A few years back, Linda, our daughter Sarah, her husband Jeff and I went to Rome to visit my sister Lia, who lives there. They say that food and wine always tastes better on vacation and this trip proved it beyond question. The salumi (generic Italian for cured meats of all sorts) in Italy cannot be matched anywhere in the world. (The wines are wonderful, too, but I can find many of them here. The salumi, I cannot.)
Lia’s local salumeria makes salumi that is beyond imagination – one in particular, little salami, tied in a chain; about two inches long and one inch in diameter. They have so much flavor they’re impossible to resist.
We left Rome on a scenic train ride to Florence for a few days of sightseeing, museuming, side trips to Lucca & Pisa, the area where my dad was born and raised. The food there and the local wines deserve a story of their own which I will share later.
Back to Rome for a departure to the USA. We couldn’t get the scrumptious salamini out of our minds, so Jeff and I decided we could outsmart the customs guys and illegally take home five pounds or so of the treat, knowing they were simply not available back home. Reluctantly – she could see us spending the rest of our lives in Alcatraz – Lia got them for us. We had convinced her that all it would take to perpetrate the Great Customs Sneak was three or four layers of plastic wrap, some tape, and several plastic bags from our hotel rooms.
We wrapped and wrapped and then stuffed the bundle, disguised as dirty laundry, into a suitcase. We studiously ignored the signs at the airport in Rome warning travelers not to bring meats, fruits, vegetables or plants into the US.
On the plane, filling out the forms denying any contraband, Jeff and I tried to convince ourselves that salame is not really meat in the true sense. Linda and Sarah promised to visit us in prison.
Now we’re in JFK, New York. We walk down the corridors past the signs, lots of them, talking about the sniffing dogs who will find all contraband food, get it confiscated and, yes, you will go to jail.
The next set of signs introduces us to the sniffing dogs, Beagles, miniature ones at that. Now I know I’m safe because we’ll pick up our luggage prior to going through Customs, stack all the bags on one cart about six feet high, with the salami way up on top – well out of reach of any miniature canine Sherlock Holmes.
The final set of signs reminds us to fess up, claim our trespass, or something really bad will happen.
No worries, we get the bags, stack them and proceed to the very serious-faced officious customs officer.
Suddenly, one very aggressive beagle smells something around my cart. He goes around and around it standing on his rear legs and acting nervous. What to do? I start going in circles pushing the cart, the dog is following,
I go faster, he goes faster but just as I’m about to confess on bended knee, the dog’s trainer calls the beagle (probably for a coffee break). I see an empty spot in the customs line, a farewell kiss to Linda just in case, and through the checkpoint.
The guard looks at my papers, asks do I have any items to declare, no I don’t, and he waves me through.
I would do almost anything to have more of those remarkable chunks of exquisite flavor, but I will not tempt the beagles ever again.
On the other hand, never say ‘never’ – especially when it comes to Salumi…