Monday, May 27, 2024

What Is the White Casing on Salami? Is It Mold?

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Imagine it’s a Friday night. You’ve got friends coming over and you’re setting up a snack board. Ever prepared, you bought a baguette, your favorite stinky cheese, and a fancy salami. But when you unsheathe the salami from its wrapper, you notice something unnerving. It’s covered in a white coating that almost looks like mold.

Spoiler alert: It is mold. We’re conditioned to think of mold as a bad thing, which makes sense. Many strains of mold are legitimately dangerous for humans. However, there are also nontoxic strains of mold, including the one coating your salami. Today we’ll learn the hows and whys with the help of Paul Oppliger, QA/QC manager at Portland, OR–based charcuterie company Olympia Provisions. Then you can get back to the important part—enjoying that salami.

What is that white stuff on salami?

The white coating on salami is a strain of mold called Penicillium nalgiovense. The name may sound like a disease, but don’t worry; it serves an important purpose in the production of salami. In fact, makers actively inoculate salami with P. nalgiovense to protect it from harmful bacteria and mold while the sausage ferments and air-dries.

Oppliger calls the mold “a protective layer” that “helps to regulate the drying of the salami.” Since P. nalgiovense grows quickly, it can outdo other mold strains, yeasts, and bacterias that could damage the salami and potentially be dangerous to consume. Moral of the story: The white mold coating your salami is not only safe, but is actually a key factor in keeping it safe.

Preserving with mold is a practice that dates back centuries, and it’s not just for salami. Before modern refrigeration, mold was an essential ingredient in food production, making foods not only last longer, but taste better too. In Indonesian tempeh, mold makes soybeans more digestible and flavorful. In French cheeses like Camembert and Brie, bloomy rinds create conducive environments for ripening and maturing.

Can I eat the white coating on salami?

Yes! The mold on salami is completely safe to eat and has a subtle, earthy flavor. But if the thought of eating mold makes you queasy, no worries; it should be easy to peel off. When tasting a salami for the first time, Oppliger likes to try it both with and without its mold/casing “to get a sense of its character.” After all, the mold is a part of the product.

What is that other white stuff on salami?

After you cut through the dusty coating of your salami and get a gorgeous slice, you’ll cross paths with, well, even more white stuff. Those white bits interspersed inside salami are chunks of fat, and they’re what make salami so delicious. Remember, fat is flavor. There’s always a significant amount of fat in salami (30% fat to 70% meat is a common ratio), but the levels can vary, and so can the size of the chunks. For example, in soppressata, you’ll see large, irregular chunks of fat; meanwhile, in Genoa salami, you’ll see smaller, more evenly distributed pieces.

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Phoebe Fry is a freelance food writer, cook, and aperitivo aficionado. She’s worked in kitchens in Ireland, Italy, and NYC, and currently lives in Brooklyn, where she cooks and writes in equal parts.

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