages. Cooking fires were not needed for the consumption of salami, it was easy to portion and it was tasty and soft when chewed, unlike hard dried or salted meats.
As a result, refinement of salami became the prerogative of the monasteries and abbeys spread across a large part of Oltrepò Pavese from the twelfth century on. Indeed, it was the monks who were responsible for researching the right combination of the various ingredients that now make up salami.
The story then unfolds through the House of Malaspina, where salami was one of the foods of choice on the tables of the estate, but its true destiny was inextricably linked to the history of salt. Salt was, in fact, the first of the goods that the merchants from Pavia used to trade, and it arrived in the Po Valley after having left from Genoa and travelled hundreds of kilometres.
With the establishment of the salt road towards the sea, the village of Varzi was quickly transformed into a residential area of great importance, because it connected Genoa with Pavia and Milan.
So it was that, starting with the trading of goods by merchants, Varzi succeeded in establishing itself in the production of its own cured meats. In the Middle Ages, the Staffora Valley embarked on a path to enogastronomic excellence that gained it a leading role in the art of Lombard and national charcuterie.
In 1984, instigated by the municipality of Varzi, the Chamber of Commerce of Pavia and the Mountain Community of Oltrepò Pavese, the “Voluntary Consortium of the Salami Producers of Varzi” was created, with the aim of obtaining DO (Designation of Origin) recognition, as well as carrying our promotional activities and protecting and guaranteeing the product.
The DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) brand, however, was subsequently awarded by the European Commission to highlight that the production and quality of the product depend exclusively on the geographical area of reference.
Salame di Varzi DOP is one of the most important and traditional salamis of Lombardy. The basic principles of the manufacturers of Salame di Varzi DOP are research into quality, the right price, reliability and customer service.
In the heart of the green of the Staffora Valley, the salami processing plants of the various municipalities package local flavours, ensuring faithfulness to the tradition and upholding the stages of processing that guarantee safe and constant quality.
The origins of Salame di Varzi DOP are linked to the tradition of preserving minced pork in natural intestines, used by the peasant populations since ancient times.
The dry and windy climate of the Staffora Valley made it possible to use less salt when preserving more tender and delicious meat.
The “Salame di Varzi DOP“ brand can only adorn the salami produced in the fifteen municipalities of the Mountain Community Oltrepò Pavese and guaranteed to comply with the requirements set out by the product specification.
Salame di Varzi DOP is a tender and compact meat that is soft to the touch with no empty spaces. When cut it is bright red with perfectly white fatty parts. Depending on the curing period, the product has more or less marked spicy aromas, slight musty hints and the fragrance of bread crust, alternating with herbaceous scents of green wood and mimosa.
Its flavour is sweet and delicate with a slightly bitter aftertaste. In Varzi, the use of pigs for food purposes is a tradition that goes back over thousands of years, during which time the methods for rearing them and even the genetics of the animal have been refined.
The salami that is made from them owes its success to the strict production standards in particularly favourable climate conditions that make it possible to achieve an unmatchable level of excellence.
Production of salami in Varzi follows the same techniques and recipes used in the past, and although space has been given to the use of more modern equipment, it can still be said that the production of sausages is carried out in accordance with tradition, because its authenticity is given by the connection that unites the traditional process with the local area.
The pigs used as raw ingredients must possess precise genetic characteristics, and in fact the farms must rear improved breeds: Large White and Landrace breed swine; descendants of Duroc boars; descendants of other breeds of boars or hybrid boars. Their feed, together with the breeding techniques, should help ensure heavy pigs are obtained through optimal daily growth.
The feed must adhere to the relevant product standards.The raw ingredient destined to go into Varzi is derived exclusively from slaughtering healthy and heavy pigs, and is formed of the lean and fatty parts. The lean part is taken from all the meat on the pig, with the exception of the head and trotters. The fatty part is derived from the cheek, shoulder, belly, culatello (ham from the back leg) and lardello (strip of lard).
A salting mixture is added to the slaughtered meat, consisting of sea salt, potassium nitrate or sodium nitrate, whole grain black pepper and filtered red wine infused with garlic. Once the pig has been trimmed, the cuts of pork are cleaned and left to rest at low temperatures.
Next, they are ground and a calculated salting blend known as concia is added. The mixture is repeatedly stirred in stainless steel tanks. This is following by the salting, which, in addition to providing the characteristic aromas and flavours, ensures the product is preserved over time. The salami paste in then placed in the sausage filler. The ends of the pork gut casings, which have been washed in advance with water and vinegar to remove impurities, are fixed. Only natural casings are permitted. The mark guaranteeing the identity of the Salame di Varzi DOP is added after the binding and before drying.
Once the salami is in sausage form, it is secured in mesh with twine, and the resulting product is pierced with holes. The seals indicating the lot number are attached now. From this moment, the slow process of drying, pre-curing and curing takes place.
Where possible, the curing takes place in Varzi’s typical historical cellars, a completely natural environment characterised by a unique microclimate, with a temperature between 10 and 12° C, and humidity fixed at 95%.
The salami is periodically brushed to remove the mould that naturally forms on the surface, to encourage the breathability of the gut casing and improve maturing. Once the curing is complete, the sausage plant requires the Certifying Institute to perform the relevant duties.
Salame di Varzi DOP is presented for consumption in the following sizes: Torto, ex Cacciatore, Filzetta, Filzettone, Sottocrespone, Gentile and Cucito.
The Local Area
Varzi, in the province of Pavia, is a municipality situated in the heart of the High Staffora Valley. Located at an altitude of 416 m, it is spread across the right bank of the Staffora river. It is crowned by the gentle mountain ranges of the Appennino Pavese, where the castles perched up high bear witness to its glorious past.
The climate is continental, tempered by the relative altitude, which provides a pleasant coolness in the summer nights. As it faces the Ligurian coast, the valley has always been reached by sea currents originating from the nearby Ligurian golf that have helped make the climate of the Oltrepò ideal for curing sausages.
The region of reference for Salame di Varzi DOP includes 15 municipalities in the Mountain Community of Oltrepò Pavese: Bagnaria, Brallo di Pregòla, Cecima, Fortunago, Godiasco, Menconico, Montesegale, Ponte Nizza, Rocca Susella, Romagnese, Santa Margherita di Staffora, Val di Nizza, Valverde, Varzi and Zavattarello.
The southernmost part of Oltrepò Pavese is characterised by the presence of hill and mountain ranges on which plants species have always prospered that have undoubtedly fostered pig breeding, such as oaks, chestnut and beech, primary elements in pigs’ diets.
By Consorzio di Tutela del Salame di Varzi with MiPAAF