In the Artisanal Manor of Old Italy
In the past decade, the word “artisanal” has been so overused and misused that it has lost meaning. There are notable exceptions, however. The process used at Virginia-based Salumi di Casa to produce Italian-style dry-aged meats — or “salumi” — is very definitely artisanal, which describes a product made using age-old, painstaking, nonindustrialized methods.
Basically, salumi (plural for “salume”) are produced via the Italian art of dry-curing meat, a means of preserving meat long before the birth of refrigeration. Although this ancient craft is relatively new to the United States, appreciation of and demand for artisanal salumi is growing.
The time, dedication and care taken by Salumi di Casa’s approach results in salumi with tastes and textures that clearly distinguish them from the typical Italian-style meats sold in most U.S. supermarkets. Those products are hastily mass-produced and cured in large-volume factories, where flavor, texture, appearance and uniqueness are of little concern.
In the artisanal manner of old Italy, the process begins at Salumi di Casa when its salumi-maker hand-carves each piece of locally raised meat to meet his specifications. Each cut of meat or batch of sausage is cured and dried using spices specifically selected by the salumi-maker for each product.
For the Love of Cured Meats
Salumi di Casa’s owners, Bill and Ann Tidball, began visiting Italy in the early 1990s. They fell in love with the numerous dry, cured meats found in the shops there and with the ancient method of meat preparation.
Over the years, Bill and Ann explored many aspects of Italian cuisine by, among other things, visiting farms, taking cooking lessons and learning the art of salumi-making. Bill’s Italian meat education included a specialty course on culatello taught by renowned Italian chef Massimo Spigaroli, who with his brother Luciano, revived the ancient art of making culatello, a prized salume in Italy. This salume is made from the top and bottom round of the ham of the pig and is cured for four years.
The History of Ashland Farm
Salumi di Casa is located at Ashland Farm in the Virginia countryside — in an area made famous in American history by the likes of George Washington and James Madison. The farm dates back to 1862 and features a historic brick home completed during the Civil War that offers beautiful views of the Blue Ridge mountains. The Tidballs are only the fourth family to own the farm in its 156-year history.
The picturesque setting shows traces of its former life raising produce for chefs in Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. Herbs, tomatoes, peppers and other produce are grown in raised beds located between rows of heirloom Virginia apple trees. Beyond these beds are fields of wildflowers and native grasses. As conservation-minded owners of the property, the Tidballs enclosed the vegetable and flower gardens with 8-foot fencing as protection from the large number of wildlife drawn to the farm by the growth of the natural habitat vegetation that the Tidballs encourage.
Ancient Methods and Modern Technology
The location of Salumi di Casa’s state-of-the-art salumi-making facility melds the old world with a natural form of production. Ancient methods are paired with modern technology. As certified by governmental inspectors, Salumi di Casa adheres strictly to the food safety guidelines of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the state of Virginia.