The Art of Salami Making. From Fermentation to Drying to Curing. If My Kids Can Do It So Can You.

Sliced salami on cutting board

Finely cured salami milano, lightly smoked speck or dry seasoned ham, just the thought of it makes my mouth water. In a Stagionello® taking a raw sausage and turning it into a finished product can be done at the push of a single button. But let’s not skip ahead too quickly here. If you grew up in a culture known for making products like this, you know of all the different ways to eat it. And if you were lucky, you may have even took part in making it. At about the age of 8, my father invited me to come and make it with him. Unfortunately all I got to do was turn the handle on the grinder/stuffer for the next 6 hours. Not quite what I was hoping for.

Ok, time to make Salami

Now before we start it’s worth mentioning, that with a simple google search you will find a ton of information and kits for salami making. No matter what country you’re in, if there is a butcher supplier, you should be able to find what you need. But I want to move away from the kits somewhat, because most will integrate a starter culture.

Danger LogoDanger Logo

I must do my due diligence and warn you that salami production is considered a HIGH RISK product. And it’s because, through the entire fermentation drying and curing steps, the product is working in the “danger zone” above 4˚C (40 °F) and below 65˚C (140 °F). So having said all of that, if you are making this product to sell to others, please follow the guidelines of your country/state/province/territory/city and so on and so forth.

Now that that’s outta the way, let’s take a closer look at what we need and why.
Salt

Salt in White Surface

Not all salts are created equally. Most often a curing salt is used, instacure #1 (Prague powder 1) or Instacure #2 (Prague powder 2). They both contain 6.25% nitrite. nitrite helps to push water away from the meat, allowing for more rapid drying. As a by-product, will also affect color and taste. How do i know which to use? Instacure #1 would be used for cooked product like bacon, hams smoked sausages. Whereas, instacure #2 would be best suited for air dried product like salami due to the addition of 1% of nitrate.

A good alternative for a person making salami for personal consumption, would be sea salt. In it, small amounts of nitrate and nitrite are naturally occurring. Be advised that not all sea salts have the same quantity of nitrite/nitrate, and your recipe should account for this. Not to fear, if your sea salt doesn’t contain enough nitrite/nitrate, vegetable based products like celery or beet power can be added to make up the difference. Don’t take it from me, read this document from the American Meat Institute for more information on nitrite and nitrate. For an even more in-depth look at nitrite and nitrate and their role click here.

Fermentation/Drying/Smoking

I must lump these three things together because (traditionally) when you ferment you raise the core temperature of the product for a brief period of time (18 – 24hrs). Before moving on to drying, where you slowly reduce temperature and humidity. When the product is smoked, the heat from smoke would raise the core temperature and would help dry it out. When mentioning smoking, I am referring to cold smoking 15˚C (59˚F) to 25˚C (77˚F). This applies to a wide variety of salami, such as n’duja, chorizo (dried not cooked), pancetta and speck, to name a few. All that said, this is not to be confused with hot smoking. Products being hot smoked are combined with cooking and is not the subject of this article.

Curing (by this i mean additional drying, not salt cure)

This is the loooooooooongest step of the process. Its purpose is singular, which is to make the middle of your salami as firm as the outside of your salami. But the length of time it takes to do this will depend on two things, the diameter of your salami and your personal preference. The first one easy bigger salami = more time, smaller salami = less time. The second one, well, that a bit different. Example: Salami Milano using a 40 mil casing, northern Italians could eat this after 23 days, where as southern Italians would consider that raw and wouldn’t dare touch it before 37 days. But here in the Good Ol North America we go by aW, or Activity Water.

aW or Activity Water

Wikipedia defines it like this: Water activity (aw) is the partial vapor pressure of water in a substance divided by the standard state partial vapor pressure of water. In the field of food science, the standard state is most often defined as the partial vapor pressure of pure water at the same temperature. Using this particular definition, pure distilled water has a water activity of exactly one. As temperature increases, aw typically increases, except in some products with crystalline salt or sugar. Higher aw substances tend to support more microorganisms.

This is why the drying or smoking (for those who like smoked product) step/s are extremely important and what I consider a delicate balance. Because you don’t want to hammer down on the humidity, as you will increase the chance of over drying. Causing the pores on the casing close and trapping the moisture inside. Iif you don’t reduce the humidity enough, you increase the potential for over population of microorganisms. Aaaaahhhh now my warning is starting to make sense.

Keeping your Area Clean

It should go without saying, that you want to keep your work area clean and free from as many contaminants as possible. This includes things like flies. Normally salami production takes place in a climate controlled room (around 16˚C or 60˚F) most bugs don’t tend to hang around. This is why Italians will make salami in the winter (well it’s not the only reason but you get the point). Depending the type of casing you’re using, you may need to wash and disinfect as well.

The Right Tool for the Right Job

salami prickermeat grindermeat mixerhydraulic stufferbowl chopper

Preparing your ingredients is almost as important as the quality of raw materials themselves. Chopping too coarsely, overheating and smearing the fat and over mixing, will all have an effect on your finished product. If you are serious about making salami long term, invest well. This doesn’t mean over spend, it just means, think about what you want to get out of this tool in the long run. If i’m not making salami full time, can I use this grinder to make fresh sausage as well? etc.

Salami production:

  1. Selection
    Choosing the cut of meat is equal to choosing the flavor, think of the difference between fresh bacon and a pork chop. if your going to use pork, it should always be fresh, never frozen. Can you use beef , lamb or venison? Yes, BUT, if I’ve said it once i’ll say it a thousand times, the pig is a magical animal. No other fat is as good for making salami, as the fat from a pig. Now you can use any part of the pig you want, but for the average mixed meat (or forcemeat) salami, you should use a 60/40 split (60% from the ham and 40% from the picnic/shoulder). Now a good split of meat to fat would be 75/25. There is absolutely nothing stoping you from using a whole ham for your lean meat. I’ve made salami, mixing shoulder, loin and belly, magnifico.
  2. The Grind
    In the absolute best scenario, you want both your meat and fat to stay cold until mixing. I would suggest freezing the fat and chilling the meat, if you are going to be using a grinder. If you are going to use a bowl chopper, then just chill both the meat and fat. People have asked me several times during a course, what should i use? My opinion is this, good would be your average grinder. Better would be a bowl chopper. Best would be a refrigerated grinder. When using any of these, make sure your blades/knives are sharp, the goal is to reduce friction as much as possible. Tip 1: Grind the fat first. Tip 2: If you’re using a regular a grinder, have ice packs or hand towels soaking in ice water ready and place them on the body (that part that houses the auger), as this part will heat up fast.
  3. Mixing
    This is another important step for two reasons a) you need an even mixture of salts, spices, meat and fat and b) the temperature of the mixture needs to increase so the meat will release its protein. This will help everything bind together later on (this is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT). Let’s look at a good, better, and best. Good is mixing be hand, very labor intensive but it will get the job done. Better is to run the spices together in the grinder with the meat, then finish off by hand mixing meat/spice/salt with fat. Best would be to use a mixer like this one. Tip 1: It’s better too under mix than over mix. Mixing is the shortest step, especially when using machinery, so keep it short. Tip 2: Once you finish mixing, take a ball of the meat/fat mix, slap it against your hand and turn it upside down. If it sticks you’re done, if not keep mixing.
  4. Stuffing/Filling
    When it comes to stuffing or filling a casing, it is not the same as making sausage. This is a delicate step and needs special attention. The casing needs to be filled to the point where it is about to burst. This will provide counter pressure and help physically squeeze water and air out during the fermentation step. Any air pockets will have disastrous effects on your salami, rendering inedible.
  5. Tying/pricking
    Just before hanging your salami to start fermentation. You need to tie off your salami and prick it, to give water a pathway to escape. Tip: you want to prick the entire salami, but pay extra attention to the bottom and let gravity do its thing.
  6. Environment
    If you have the dedicated space to transform a raw product into an air dried cured salami, at this point you’re on your way. If not, you will need a device like the Stagionello® that is programmed to go through all the individual steps automatically. If you are considering larger scale production, you can consider a system by frigomeccanica instead.

Now if you’ve made it this far, and are in need of more answers, tips or tricks, please feel free to contact me at michael@martiniequipment.us

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