Saturday, March 22, 2008

Fra' Mani Salumi at Square Deal

Here at TableTalkPortland, we LOVE pork. We love it roasted, braised, grilled, baked, simmered, poached, slow-cooked, stuffed, marinated, rubbed, sliced, diced, shredded, pulled, on the bone, off the bone, and we particularly love it ground up and mixed with spices and crammed in a piece of hog gut and slowly aged until mold grows on it and it is pronounced salumi.

So when we heard that Square Deal Wine Company ( on NW Thurman was holding a salumi tasting hosted by Michael Fabbro, Director of Sales and Marketing for Fra' Mani Handcrafted Salumi, a salumi company founded in 2006 by legendary San Francisco Bay Area chef and "curemaster" Paul Bertolli (formerly of Chez Panisse and Oliveto), we had to go.

We rushed through the doors, just a few minutes late (Michelle's fault), and were warmly greeted by Square Deal founder Dan Beekley, who immediately endeared himself to us by pouring us each a glass of the exquisite Bele Casel Prosecco ($16) into equally exquisite Riedel Restaurant series champagne flutes, which I am in love with but are only available to industry professionals. That is why I write this blog, you know, because someday I have dreams of us being approached by Riedel and welcomed into the 'industry professionals' fold, and allowed to purchase an entire crate of my darling Riedels so I don't have to nick them from the San Francisco Ferry Building Wine Bar and risk arrest and deportation, hopefully to France.

Riedels clutched tightly in hand, we browsed the crates of wine throughout the carefully laid out store, and admired Steve's Cheese's impeccably arranged cheese and charcuterie selection. Steve's Cheese ( is a specialty retail cheese, charcuterie, and dry goods counter located towards the back of the store, so don't be fooled at first peer into Square Deal's front window into thinking this is exclusively a wine shop. A few minutes later, we were gently herded into the glass-enclosed back room to sit around a long farmhouse style table set with small plates, cloth napkins, and two pours of Italian white wine--the Olivella, "Racemo", Frascati Superior, 2006 ($18) and the Germano Ettore, "Binel", Langhe, 2005 ($15). Becky Brandt, Square Deal's excellent wine stewardess, explained each wine's origin on the map, then super-cute-and-nice Michael Fabbro introduced himself and Steve passed the first plate of salume--neat folded triangles of mortadella. Describing the mortadella as 'refined and elegant',Michael said restauranteurs who inquire about how to plate this particular meat are told to plate it as though it were a 'silk handkerchief', folded gently onto a platter or meat board. Mortadella's soft texture, according to Fabbro, is attributed to the fine grinding of the hog's leg, shoulder, and belly meat, as well as the addition of pig snout, which provides a gelatinous quality. So now you know, and when someone passes mortadella around at a gathering, you can regale everyone with your pig snout trivia or offer constructive criticism of their plating methods. I have been, and let me tell you, I am enjoying unprecedented popularity at parties now. It's also just fun to say Pig Snout!, which can be used in place of your usual exclamation of surprise, distaste, or hearty agreement. Try it the next time someone tries to cut in front of you in line at the bar at North 45 when you're trying to order a California Chillum--"Pig Snout!" Or if you have to give a toast at a wedding..."I wish you the utmost happiness...(hold up your champagne flute) Pig Snout!" See what I mean? It's just so poignant.

Michael also introduced the Salame Nostrana, a small mild salame, and its bolder cousin the Salame Gentile. Someone asked about the nature of the salame casing, which Michael bluntly demystified. In Italian, he said, 'gentile' means 'friendly, kind, pleasant'. We all nodded. That sounded nice. But ironically, he went on to explain, the Gentile's casing comes from the last part of the hog's large intestine. The group pondered this and one woman squished her face up into a distasteful grimace. Michael nodded gravely. "The casing is the ass of the hog," he stated matter of factly. "And there's nothing really very pleasant about that." Everyone giggled their agreement. We all chewed slowly.

Steve and Becky floated around the table, pouring two Italian reds--the delicious Montori, Montepulciano d' Abruzzo, 2005 ($11) and Brunori, "Barco", Rosso Conero ($15), and the second round of salumi began making its way around the table. First, the salty, dark burgundy Toscano--purposefully saltier than its counterparts, Michael explained, because the Tuscans traditionally serve food with unsalted bread, a practice dating back centuries and one I remember vividly from my trip to Italy this past summer, because one of my travel companions, in an ongoing fit of Ugly Americanism, complained loudly and bitterly in one trattoria after another throughout Tuscany about the agonizingly bland bread. Next up was the Soppressata, a large dry salame that Fra' Mani produces in the style of Italy's Veneto region, which Michael said is also responsible for Prosecco, so when I move to Italy someday, I'm buying my villa in Veneto, for sure. With its rich flavor and notes of clove, this was an immediate crowd favorite and as Steve revealed, the store's best-selling salame.

As the group nibbled our last sample, thick slices of Fra' Mani Salametto Piccante--a small Spanish-style dry chorizo made with smoked pimenton de la vera (Spanish paprika), cumin, red wine, and plenty of garlic, Michael invited questions from the group, but we were too busy taking pictures of Michelle trying to eat an entire Salametto Piccante (passed around so we could admire its gym socks-esque smell) in one bite to ask our burning question, which was: Are you single? Whoops, I mean, we meant to ask him if he wanted to attend our Table For Twelve dinner while he was in town.

Michael concluded by explaining the Fra' Mani philosophy--use only the highest-quality all-natural pork from locally sourced farms, 'discreetly seasoned, aged slowly, letting the flavor of the pork come through to you." To which we say, Pig Snout!


  1. The Wine Merchant at the Ferry Building is one of the best stores Heather and I have ever visited. A great place to sit and drink Champagne all day!

  2. Patrick, I could not agree more! It is one of my happy places. Give me some bubbly in one of their exclusive etched Riedel champagne flutes that they refuse to sell thus actually promoting theft in my opinion, a cheese box, an Acme baguette, and a table along the railing and I'm in heaven.