It’s an ordinary Melbourne Monday in the CBD with grey skies, a moderate temperature and a bit too much wind. But behind closed doors at Ombra Salumi, some very important secret salami business is afoot.
Sixty-nine of Melbourne’s best family and amateur-made salamis have been carefully catalogued and laid out on one long table, and for the past hour or so, deft hands have been delicately unwrapping, slicing and laying out the results of months of competitors’ work in preparation for the judges.
Head judge, Nonno Giovanni Brancatisano, and his team – MoVida’s Frank Camorra, Grossi Florentino’s Dom Marzano, Rosa Mitchell of Rosa’s Kitchen and food writer Hilary McNevin – are ready. Over the next four hours or so, the team will blind taste all 69 salami entries, giving a score out of 20, based on flavour (5), aroma (5), texture (5) and colour (5).
Before getting started, Marzano took some time to explain what he would be looking for. “You don’t want to see any discolouration or grey. There should be no gaps in the salami. If there’s a sauce or paprika, you want to see a nice red colour, or if it’s a simple salami with just salt, then you want to see the colour of the meat.”
“Personally, I like a good sauce, a little bit of chilli and some fennel, but a lot of people are purists: they just like salt, because that really shows off the flavour of the pork … and that is key.”
But the majority of the salamis submitted for judging are in an Italian “southern style”, which means they’ve been made with sauce (which is predominantly capsicum) which opens up a variety of flavours and flavour combinations.
As well as the Festa day, when punters can try all the salamis and vote in the People’s Choice Award, there is also a three-course gala dinner hosted by Guy Grossi featuring his Patron Truffle Salami.
The Festa itself is bigger than ever, too, with two live bands, a market, tastings, beer and three demonstrations – Breaking Down the Pig, Salami Making Class and The Art of the Blood Sausage. Since its inception two years ago, the Salami Festa has grown in leaps and bounds, and the improvement in the quality of competition has been huge.
“It’s been massive,” says Marzano. “There’s a buzz around the Festa, and the people I’ve met through the festival are all playing to win. They just keep bringing their A-game. Last year was a vast improvement on the first year and I’m guessing this year will be the same again.” He scans the room, “Even looking now, you can just tell that these are great salamis.”
Thankfully though, the Festa hasn’t lost its family atmosphere. “It’s a community, and it’s so much fun to catch up on the day. It’s a little like family Christmas for a lot of us, and everyone is so excited to see each other, they’ve been waiting all year, and it’s just a really nice thing.”
The Gala Dinner at Merchant Osteria Veneta is hosted by Guy Grossi on Friday October 24 from 6.30pm. Tickets are $160 per person.
The Melbourne Salami Festa at the Northcote Town Hall on Sunday October 26 from 10am–6pm. Online tickets have already sold out, but more will be available at the door from $10–$30.
More information at melbournesalamifesta.com