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:
- Sanitation is very important.
- Nitrates are very important (a hotly debated subject, but they prevent botulism, so are OK by me)
- 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)
- Proper hanging conditions – the right temperature and humidity
- 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.
- 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..)
- 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.