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Salami is a type of sausage — ground meat stuffed into a casing — which is not “cooked” but is instead allowed to ferment and cure before being dried and made edible. There are a number of different types of salami, usually named for the region they come from, and they are produced in many different countries, such as Italy, Germany, France, and the United States (US). Different meats are often used to produce them, though beef, veal, venison, and pork are all fairly common. Salami is usually fairly hard, making it easier to slice thinly and ideal for use in sandwiches or enjoyed by itself.
The word “salami” is an Italian word, the plural form of salame, which is simply a term for any type of salted meat. With the rising popularity of salami, however, the term became connected primarily to one particular type of salted meat that was stuffed into an animal casing and then allowed to cure. In English, the word “salami” is used for both singular and plural references to this one type of sausage.
Often found in delis as well as produced by commercial manufacturers for sale as pre-packaged slices, salami has become a very popular type of meat throughout much of the world, including the US. It is typically made by first grinding meat and mixing the ground meat up with a number of spices and flavorings. While salt, pepper, and garlic are all quite common, wine can be added and in some regions paprika is also a popular ingredient. The meat is then allowed to ferment before being stuffed into a casing, usually either a natural animal casing or a synthetic casing, and then hung up to cure. Some types are also smoked before or after curing, usually called cotto salame, which adds flavor to the meat but does not cook it.
The curing process activates bacteria in the meat which makes the ground meat an inhospitable environment for dangerous bacteria that can cause meat to spoil. Helpful types of bacteria were previously introduced in the wine that was added, though now bacterial starters are commonly used. After curing, the meat is dried out to make the casing firm and not allow moisture to pass through, which could spoil the meat after curing. If the process is done properly, it produces salami that is safe to eat, without refrigeration, for several years. This longevity is one of the major reasons these sausages were so popular prior to the development of reliable and affordable means of refrigeration.