Salami and summer sausage are both cured meats, which have a long history spanning many cultures. Before refrigeration, North Americans cured sausages in winter that lasted until summer -- hence the name summer sausage. While many European cultures have their own cured sausages, few are as celebrated as Italian salami. The main difference between summer sausage and salami is moisture content.
The Fermentation Process
Strict rules set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture govern commercial sausage-making. All ingredients used in summer sausages and salami are treated with curing agents, such as salt, sodium nitrate and lactic acid, which kill pathogens and contribute to a characteristic tangy flavor. The cured mixtures are stuffed into casings and hung to dry.
Semi-Dry Summer Sausage
The USDA classifies summer sausages as semi-dry, because they lose about 15 percent of their original moisture content during processing, which includes either smoking, cooking or both. Summer sausage is semi-soft in texture and easily sliced. The type of meat and seasonings used vary. Uncut summer sausages can be kept in the refrigerator for about three months and about three weeks after opening.
Salami and Dry Sausages
Salami, a dry sausage, loses about 25 percent of its original moisture during aging, giving it a more concentrated flavor and making it harder to slice than summer sausage. Unless the label specifies otherwise, it's considered "shelf stable," meaning it can be stored unrefrigerated for six weeks and for three weeks in the fridge after being opened.