Salami is an Italian style of spicy sausage that is generally served cold.
The first step in creating salami is creating the meat paste. A combination of pork or beef meat (along with fat) is ground together to form a paste. The meat can be ground in a variety of ways; some sausage styles use a larger grind such as that for Soppressata, while others use a much finer grind like that for Milan sausage. An important part of this step and the process as a whole is keeping the meat cold so the fats remain solid.
Once the meat paste has been formed, a number of spices and seasonings are added to start the curing process and add flavor.
Salt is the most important ingredient, as curing as we know it is primarily a result of biochemical reactions caused by salt. The salt removes moisture, which helps prevent the growth of many microorganisms that cause meat to spoil.
Nitrite or Nitrate is also added to prevent certain kinds of bacteria, most notably clostridium, which causes botulism.
Cutures are then added, the same kinds of cultures one might find in yogurts, beers or sour-dough breads. These cultures contain beneficial bacteria which help prevent food-spoiling bacteria from growing.
Finally, spices are added. Depending on the kind of sausage desired and the individual tastes of the sausage maker, a wide variety of spices can be used, including garlic, black pepper, red pepper or fennel seeds. If you're planning to make your own sausage, make sure you use newly bought whole spices and grind them yourself to create a consistent and full-flavored result.
The modern curing process begins with a period of fermentation at 85 degrees or higher to encourage the growth of lactic acid bacteria. That lowers the acidity of the meat paste, inhibiting the growth of many harmful bacteria.
Once the curing process is complete, after one to two days, the meat is stuffed into casings. Casings can be either natural or artificial; natural casings can be made from the intestines, bladders, stomachs or esophaguses of pigs, cows or sheep, while artificial casings are generally made from collagen.
After the curing process, the salami are further incubated at 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit for an additional one to two days. The relative humidity is kept between 75 and 90 degrees. Because that environment is ideal for bacterial growth, it is essential that the preceding steps effectively reduced the population of harmful bacteria and increased the population of beneficial bacteria.
Once the salami has been incubated it can be dried. Drying the salami lowers the water content in the meat to further prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. Depending on the diameter of the sausage, the drying process can take 30 days or more, sometimes even up to 65 days. During the drying phase, temperature is kept between 55 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Humidity is kept relatively high to prevent the casing from drying out faster than the interior, around 70 to 80 percent relative humidity.
Once the salami is dried it is ready to serve. Handled properly, it can remain edible without refrigeration.
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