Thursday, October 15, 2009

Knight Salumi: The Best Cure for Meat

As an unapologetic carnivore, I've had some of the most pleasurable moments of my life occur while tasting all the innovative ways great chefs and cooks prepare meat. So, when I first came across Rey Knight and his salumis--the spicy sopressata with its big coarse nodes of fat, the garlicky cacciatori, and the buttery coppa molina--I knew I was in trouble with the cholesterol gods. If salumi is irresistible temptation, Rey Knight is surely the devil. But, what a wonderful hell it is!

Then Rey invited me to hang out with him and one of his partners Albert Juarez at Knight Salumi. The two work side by side creating stunningly delicious cured, fresh, and aged meats. Rey's developed some 22 recipes drawn from regional Italian traditions but with his own twist. At any given time he has six or so types of salumi in production to produce 500 pounds of packaged product weekly. They're sold at 16 local farmers markets, at shops including Venissimo and Taste Artisan Cheese, and online on a wonderful website called Foodzie. Plus, Knight Salumi is served at a dozen local restaurants, from Cafe Chloe and Urban Solace to Starlite, Cucina Urbana, and Farm House Cafe.

Knight Salumi now seems inevitable. Rey grew up in rural Montana, where he made elk proscuitto and moose ham from animals his dad hunted. He attended the Culinary Institute of America, earning a BA in restaurant management while taking the school's charcuterie program. For 15 years, he was in restaurant kitchens as a chef, including at The Linkery in North Park, where he developed the charcuterie program.

But two years ago he decided to follow his passion and devote his energies to salumi. Fortunately, his brother-in-law Matt Gordon had his own kitchen at Urban Solace. So Knight started developing his business in the Urban Solace kitchen before moving to his own place in an industrial park in Kearny Mesa. Now he's expanded that kitchen to meet the growing demand, and may be expanding again, even including a 500-pound smoke oven so he can make mortadella and pates.

It's a cliche to say that you shouldn't watch sausages being made, but I have to tell you that in Knight Salumi's case, it's a wonderful thing. The pork is ground, as is the fat, to varying particle sizes depending on the product being made. Sopressata, for instance, gets a coarse grind of fat because Rey's looking for particle definition. As the particles of meat lose water and shrink--sometimes by 70 percent, the fat takes center stage. "It's like dough, but we're elongating proteins not gluten," Rey explains. "This way the meat encases the fat for a nice presentation in each slice."

When I was visiting, Albert was doing the grinding for a batch of sopressata while Rey was wrestling with a 55-gallon barrel of beef intestines that were to be used as the casings. Each drum holds 200 sets of beef intestines that can be 50 yards long each (The barrels don't go to waste; Rey saves them to make beer.). Rey uses the beef intestines for cured meats and hog casings for fresh products and his coppa molina. I watched him pull the intestines into a large sink and untangle them one by one, rinsing each to get rid of the salt they're packed in.

Once the chitlins were rinsed and ready, the men began the process of stuffing, tying off each sausage with a clipper, pricking them with holes to release air, and then hanging them on racks which are then lined up in an odiferous aging chamber to dry. Initially the salamis expand in the fermentation process, then, as water evaporates, they shrivel up and grow a lovely coat of mold.

Some 6,000 pounds of salamis at different stages of curing make for an amazing aroma. I saw newly aging salumis, still plump but embraced in a bold sweater of puffy white mold above me. Nearby were racks with older salumis, a little wrinkled now with the mold more of a gauzy white. If you love salami, this is really a beautiful sight. If you love nature, you can appreciate microbiology doing its thing in front of you.

Knight Salumi uses a variety of suppliers, including Niman Ranch, Eden Natural, and Cargill's Good Nature Line. He also buys from local producer, Dave Heafner of Da-Le Ranch. You won't find any nitrates in Knight Salumi products. And, while most of the attention he gets is for his salumi, he makes an outrageous pancetta, as well as hams and speck--a lovely smoky product infused with juniper and coriander that takes up to 90 days to cure.

So, let's say you buy a Knight salumi; how do you store it? Well, if it's a dry salami, wrap it in paper an keep it in the refrigerator. If you like it firmer, keep it on a shelf instead. It'll last from four months to a year. If it's a cured product or fresh sausage, keep it refrigerated at under 40 degrees.

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1 comment:

  1. Mmmmm, I love Knight Salumi. I bought a Finocchiona at the Solana Beach Farmer's Market on Cedros Avenue today. They also have a vendor booth earlier in the day at the Leucadia Farmer's Market at Paul Ecke school in Encinitas.