While you were nursing your post-weekend hangover or settling back into another Monday, a panel of expert judges were breaking the hearts of backyard sausage-making enthusiasts, narrowing down the competition for this Sunday’s Melbourne Salami Festa at Northcote Town Hall.

“Only the top 50 will be finalists,” Carlo Mazzarella, co-founder and marketing director of Melbourne Salami Festa, explains of the numerous entries they’ve received. “So we have to break a few hearts.” The five judges – Dom Marzano (head chef at The Cellar Bar), James Vardis (head chef at Ombra Salumi Bar), food writer Richard Cornish, chief wine maker at Dal Zotto Wines Michael Dal Zotto and a mystery judge to be revealed on the night undergo a blind tasting with a specific judging criteria based upon four key elements: colour, density, taste and aroma.

“Judging a good salami is ultimately about the taste. The meat is, of course, the hero and you can't mask an inferior product, therefore it all comes down to the quality of the meat and that’s where you need to start,” says Mazzarella. “Another factor that affects taste is the curing process. You can do everything right, but if you can't create the right conditions all your hard work will go to waste.”

The best 50 entries, as judged on Monday just past, qualify as finalists at the festa this Sunday September 15. The winners of the Judge’s Choice Award will be announced at 4pm on the day of the festa as will the People’s Choice Award, where we get to choose our favourite cured sausage.

“I grew up around salami and the best time to make it is in the colder weather when you can control the climate to preserve and cure it,” Mazzarella continues. “Once the season was over we would get together to celebrate – not just the cured meat that we would feast on, but also the end of winter. That’s what the Melbourne Salami Festa is all about; coming out of isolation and celebrating with the community.”

From 11am until 5pm on Sunday, the Northcote Town Hall is set to be transformed into a tasting hall, with a Salumi Market of artisan salami stalls and salami-making demonstrations where novices can get some tips before entering their own fermented, air-dried meat in next year’s festa.

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“If you've never made salami before the best thing to do is to find someone who does and ask if you can join in and learn from them. Salami-making is best learnt by actually doing it; you literally need to get your hands dirty,” Mazzarella says.

When you’ve had your salami fill, wander the Civic Squares food stalls, try some traditional porchetta and wash it down with a cold beer or wine. Sassy Italian all-female choir, La Voce della Luna will be singing for their supper, with The Shuffle Club on the line-up to get you moving.

Melbourne Salami Festa Northcote Town Hall & Civic Centre 189 High Street, Northcote
Sunday September 15, 11am–5pm

Master Taster – $30 pre-sale; $35 on the door
Apprentice Taster – $15 pre-sale; $20 on the door
General Admission – gold coin donation, under 15 free

Melbourne Salami Festa runs Salami Sessions throughout the year. These hands-on workshops are a great way to prepare for next year’s salami making season.