Fermented sausages are made from meat that is ground, fermented, and then dry cured. In Italy, fermented sausages are known simply as “Salami.” This tutorial will teach you the basic steps inherent to making any good salami at home. You can use this tutorial when making pepperoni, summer sausage, salami, or any other fermented sausage you desire.
If you have never stuffed a sausage before, you may want to consider making fresh sausages before tackling fermented sausages. The steps are similar, though a fermented sausage has several additional steps.
Recipes for fermented sausages are given here with specific proportions, but be sure to read through this technique section for making fermented sausages first.
Handling of Meat
This is a war of bacteria, and you want to start out with as little “bad” bacteria as possible. Properly fermented meats will promote the growth of beneficial bacteria, and discourage the growth of pathogenic or food-spoilage bacteria. The best way to kick start success is to keep your meat cold. Bacteria multiplies rapidly at high temperatures, doubling in as little as two hours if left at room temperature. For this reason, be sure to thaw meats in the refrigerator (rather than at room temperature). Prepare meat right away (you don’t want it sitting around, risking spoilage). If you will be butchering an animal yourself, do so in the fall rather than in the summer, when temperatures are cooler. And of course, it goes without saying that all of your equipment should be clean and sanitized before you begin. Sanitize your counter, grinder, stuffer, cutting board, knives, etc. with a bleach (or other sanitizing) solution before you begin. Star San is a commercially available sanitizer often sold for home brewers that is convenient and does not need to be rinsed off.
A note on trichinosis. Though rare, some animals may be infected by the trichinella worm. This is not a common issue, though you may want to take precaution, particularly with wild game, and especially with bear meat. Simply freezing your meat prior to use will ensure its safety. Meat can be frozen for at least two to three weeks prior to dry curing as a preventative measure against trichinosis. (As a side note, freezing does not kill bacteria, though it will keep levels of bacteria dormant at such low temperatures).
Step 1: Preparing Meat
Starting with very cold meat and fat, cut into cubes and trim off any impurities. It is especially important with fermented sausages that you remove any sinews or silverskin. Chill in freezer until partially frozen. Meat can be slightly crunchy, and fat can be fully frozen before grinding.
Step 2: Grinding
While your meat and fat are chilling, sanitize all of your equipment and counters. Your grinding equipment should be chilled, including the bowl into which you will be grinding. You may want to grind your meat into a bowl set in ice. Having cold equipment and partially-frozen meat will make grinding much easier and faster, and it will reduce the starting bacteria count.
Occasionally, sinew from the meat may cause the grinder to clog. If this happens, simply unplug the machine, and manually remove the sinew from the blades and die.
Step 3: Mixing
Dissolve the live starter culture in de-chlorinated (or distilled) water and let sit for 15-30 minutes to rehydrate. Combine ground meat and fat with the rehydrated starter culture, as well as any spices, salt, cure (pink salt), and chilled liquids. Mix until it becomes sticky or tacky, which may take several minutes. You don’t want the meat and fat to smear together, but you do want to create a good “bind” which will give your sausage a uniform texture. Once you have combined all of your ingredients and mixed until it becomes sticky, you will want to stuff the sausages right away.
A note regarding wine: If wine is used as a liquid, we recommend boiling off the alcohol and then chilling the reduced wine prior to mixing (reduce to about 50% in volume). This will eliminate an overly-alcoholic taste, as well as concentrate the flavors from the wine.
Stuffing the Sausages
Natural or synthetic casings may be used. If natural casings are used, you will need to soak the casings in cold water for about an hour, making sure to rinse and replace the water at least once halfway through. Open the casings underneath running water to rinse the insides. Natural casings are packed in salt, and your goal is to remove as much of the salt as possible.
Thread the casing onto the nozzle of the sausage stuffer. It may help to oil the nozzle slightly to help facilitate this. Once the casing has been threaded on, tie a knot at the end of the casing.
This is a two-person job, so grab a friend or family member to help out. You will want to stuff fully so that no pockets of air are allowed into the sausage. If air pockets do develop, use a sterilized needle to poke holes in the casing and allow the air to escape. After you have finished stuffing the sausage, tie a knot at the other end, and prick holes all over the sausage with a sterilized needle. This will eliminate air pockets. Weigh your sausages and record this value.
If using mold powder, dissolve in de-chlorinated water according to package instructions, and spray onto your sausages. You can add beneficial mold to any sausage recipe, regardless of whether or not it is called for.
Step 5: Fermentation
This is where fermented sausages begin to differ from fresh sausages. Fermented sausages will need a period of time with warm temperatures to allow the beneficial bacteria in the starter culture to proliferate. These beneficial bacteria will produce lactic acid, thereby increasing the acidity of the meat and creating an environment hostile to pathogenic bacteria.
Sausages should be hung and fermented in The Cave at high temperatures and high humidity. The optimal temperature needed in the Cave depends on the type of starter culture that is used, ranging from about 70-104ᵒF. Relative humidity should be kept at 85-95%. Use high air flow in your aging chamber to remove water from the surface of the sausage.