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The Sisterhood of Salami

One of the things I've been most excited about living in Calabria is learning Old-World traditions from the locals. So when Francesco told me his family would be making salami (actually the catchall word for all the things they make, including soppressata and salsiccia, as well as ground pork), I begged to help.

I got my wish.

The Long History of Salami

As I've said before, the Calabrese are experts at using all of something. Like a pig. This time of year, the pigs are fat and ready to become dinner. I passed on witnessing the actual slaughter and butchering but was ready to stomach making sausages with Fra's family.

They may now use machines to make the work easier (whereas their grandparents cut the pieces of meat by hand, making for longer and harder work), but the process and results are much like they were hundreds of years ago.

Every part of the pig is used. The bones simmer on the stove while we work, later to be sucked clean by both humans and pups. The lungs, heart, and other parts go into a special salsiccia. The intestines are used to stuff with meat for the sausage. I stopped asking for details on the other parts and how they're eaten after I asked about brains. Apparently, they're nice with bread.

To make the salsiccia and soppressata, the meat is ground, and spices and wine are added. Then the meat is passed through a meat grinder (my work today) and pushed into the intestines, which have been cleaned with water and salt until they don't smell like...yeah.

Once there's enough meat in the tube, Zia Mariantonia ties a piece of twine around it to squeeze it shut. It's passed to other aunts, who prick each piece with a pin to let the water evaporate and air circulate. What are right now fat sausages will shrink quite a lot when they are smoked and hung for several weeks. Just in time for Easter!

This, My Friend, is Women's Work

The men, who are normally working hard outdoors, sat on their hands while I helped Fra's mom and aunts. Making salami is clearly women's work, but not because it's easy. I'm sure it originated as the domain of women because food and household things were, historically. But also because we have small, deft fingers that make it easy to stuff the sausage and tie the string.

When I asked the ladies how long they'd been doing this work, they said forever. Every year of their lives, they've gathered together in a cellar and worked together like a well-oiled, if sometimes loud, machine. They know each other and how to work together. I felt honored to join the sisterhood. In fact, I realized that I likely would be carrying on this tradition for the rest of my life here, and that felt downright lovely.

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