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Salami is a cured, fermented and air-dried sausage, most often made from pork, beef, venison, poultry or a combination thereof.

Historically, salami was popular among Southern European peasants because it could be stored at room temperature for periods of up to month or more, and then cut, supplementing a rather meager or inconsistent supply of fresh meat. Many different varieties of salami are traditionally made across the European continent.

The most interesting aspect of making salami is the fermentation process. The ground meat is mixed with salt, seasoning and a dissolved bacterial starter culture. Originally, the bacteria were introduced into the meat mixture with wine, which contains other types of beneficial bacteria; nowadays, starter cultures are mostly used. Sugars (usually dextrose) are also added as a food source for the bacteria during the curing process. The meat is mixed thoroughly to develop the protein structure called the "primary bind," then stuffed into casings and hung.

Lactic acid is produced by the bacteria, lowering the pH, coagulating and lowering the water-holding capacity of the meat. The acid produced by the bacteria imparts a tangy flavor that distinguishes salami from machine-dried pork. The whole process takes from 2 to 36 weeks, depending on the size of salami, environmental conditions and desired dryness.

Here’s a very easy appetizer to start a nice Italian meal.

Salami with Mascarpone and Green Onions

16 slices Italian salami

½ c. mascarpone cheese

8 green onions, stems only

Extra virgin olive oil

Red wine vinegar

Top each salami slice with a slightly rounded teaspoon of mascarpone cheese.

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Place a green onion stem on top of each tablespoon of cheese. Fold each salami slice in a half-moon shape. Finish by drizzling the olive oil and red wine vinegar over top. Secure with toothpicks if desired.

Pair this with Toccata’s 2012 Santa Barbara County Barbera, from the cool Los Alamos area, ripens late and produces a dark, wild cherry-tinged wine with lovely rich fruit character. As the third most planted red grape in Italy, Barbera has become the most popular red Italian varietal to be grown here in California. Barbera has excellent color and maintains its balanced acidity in both warmer and cooler climates. It develops into a silky, full-bodied wine with smooth tannins and bold acidity.

Or pair it with Palmina’s 2013 Walker Vineyard Barbera. Steve Clifton captures a freshness and vibrancy with this vintage, which hints of lilac on the nose, with olallieberry, boysenberry, dill, anise, lavender, spicy black pepper on the palate, and a lingering cocoa flavor on the finish. Strong acidity and firm tannins ensure long aging potential. The wine’s fruit flavors and high acidity make it a perfect match for this savory appetizer. Rated 92 points from Wine Enthusiast.

Oh, I taste the salami already!

Enjoy!

John David Finley is a freelance writer and author of the cookbook "Sacred Meals from our Family Table," which features Santa Barbara County wines. He can be reached at sacredmeals@comcast.net.

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