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Feature Tue Nov 26 2013
When West Loop Salumi opened in July, it generated a ton of buzz. What's the big deal about another meat facility in the city's meatpacking district, you ask? Well, dear reader, make no mistake -- this is no ordinary sausage shop.
West Loop Salumi is Chicago's first USDA-certified salumeria, and the only producer in the state using the traditional technique of dry-curing raw meat without heat. This method is slow and labor-intensive, but produces such uniquely crafted salumi that the best chefs in Chicago immediately snapped up West Loop's stock.
You start to get the idea that this place is pretty serious about its cured meats when owner Greg Laketek explains that after realizing that salumi was his life's calling, he quit his consulting job and bought a one way ticket to Italy to apprentice with the world-renowned salumi master Massimo Spigaroli.
Laketek brought back artisanal recipes and first hand knowledge of how generations of Italians have cured meats -- in moderately humid environments which develop the healthy molds on casings that help the fermentation and aging process. Today, West Loop Salumi sources milk-fed whole animals from Midwestern farms, processes them with wine and spices, hand-stuffs them in casings, and ferments and dries the salumi in-house for up to 18 months in specially designed, climate-controlled coolers.
The result is spectacularly flavorful traditional salumi like finocchiona, coppa, bresaola, and prosciutto, more exotic meats like the tartufo salami made with fresh black truffles, and house-made lardo cured with garlic, sea salt, oregano and peppercorns.
But Laketek's pièce de résistance is the culatello -- a richly marbled pork salumi aged for 16 months. While West Loop's culatello is still aging, he is selling a limited amount of Massimo Spigaroli's own culatello that Laketek smuggled through customs himself.
Made from prized black swine raised in Parma, Italy and fed parmesan whey (does it get any better?), you can absolutely taste the parmesan in every thin slice. Only about 100 of these are available to the public every year, and Laketek insists he swiped one that was supposed to go to Alain Ducasse. Yes, its $60 an ounce, but keep in mind that you are sticking it to Ducasse with every bite.
Right now, West Loop's retail shop is only open on Saturdays and Sundays when they are not processing meat. However, you can order platters or whole salumi for delivery ("I need an outstanding salami, STAT!"), or find their meats at J.P. Graziano, Lush, Provenance, the soon-to-be-opened Eataly, and many fine local restaurants.
And don't forget to keep West Loop Salumi's charming gift boxes in mind to impress the discerning foodies on your holiday shopping list.
West Loop Salumi is at 1111 E. Randolph St. Open Saturdays and Sundays, 11am to 3pm.
Photo credits to Brad Snyder