What follows is a DETAILED chronicle of our salami making experience. It is detailed for 2 reasons. First, I am driven by detail because I have seen that it generally makes a satisfying finished product, though this personality trait has sometimes been difficult for my family to bare. Second, that meat is RAW when you make salami and it “cures” with time. The thought of botulism is a strong motivating factor for me to produce a safe edible product!
Making salami, or dry cure sausage is similar to making fresh sausage. The main difference is that you freeze fresh sausage and you leave air cured sausage to hang in a cool, humid environment for a lengthy period of time. The other difference is in the substitution or removal of certain ingredients. Examples of this are the omittance of liquid and the addition of “curing salts” in air cured sausage, but I will get into that in greater detail as this page unfolds. If you need a refresher or have not made fresh Italian sausage before, click HERE
Before I go any further, I think it’s important to talk a bit about the science behind the curing process of these meats. I like to think of it as an aggressive battle between good and bad bacteria.We all know that raw meat should not be left at room temperature for any great length of time. This is because bad bacteria begins to rapidly multiply at room temperature and it will spoil raw meat. As a result, we refrigerate raw meat. Refrigeration does not stop the multiplication of these bacteria, but slows their rate of growth. Hence, we can not leave raw meat in the fridge for an indefinite length of time because it, too, will spoil. Secondly, we generally cook our meat to an acceptable internal temperature which destroys these bad bacteria.
So, how come air-dried sausage, which is not cooked or refrigerated does not lose the battle to the bad bacteria? You would think that the scale is tipped in favor of these bad bacteria, especially when you consider that we stuff this raw moist meat into a hog intestine and leave it for weeks to hang in a cool and humid environment. You would think that these meats would succumb to these bad bacteria (who seem to have everything in their favor) and spoil these meats. Something else is obviously at play which keeps the scale from tipping in favor of these bad bacteria.
Our first line of defense in this battle is the use of salt with a small amount (1%) of sodium nitrite. This comes in a pre-mixed package and is recommended at a 2% ratio to the weight of meat. I use READYCURE which can be purchased at your local grocery store. The use of nitrites is debatable, especially when you consider that large amounts have been linked to cancer. With that said, there are high amounts of nitrates found in lettuce, spinach, celery and radishes. Furthermore, deli-meats that are listed as “nitrate free” use celery juice or celery juice concentrate, or other vegetable powders and concentrates, which converts their nitrate to nitrate when these natural sources are exposed to certain types of bacteria in the meat. So …why not just skip the nitrite and just use salt. The bottom line is that nitrite prevents spoilage and stops the growth of botulism-causing bacteria.
The use of salt is the second ingredient in the first line of defense for the safe consumption of salami. Salt has been used for a very long time as a preservative in meats, fish and vegetables. You will notice that there is a lot more salt that is used in our salami recipe than in our fresh sausage recipe. Here we are using 7 Tablespoons for each 10 pounds of meat. In our fresh sausage recipe, we only use half of this amount. This is because the salt is not only used for flavour, but also as a preservative. As the salami continues to dry, the salt concentration/ weight increases because the salt does not evaporate. This makes for an environment that is not hospitable for bad bacteria like Salmonella to continue growth.
Our second line of defense in the production of safe “curing” of meat is humidity. At first thought, you would think that the humidity should be low in order to quickly draw the moisture out of the salami. We know that bacteria needs moisture in order to multiply. Hence, if we quickly get rid of the moisture, than the bacteria can not grow. This theory works for processes like jerky where the meat is completely dehydrated, but it WILL NOT work in the production of salami. This is because the salami meat is in a casing and it is much thicker than a slice of jerky. In other words, if we hung our fresh salami in a low humidity environment, we would dry out the casing and the immediate area around the casing. By drying out this area, the center of the salami would not be able to expel the moisture within this meat and continue to live in an environment that PROMOTES the growth of bad bacteria. As a result, a high humidity will allow for the slow removal of moisture throughout the entire salami.
I measure the temperature and relative humidity with a portable weather station that I purchased at Lee Valley Tools.http://www.leevalley.com/en/garden/page.aspx?cat=2,42191&p=70127 It is the same one that I use for the chicken coop, but it has a separate sensor in my cantina. By using this product, I can get an accurate measurement for both temperature and humidity. I think it’s a must if you want to ensure that you are making a safe and stable product.
So.. with that said how do you increase humidity in your cantina for salami when the relative humidity is much lower than the recommended 75%- 80%? A week before Mike and I made our salami, the relative humidity in my cantina was 55%. I increased it over the week by placing a bucket filled with cold water on the floor of the cantina and hanging a clean wet towel from the ceiling to the water line in the bucket. This allowed for the water to continue to “wick” up onto the wet towel. The towel was saturated twice a day and replaced every few days.
By the day of production, relative humidity was at 75% in the cantina. The humidity climbed to 81% over the next two days after the salami were brought into the cantina. The 6% increase in humidity proved that the moisture in the meat was beginning to exit and enter the surrounding air. In a few days, the relative humidity would dip back down to 75%.
Air circulation is also essential in the cantina. Too much air flow will causing the casings to dry out prematurely and prevent the moisture in the salami from escaping. Too little air flow could produce a layer of slime on the surface of the salami in the first few days, which could also inhibit moisture from exiting the salami. I remedy this situation by placing a small computer fan on the floor of the cantina and positioning it 4 feet away from the salami. The breeze from the fan is not strong enough to move the salami, but slow enough to pass gently between each one. I also put a plate filled with water in front of the fan to help maintain the proper humidity in the cantina.
Cool temperature is also an important factor for making good salami. It is important to keep the cantina cool so that the exterior of the salami does not dry out to early. This would inhibit an even consistency in the finished product. For the purpose of this page, the temperature in my cantina stayed at around 7C for the 4 weeks of curing. We were also lucky this year to have a colder March than typical years. Next year, we will make our salami earlier in the Winter in order to rule out higher daytime temps that are characteristic of late March.
10 pounds of pork shoulder (coarsely ground and kept cold)
7 Tbsp. curing salt
1.5 Tbsp. coarse black pepper
1.5 Tbsp. garlic powder
1 Tbsp. crushed chilli pepper flakes
2 Tbsp. paprika
2 tsp. cayenne pepper
Weigh out 10 lbs. of coarsely ground pork shoulder and place it in a large bowl. Make sure that the pork is very cold. This will help in the stuffing process. Mike adds the spices while I continue to mix.
It is very important to thoroughly mix all of the spices into the pork. This is not only for flavor, but will ensure that the curing salt is evenly distributed into the meat.
Once the ingredients have been mixed, it is time to begin stuffing the mixture into the casings. Salami is stuffed the same as fresh sausage except for the following points:
After feeding the casing onto the funnel and tieing a knot, it is essential that the end of the casing is pricked in order to ensure that air can not get trapped in the casing. We use a fork that has 2 missing tines in the center and 2 that have been sharpened with a grinder. This tool will also come in handy when the salami are later pricked.
Unlike fresh sausage, we are only making 2 links at a time. This is because the salami must hang from a rack while they cure. Because the “hanging space” is only 20″, the salami can not be any longer than 8″. This will allow for a bit of stretching that will happen in the first few days of hanging. As well, the salami must be tied with a string where they are linked because they will become “unwound” if they are just left to hang. Lastly, the second link of salami must be knotted at its end and firmly tied with string so that it can hang from the rack. We learned the importance of firmly tying the hard way by finding a few of our sausage slipping out of the knotted string and falling on the floor in the first few hours of curing. That’s the reason the newspaper is on the floor in the pictures.
Once the salami are made, they must be pricked in order to create exit points for the moisture. We use our homemade fork tool for this job and puncture the casing about 10 times (5 times on each side) per salami.
The drying rack that I made for the salami is built from 2x4s. Mine is 5 ft. long, but you can custom fit yours to your cantina. Two dowel rods hang at 20″ above the floor. The “old school” guys that I have spoken with recommend that the salami stay close to the floor. They insist that the salami should hang near “belly height”. You gotta’ love the old school ways! This has to do with temperature because heat rises. It is also important that the salami hang freely and do not touch each other. This will allow for air circulation and promoting even drying for each salami.
Below are a group of pictures that will give you a good visual of the changes in the salami as they aged over 4 weeks. I hope this will help you stay on track.
By Day 14, white fluffy mold began to appear on the salami. My first reaction was to panic,but then I remembered pictures of salami as a child and remembered that they all had a chalky exterior. I wanted to make sure and contacted a fellow salami maker, Don, and he assured me that this was good. I followed Don’s recommendation and left the mold on the salami until they were ready to be packaged.
4 weeks later, the salami were ready to eat. They were firm, but could still be slightly bent if enough pressure was applied. They were then washed in order to remove the mold and left to dry in the cantina for one more day. They were then vacuum packed in order to maintain freshness and stored in the cantina to be later enjoyed with family and friends over a glass of wine with some homemade olives and cheese!
We made a great “batch” of salami this year and I need to thank Don for all his patience and expertise in the world of charcuterie. As you fellow bloggers know, we do meet some great people on our roads to discovery. Thanks Don for all your help!
Well….I can now tick off salami from my list of things I want to make! Maybe next year, we’ll try our hands at capicola or prosciutto. Why don’t you give it a try and let me know how you made out with this great tradition from our past.