Since writing this post, I have been advised about some important food safety issues concerning the temperature at which I cured the salami. Please read Matt’s comment below, or this post.
Forces conspired against me, intent on foiling my latest charcuterie project, but in the end I prevailed. I was determined to take my skills to the next level by making a fermented sausage, in particular Tuscan salami. How hard could it be? I had been successful with my previous sausage attempts, so the only thing that should have been different was the post-stuffing drying and fermenting, which seemed to be a hands-off process.
And that’s where I was wrong. But I wouldn’t learn that until my second attempt.
Both undertakings began the same way, with the usual assembling of ingredients: pork shoulder butt, pork fat, Chianti, nonfat dry milk powder, garlic, toasted fennel seeds, coarse black pepper, pink salt, kosher salt, and dextrose.
I ran the partially frozen fat though the large die of my brand-new KitchenAid Professional 6-quart mixer (shiny metallic black).
I followed the fat with the pork (along with the kosher and pink salt), ground on the small die.
I mixed up a batch of Bactoferm F-RM-32, the live starter culture that would feed on the dextrose and powdered milk and produce lactic acid, which, in turn, would reduce the pH of the salami and inhibit bacterial growth. I added the culture, along with the rest of the ingredients, to my mixing bowl.
After about a minute of mixing at low speed, the meat looked more appetizing, with a uniform distribution of fat.
And here’s where things should have been easy, but went horribly wrong. I soaked hog casings in water, threaded them onto the nozzle of my sausage stuffer, summoned She Who Must Be Obeyed to perform her sausage-guiding duties, and watched in horror as the casings burst open after every two feet of stuffing. We tried tying off the ruptured segments and starting over, only to see the same thing happen, even to the tied-off bits. By the time we gave up, I had to throw away the filling; it had been handled for to long, and I didn’t want to risk contamination. I was so upset and frustrated that I never took any photos of the disaster. Trust me, it wasn’t pretty.
I summoned up the courage to try again about two weeks later, and managed to fill the casings successfully. (After consulting with a few seasoned professionals, I arrived at the conclusion that I had a bad casing, which I hadn’t expected but will have to look out for in the future.)
I was careful to stuff the casings a bit looser than I usually did for sausage, in order to prevent bursting, but also to give myself a good half-inch or more of space between the links, which would make them easier to hang. I wound up with 20 8-inch links.
I let the salami rest overnight (the weather cooperated and kept the Belm Utility Research Kitchen at the ideal 85 °F) to activate the bacteria. They changed color from grayish-brown to a reddish-pink.
All that was left was to weigh them and hang them in my curing cabinet, where they would dry for 12 to 18 days, until they lost at least 30 percent of their total weight.
The cabinet, which lives in my basement, was at the correct humidity – about 70 percent – but was at a significantly higher temperature – 75 °F – them the recommended 60 °F. I figured this would only delay the drying time a bit, but I think the warmer environment promoted mold growth on the outside of the casings. The only acceptable mold on a salmi is dry and white. Anything not white, or anything fuzzy, is bad for the salami. I saw a few mold spots, and wiped them off with a brine-soaked cloth, but eventually I had to sacrifice six links that had become overgrown with the bad stuff.
Before tossing the bad links, I cut one open at a section that appeared to be drying properly.
It looked promising (but not edible), so, in order to preserve what I had left, I wiped each link down again with a cloth soaked in white vinegar.
It occurred to me that the problematic links were all of those that formed the bottom of the three loops I had created when hanging them in the cabinet. My drying setup is a large equipment trunk turned on its end, with holes drilled in the bottom left rear and right top front corners. Both sets of holes are covered with fine mesh screens, and there’s a small USB-powered fan bolted to the outside of the case over the upper set of holes. The fan is set to blow out, which should draw air through the cabinet from bottom to top in what I thought would be an even circulation pattern. The links nearer to the top were drying better and less prone to mold, so I set up a wire rack across the top and placed the lower links on this makeshift shelf.
Eighteen days later – this past Monday – I removed the dried links. They were stiff and unyielding to a firm squeeze, but they were still wet with some of the fat that hadn’t dripped off, an artifact of drying horizontally instead of vertically. More importantly, they looked like salami. If you look carefully, you can see that they had started to develop spots of the beneficial dry white mold. I weighed the links, corrected my math to account for the six I had to toss, and discovered that they had lost 50 percent of their weight.
They looked good. You can see a sliced link at the top; the fat was well distributed, the lean was dense but not dry, and it had a uniform deep red color. And the taste? Meaty, peppery, with tartness from both the wine and the lactic acid. The only thing missing was a glass of the Chianti I used to make it. I vacuum-sealed the links in bags of four, they should keep in the fridge for quite a while. Not that I think they’ll last very long; they’re destined to be a permanent addition to my charcuterie platter.