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Cristiano Creminelli acts like a new parent, waking every two hours to check his resting offspring.

He squeezes the tiny bundles, then leans in close to smell them.

He monitors the thermostat constantly to make sure his "babies" age at the perfect humidity - not too moist, not too dry.

Such dedication - and sleep deprivation - says Creminelli, is the only way to father top-quality Italian-style salami.

The salami-making gene is stamped in the Creminelli DNA. In 1906, Creminelli's grandfather opened a meat shop, or salumificio, in the town of Biella, in the Piedmont region of northern Italy. Since then, the family's aged salami and fresh sausages have been praised by everyone from a World War II general to the international Slow Food organization.

For years, the now-38-year-old Cristiano Creminelli has been trying to bring his family's recipes to America.

In June, he finally succeeded, setting up Utah's first salumificio inside Tony Caputo's Market and Deli at 308 W. 300 South. Besides a handful of different aged salami, Creminelli Fine Meats sells fresh sausages and prepared entries such as saltimbocca and pork cordon bleu.

"It's a dream to come here and make something so particular and unique," said the soft-spoken Creminelli, who is only one of a handful of artisan salami makers in the country.

Finding a way

In today's global economy, consumers enjoy all sorts of imported foods, from olive oil and wine to cheese and chocolate. But getting dry-cured Italian salami from old-world producers like the Creminellis has been impossible.

Under U.S. regulations, raw meats must be cured at least 400 days before being imported. That is not a problem for some cured meats such as prosciutto, "but salami after 100 days will dry up and blow away," explained Matt Caputo, whose family owns the market and deli.

The only way to get true Italian-style salami, which takes three to four weeks to cure, is to make it on U.S. soil. But so far only a few people in the country have made the attempt. Not surprisingly, they are located in cities like New York, Seattle and Berkeley.

Creminelli was able to bring his expertise to America with help from his partner Chris Bowler, an Italian trade representative who worked as a consultant during the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and in Torino. When approached with the business idea, the Caputo family jumped at the chance to offer the artisan salami.

"We offer a lot of great imported meats, cheeses and olive oils, but the salami has been the missing piece of that equation," said Caputo.

It takes years to become a salami master, or salumiere, like Creminelli, who insists on using only top-quality meat for his products. He found the hogs he needed on small farms in Logan and southern Idaho. The animals are free from growth enhancers and antibiotics.

Meat in the making

To make the salami, ground pork is mixed with salt and organic spices, pushed into natural casings and then hung in a large temperature- and humidity-controlled refrigerator - called a cell - to ferment.

During the first few days of aging, humidity is a critical factor, said Jared Lynch, director of operations and a third partner for Creminelli Fine Meats. Too much moisture and the meat will rot, not enough and it will dry too quickly and not cure properly.

That is why the master salami maker rises every few hours to check on his creations, touching them for moisture, even smelling them.

"I treat them just like a baby," said Creminelli, whose mentor visited the Utah shop this summer and was pleased with what he saw.

All-star meat

In the glass case at Caputo's, there is Creminelli salami for every taste: felino, an "old-style" salami with a mild taste and a hint of nutmeg; piccante, a hot Italian variety seasoned with cayenne pepper and paprika; sopressata, which is flavored with wine and garlic; casalingo, the signature salami of Italy's Piedmont region; and cacciatore, or "hunter's salami", which comes in smaller links.

"Usually when you go hunting you put one of these in your pocket," explained Creminelli. "It's just the right size for slicing in half and putting between two slices of bread."

Creminelli is working on new varieties of salami all the time, including one with white truffles that will be sold exclusively at Caputo's. All the varieties sell for $25.95 per pound, but a little Italian sausage goes a long way. Most people only need 4 to 6 ounces for an antipasto platter or other recipe.

While the cured salami is only sold at Caputo's, Creminelli fresh sausages are available at other Utah grocers as well. (See list, left.) Descriptions of all the products are available on the Web site, http://www.creminelli.com.

In a few short months, the salami has developed a loyal following, said Caputo.

"Many of our customers fell in love with it (authentic Italian salami) during their travels and they are willing to pay to have this sort of product available," said Caputo. "They come in and get a few pieces to serve to friends."

The attention to detail creates a rich, flavorful salami, unlike the mass-produced product that most Americans are accustomed to.

"That's just seasoned meat," Caputo said of the grocery-store varieties. "You don't taste the sweet, aromatic and almost nutty flavor that comes with natural curing."

Which may be why a master salami maker is one of Italy's most respected professions.

"It's literally like being a rock star," said Caputo. "People regard them highly if they are good at what they do."

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* KATHY STEPHENSON can be contacted at kathys@ sltrib.com or 801-257-8612. Send comments about this story to livingeditor@sltrib.com.

Where to find Creminelli Fine Meats

SALAMI, FRESH SAUSAGES AND PREPARED ENTREES

* Tony Caputo's Market, 314 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City; 801-519-5754

FRESH SAUSAGE ONLY

* Emigration Market, 1706 E. 1300 South, Salt Lake City; 801-581-01381

* The Market in Park City (formerly Dan's, 1500 Snow Creek Dr., Park City; 435-645-7139

* Dan's Foods, 2029 E. 7000 South, Cottonwood Heights; 801-943-7601 (available Oct. 1)

* Dan's Foods, 3981 S. Wasatch Blvd.; 801-272-2622 (available Oct. 1)

Artichoke, mozzarella and salami sandwiches

Make this for a tailgate party or a picnic.

2 (6-ounce) jars artichoke hearts, drained and chopped

1/2 cup chopped drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

4 (6-inch-long) Italian rolls, split in half lengthwise

12 ounces fresh mozzarella, drained and sliced

6 ounces salami, thinly sliced

8 tablespoons olive tapenade*

In a medium bowl, combine artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, cheese, basil and olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide artichoke mixture among bottom halves of rolls. Top with mozzarella slices and salami slices. Spread top half of each roll with 2 tablespoons tapenade. Place bread on top of salami. Press sandwiches lightly to compact and wrap each tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate sandwiches at least 4 hours or for up to 1 day.

*Available in Mediterranean markets.

Makes 2 sandwiches.

Source: Adapted from Bon Appétit, August 2003

Italian salami and romaine salad

6 cups freshly torn romaine lettuce

4 ounces Italian salami, cut into strips

1 roasted red bell pepper, cut into thin strips

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Salt, to taste

Pepper, to taste

1/3 cup Spanish or assorted olives

3 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish

In a bowl, combine romaine, salami and roasted red pepper strips. In a separate bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Lightly drizzle over lettuce mixture. Chill until ready to serve. Then divide evenly among 4 salad plates. Sprinkle each plate with olives and pine nuts. Garnish with Parmesan.

Makes 4 servings.

Source: Adapted from http://www.tricities.com

Ziti con salami carbonara

1 pound ziti

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons butter

4 ounces Italian salami, sliced into strips

2 egg yolks

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated, plus more for garnish

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta until al dente, according to package directions.

Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil and butter. Add salami and cook until brown and crisp.

In a bowl, beat egg yolks. Add cream, Parmesan cheese and pepper.

Drain pasta and add to the sauté pan. Sauté 30 seconds. Add cream and egg mixture and saute 1 minute.

Top with additional Parmesan cheese and parsley. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

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