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Home cured Salami – Finished!

You may recall a few posts back now I wrote a little something about the salami that Becky Selengut (some might know her as Chef Reinvented) and I started together. I say started because salami making is a long process. Most of this work is up front. A couple of hours to dice, chop, grind, clean, stuff and finally ferment and hang. Another few hours to make ridiculously childish sausage jokes. From there on in for the next month or so it is about careful monitoring, and daily squeezes of your salami (giggle).

Well the careful monitoring is done, and there has been a lot of salami squeezing going on (ahem..). The salami has lost about 40% of its original weight, and exhibits no case hardening (where the outside dries out too much, before the inside is dry, making a rotten mess). Not being one to boast, but it has dried pretty much perfectly, with a lovely coverage of white sausage mold (a strain of penicillin to be precise).

Unfortunately this is one salami that we will never eat. This has been one of the hardest decisions on my culinary life. These salami got absolutely no bad mold on them at all. Nothing is rotten. Nothing too squishy. This time it is more about what you cannot see, cannot smell and cannot taste.

Making salami is often about overcoming safety hurdles. Jumping them properly, not just running through them. When making salami you take certain steps to assure the safety of a sausage:

  1. Sanitation is very important.
  2. Nitrates are very important (a hotly debated subject, but they prevent botulism, so are OK by me)
  3. The use of a starter culture – A starter culture is really just “good bacteria”, which you feed so they multiply (feed by the way of sugar, and fermentation) and produce lactic acid which lowers pH (makes a sausage more acidic, thus making it harder for bad bacteria to grow)
  4. Proper hanging conditions – the right temperature and humidity
  5. The use of an exterior sausage mold – the white mold you see on this was sprayed on. This helps prevent nasty mold growing on the surface, and also helps regulate moisture loss.
  6. getting moisture out of the sausage – bacteria need moisture to grow. Once the sausage is at a certain dryness it can be said that it is micro biologically stable (nothing can grow in it..)
  7. and finally correct salt levels in the sausage.

This last step is where things fell fowl. We followed a recipe from a good friend of ours – a very experienced salami maker. He has made this salami many, many times and has never got sick. Salt is the first barrier against the growth of bad bacteria. We are talking some pretty nasty bacteria too. Salmonella. E Coli. Listeria to name a few. These nasties cannot be seen, smelled or tasted. Correct salt level, starter culture, and curing conditions all but wipe the chances of these out.

Salt level in a salami is a hotly debated subject. Too much salt and it tastes like a box of Kosher. Too little salt and you run the risk of bad bacteria growing rapidly and thus being strapped to the porcelain princess for a week or two (if you are lucky..). Most salami recipes state a salt level of 2.5 to 3.5% salt to meat weight (eg 60g of salt for 2kg of meat, at 3% salt amount).In the fantastic book “The Art of Fermented Sausages” Marianski quotes

When making fermented sausages use between 2.5% and 3% salt as this combined with nitrite, is you first line of defense against undesirable bacteria….There is no room for compromise

But yet I have seen a fair few salami recipes where the salt content is 2%, and one even lower than that.

This salami recipe that we followed is one of those. Salt level is at 2%. I am sure this has been used for centuries (a certain kind of salami is typically that low), and people have been fine with it. For me however that isn’t enough. A lot of modern thinking, and a lot of very experienced charcuterists think that 2% is too low to be completely safe. From everything I have read, I agree with them.

A year ago when I started to cure my own meats in my basement I promised myself (and my family) that if I thought anything could have the possibility of being not right, I would trash the meat and start again. That is exactly what we have done.

“Big deal” you say. “Just throw it away, no biggie.”

It is harder than that. This is something that we have worked on for a month. Checked on daily. Seen the wonderful progress of white mold on the salami, and got excited as the salami got firmer and firmer each week (OK, that sounds REALLY bad). But more than that I am 99% convinced this salami is safe to eat.

It is however that 1% that can kill you.

Cya salami! I think the trash eating critters of Seattle are going to get one jolly nice meal.

So what’s left after the salami are chucked away? Well – take a look at this picture, its the curing chamber. On the left is a guancialle that is looking rather good. Center stage there is a lovely little coppa that isn’t looking bad either. More to report on those very soon.


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35 Responses to “Home cured Salami – Finished!”

  1. matt says:

    Ssh.

    Hear that?

    That was the sound of my heart breaking.

    But I understand. Better safe than sorry. But still. Tears.

  2. Becky says:

    I may be feverish but I swear I see Obama’s face in our guanciale.

  3. Wow … you … you are a stronger person than I. That is an absolutely gorgeous creation. I bet in throwing it out, it will stay with you far longer than if you had eaten it. And yes, you are doing the right thing. As hard as it is, if you love something, and it could potentially kill you, set it free.

    If it comes back to you? RUN LIKE HELL. You have created zombie salami and it is an abomination.

  4. Nani Steele says:

    I’m still not sure what it is, or why, you are not eating this particular sausage–you say there is NO bad mold, etc-but you don’t say what it is about that 1% that you are concerned with, or some how I’m not reading it correctly.

    I just made “salumet” with an old Swiss Italian woman who has been making it for ions–hung it in my “cellar” of sorts and it was delicious.

  5. Kristina says:

    My condolences to both you and Becky on the death of your beloved salami. Such a pity…
    Let us know about the next ones…

  6. mattwright says:

    Nani – I mentioned in there that the salt level in this particular recipe is too low for what I consider safe. Salt is the first barrier against rapid bacteria growth. Too low salt and bacteria can grow too fast. This recipe has 2% salt level, which is pretty low. I wish I had noticed that before we made the salami!

  7. Sharon Miro says:

    Matt:

    Thanks so much for this thoguhtfull post…I had read wiht much enthusiam your post on making this and was goign to try this weekend…now I know more and can be better prepared…

    Just a quick story about food safety and what we perceive: My beloved grandfather picked his own mushrooms–said if you throw a silver dollar in the pan when you are cooking them, and it doesn’t turn black, they are good…worked for years, unitl it didn’t work! He, my grandma and my mother became deathly ill over one batch, and we almost lost them.

    There’s a reason for the science!

  8. Talley says:

    Agh. that is totally heartbreaking. I’ve been looking forward to hearing about this salami.

    I tell you what: I’LL come try a nibble or two… and then we can all watch me closely for a couple weeks. If I live, you give me one quarter of the salami and the rest is yours to eat!

    So at what point in the process did you realize you were going to have to chuck it? Was it just bad luck that the recipe you followed was a 2% recipe, and did you continue researching after you made it? Or did you know about the 3% rule before making this and just not notice that it was a 2% recipe.

  9. zenchef says:

    Oh my gawd Matt! This is the most beautiful salami i ever seen.
    I’ll be camping outside your home. By the trash can.

  10. Peter G says:

    What a shame about the salami! Look forward t see what happens with the rest of your cured meat. “being strapped to the porcelain princess ..” LOL!…we say “driving the porcelain bus” here in Australia!

  11. mattwright says:

    matt: mine too mate
    Becky: that is a good sign for us right! lets hope so, I cannot take another kick in the balls with this charcuterie
    Everywhereist: yeah, it was the right thing. Hard choice to start, but easy in the end.
    Nani: answered above
    Sharon: yep, the science is very important (in my mind)
    Talley: I would love to offer these to you, but it ain’t worth it! I realised about 2 weeks into the 4 week cure. I was comparing recipes, and something looked different. Glad I checked.
    Zen: The next one, you will get a sample of mate!
    Peter: haha, I will have to use that one.

  12. That was the most vibrant, lively salami ever… truly crushing to give it up. Good luck with your next effort…

  13. Mark P says:

    That Guanciale looks incredible. I just had an amazing dish with roasted brussels sprouts, guanciale and golden raisins. So simple, but the saltiness of the guanciale and the sweetness of the raisins perfectly balanced each other. How I’d love to have giant hunk of that meat to use in my own kitchen.

    Impressed at the restraint you showed with the salami. I have drunk more than a few sub-standard home brews that didn’t ferment quite right, but of course, the consequence is just bad beer, not a trip to the hospital.

  14. Y says:

    Ah Matt, but it looks so good! So very sad for you. But still.. it’s obvious you’ve got the skills, so I’m looking forward to the day you can celebrate by eating one of them!

  15. sweetbird says:

    Argh. How frustrating! Nevertheless, it is quite beautiful and I’m sure the next one will turn out just as lovely.

    Also, lol@everywherist.

  16. jim says:

    WHAT IF YOU COOK IT, LIKE ON TOP OF PIZZA. WOULD YOU THINK IT SAFE AFTER SOME APPLICATION OF HIGH HEAT IN A DISH?

  17. Sharon Miro says:

    your response cues another science memory fact: read MORE than that one recipe you downloaded from the net. I did olives this year for the first time with lye–there is a BIG difference between 4 tablespoons per quart and 1 tablespoon per gallon…1st batch olive mush, second batch perfecto! Jury still out on the water method.

  18. I would just save the salami and use it for cooking, allowing the temperature to cook off any potential ‘evil humors’, albeit not how you intended to use the salami.

  19. Matt,

    The first photograph is just so beautiful absolutely love it. Wonderful colors. The red and white combination is just perfect for this holiday season.

    I have to agree with several of the other readers that this is the most beautiful salami I have ever seen. The first photograph is just so amazing that I can’t contain myself from repeating myself.

    Thanks for sharing.
    - Neel

  20. barbara says:

    Such a shame. It looks fantastic.

  21. There’s always that 1% chance of dying, but we’re all willing to take that chance for a taste of your great stuff! It’s worth the risk, definitely so.
    Brilliantly done guys! And the finale photograph is worthy of loud applause!!

  22. Lang says:

    “When in doubt, throw it out.” That’s an mushroom hunting saying, but it might as well apply to charcuterie. Another mushroom hunting axiom: “There are old mushroom hunters and there are bold mushroom hunters–but there are NO old, bold mushroom hunters!” You made the right call. Happy holidays to you all!

  23. But it LOOKS just lovely! Tell me you didn’t take even the teensiest taste?

  24. Giff says:

    sorry to hear this one had to go the way of the dumpster, but I agree with your decision and have had to do the same at times with other things I’ve tried. Anyway, I hope you are having a marvelous holiday season and happy new year!

  25. Scott says:

    Looks like you’ve got the process down just fine. The next one should be perfect.

  26. alex says:

    why dont you just test the thing at a specialized lab for harmful bacteria and if it turns out negative just it it!?
    love your stuff, pics and everything.
    kipitup!

  27. TheSausageMakerInc says:

    Hi. Matt.
    Of course the sausage fermentation/drying is a wonderful artisanal skill. Hats off. I have to say that, I thoroughly enjoy your posts and love stumbling into them from time2time when looking for drycuring inspiration. OH, and the photography work is really excellent!! Keep up the good work bud. From your fans @ sausagemaker.com

  28. eric says:

    This may sound like a funny question but where are you getting the nitrates?

  29. mattwright says:

    alex – just not worth the cost to be honest. And with a low salt content, it is hard to say how long the salami would last.

    Eric – in the US you can get nitrates/nitrites and a variety of curing gear from Butcher & Packer – their website is: http://www.butcher-packer.com/

  30. Scott says:

    I get it. I agree with it, but I too would have at least Googled how much it would cost to get it tested in a lab…probably too much but I woulda asked. My confusion lies in I can’t figure out why you determined so late in the game that it was 2%. This is not meant as a critique so much as you have provided me a virgin sausage maker (sorry for the obvious visual and pun) with a stern warning that I am not sure I would have caught EVER if you didn’t catch it until late.

    What is it 3% salt weight for the total 100% Weight? And how does your Cure #2 factor in?

  31. mattwright says:

    Hi Scott. I was given the recipe from a friend, and I never questioned his amounts and ratios since he has been doing this for a long time. It was only one evening when I was bored that I started thinking something looked a little different. That is when I broke out the calculator and worked out the salt percentage.

    Cure2 should be counted as salt. What isn’t sodium nitrate/nitrite in there the cure2 mix is actually salt anyhow (1tsp of cure #2 only contains a really small amount of nitrate/nitrite). So to work it out, you add together you meat+fat amounts. You add together your kosher salt + cure 2 amounts, and work out the percentages from there.

  32. Scott says:

    Thanks, when I start up which hopefully will be soon I will do this calculation before assembling the ingredients. And we all said, while in math class – “We’ll NEVER use this stuff!!”

    Anyway kickoff on sausage should be in the next few months. I started sauerkraut last night and short rib pastrami is on next week’s agenda – all in preparation for the best hot pastrami sandwich in Atlanta. I think I’ll follow your trail and cut my teeth with the duck prosciutto to get my humidity and temperature equipment worked out.

    Good luck and good eating

  33. dave says:

    love the pics…never seen salami look so good. we’ve been making salami all of our lives but i think we’ve been making it wrong all along. i need to know, if you would give me the correct amounts of nitrite or nitrate to use. i am so excited….maybe they will come out as good as yours.

    dave

  34. dan says:

    Matt, that’s so sad. I would have taken it to a lab, but labs around here are much cheaper than in the US, I could get such an analysis done for a song. That said, what about cooking with it (pizza, fritata, etc)?

  35. todd says:

    great decision!!

    I’ve made a few tough ones myself. There is no margin for error in this “hobby”, and if your friends or family are eating it, as mine do, then it was an easy decision to make.

    This is an old post I know.. but I’m catching up on my blog reading over the holidays.

    Looking forward to reading your latest stuff.

    Feel free to check out what I’m doing as well at the Portland Charcuterie Project.

    Todd