There's a Fine Line Between Salami and Dog Treats July 31, 2014 18:10

Finally, the moment we've all been waiting for... Today's the day we sample the salami my husband and I made several months ago! While I've been making fresh sausage for years, the process of fermenting and dry-curing salami is a lot more involved than just grinding meat and mixing in spices.  This was our first attempt at making a fermented aged meat product (read about it here), so we'll be trying to figure out and learn from our mistakes.

 This is what the salami looked like at two weeks old.
This is what the salami looked like at two weeks old.  Pretty good, eh?

First impressions: The surface is quite shriveled; it's obviously lost a lot of moisture, perhaps too much, making it kind of tough to cut.  Oddly, it seems that the fat pieces didn't shrink at all, or not noticeably.  The meat is much darker than you would see in a store-bought salami.  Strangely, it has an almost nutty aroma that's not unpleasant.

 To be honest, I'm kind of scared of it...
This is what the salami looks like now.  To be honest, I'm kind of scared of it...  That's why I brought it to work so the Homesteader's crew could share in the experience.

 The first taste is... well, it's not horrible.  It's definitely too dry; it's chewy and jerky-like and the fat pieces are much too large and separate easily from the meat.  The taste is not bad, but it's not good either.  Actually, it's kind of bland and lacking in that tangy sharpness of a store-bought salami.  On the plus side, it's been several hours since first ingesting it and I'm not experiencing any symptoms of food-borne illness. I'd say this attempt at home salami-making was not the success I'd hoped for.  So, what went wrong?

  1. It's too dry.  Before we hung the salami to dry, we should have recorded their weights.  By comparing their weights throughout the drying stage to their initial weights, we would have been able to monitor the rate of moisture loss.  Obviously, we let it hang far too long.  Why?  Frankly, the salami was out-of-sight and, therefore, out-of-mind.  We didn't exactly forget about it, but every time we thought to check on it, we put it off thinking that one more day wouldn't make a difference.  Next time, we'll be more diligent about our salami stewardship.
  2. The fat pieces are too large.  The back fat, which is supposed to be diced by hand rather than ground like the rest of the meat, should have been diced much finer.  Before starting to make the salami, we read that the diced fat has a tendency to "smear" (melt into the meat mixture due to the warmth of your hands and the friction of using a stand mixer).  As this is a common problem for beginners, we assumed our fat pieces would be reduced somewhat from their original size... but they didn't shrink at all.  Before starting, we placed all equipment into the deep freezer and worked quickly to avoid the problem.  I guess we got this part right!
  3. The flavor just isn't quite right.  For one, I don't really taste the spices.  Perhaps the overly-long drying time caused the seasonings to lose their effectiveness.  Secondly, since salami is a fermented product, it should have an acidic tanginess that just doesn't come through in our version.  Did we remove the salami from the warm fermenting chamber and place it in the cooler drying room prematurely, that is, before the pH had dropped low enough?  I don't think so...
 After 36 hours in the moist heat of the incubation box, the bacteria have produced enough lactic acid to lower the pH to about 4.7.
The test strips from before and after the initial fermentation period indicate a marked decrease in pH (increase in acidity).

The salami were placed in a warm moist chamber to ferment for 36 hours before we moved them to the cooler drying room.  In that time, the bacteria had produced enough lactic acid to lower the pH of the meat to about 4.7, which should be low enough to lend a noticeably tangy note to the overall flavor.  Perhaps the sourness mellowed considerably due to the overly long drying time... I've read that sausage-making techniques in North America differ greatly from those in Europe.  The North American practice is to use bacterial cultures that achieve a relatively low pH (high acid) in a very short amount of time and at high temperatures (around 100 deg. F).  European sausage makers use bacteria that result in higher pH (lower acid) and that are active over a longer period of time at around room temperature.  Safety-wise, the difference between the two methods is that the North American technique relies on high acidity to prevent contamination, whereas the European method uses moisture loss to kill off harmful contaminants.  Taste-wise, American salami will be noticeably more sour and, to the European palette, less flavorful.  In contrast, European salami is supposedly less sour and, perhaps to the American palette, bland.  Maybe we inadvertently made European salami!

Whatever we made, it's not great salami.  Chalk this one up to experience!  At least now we are familiar, not only with the process of making and stuffing the salami, but also the physical and chemical changes that meat undergoes to become salami.  And, it's not a total loss: I can always dice it up and call it dog treats... that is, if none of the Homesteader's crew comes down with botulism in the next few days.