The skills required to produce authentic pancetta, culatelo and salami do not come easy. It usually involves working as an apprentice or intern for little pay in some Italian farmhouse or factory. Barrington's own Greg Laketek did just that, and is now living his dream, one casing at a time.
To think that just a few weeks ago, the encased, twine-wrapped hunks of pork hanging from this cooler were milk-fed pigs in Wisconsin. At West Loop Salumi, Greg Laketek finds inspiration in the ancient ways of preservation.
"Salumi is an adjective that describes the process of dry curing, so salami is a salumi, prosciutto, capicola, that's all salumi," said Laketek.
He learned his trade just North of Parma, Italy, and is now messing around with various mold strains.
"We produce three, four, five different strains of molds that we actually are trying to produce," he said.
Pork is encased on-site then pierced with a sharp tool that pokes holes throughout the salumi, allowing it to dry out, since moisture is the enemy. He ties them up in different patterns, depending on the recipe, then hangs them in a fermenting room. After a few days, it's onto the aging room, which is temperature and humidity-controlled, allowing the salumi to age gracefully for up to 16 months. Every now and then, he'll insert a horse bone and smell the progress.
The results - including a paprika-laced Spanish chorizo or a fennel pollen-infused finocchiona - would be welcome at any Italian restaurant, including J.P. Graziano's grocery down the street, where they combine the finocchiona with shaved fennel and olives in a tasty sandwich. Laketek says this is the kind of work he was destined for.
"I lived in Italy during the summers and we would make cheese, bread, wine and salumi and I just really caught onto it; I wanted to reproduce that," said Laketek.
West Loop Salumi
1111 W. Randolph St.
Hours: Sat. and Sun. 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.
(but check back, as hours will be changing/expanding this fall)