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Charcuterie: Dry-Cured Salami / Salumi

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Of late I've become much more interested in dry-curing my own salami. I make a lot of fresh sausage already, but dry curing is a great and unique challenge, and well-made salami is one of my favorite foods. I think I got hooked for good after making the peperone out of the Ruhlman and Polcyn book (I wrote about that over here). I had made the Sopresatta first, and it was good, but that peperone was AMAZING.

I have quite a few books on charcuterie, including the Marianski book dedicated to dry-curing. I do my curing in a wine fridge, I've got a smoker set up, I use the Northern Tool grinder, and a cylinder stuffer with a 5lb capacity. Hell, I've even got an old slicer I got off eBay. I should be totally good to go. But sometimes, you just have one of those days...


This morning I threw away twelve pounds of salami that I started curing last weekend. The problem? I killed the starter. Somehow. Dunno what I did, but when my new pH test strips arrived (thanks for the recommendation, Dougal, they worked great), to my surprise the pH had not dropped one bit. But, it turns out the three-year-old bottle of distilled water I was using to make the meat slurry had a pH of 5.5!!!

So, this topic is for advice, assistance, and general commiseration about how everything woulda been just fine if only...

Advice point 1: when that package of starter culture says "use no less than 1/4 of this package," they have a reason. Because instead, I foolishly followed the Marianski recipe to the letter and included only 0.6 grams of starter. The results speak for themselves. Hey, maybe that's not what did it, maybe there was something else wrong. But $45 in trashed meat later and I'm seriously regretting my decision to skimp on the starter.

Chris Hennes
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No, just the steady, unfalling pH. Setting aside flavor considerations, I'm concerned about botulism growth when the pH is above 5.3 or so. This was the T-SPX slow-fermenting culture, which spent three days fermenting at 90% humidity and 22°C. Given the amount of sugar I included (0.4%) I would have expected the pH to drop to below 5.3 in that time: instead, it didn't drop at all, even given a full week. While I wasn't counting on the low pH as the sole safety measure (the salami also contained salt and cure #2), I'm not going to risk botulism AND poor flavor, as well as occupying my curing chamber for the next two months. Better to start over and get it right, in my opinion.

Chris Hennes
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Chris, there are plenty folks out there making salami without using any starter culture.

IIRC Ruhlman even does some - sometimes using 'Fermento' for flavouring, rather than fermentation for protection.

As long as you are sure that there was an appropriate amount of Cure No2 (nitrite + nitrate) well-distributed through the mix, I'm surprised that you dumped it.

The characteristic 'pinkening' of the meat is a visual confirmation of nitrite/nitrate curing.

If the meat were grey or brown, I'd be dumping it as quickly as I could.

But the nitrate/nitrite cure should ensure safety from C Bot. And your sausages look nice and pink ...

OK, so the flavour without overt acidifying fermentation might be different to your expectations, but it should be perfectly safe.

You might be interested to search Jane Grigson's Charcuterie book (first published 1967 and about then-current rural artisanal French practice) for any reference whatsoever to bacterial cultures. I've not found one.

Its only if you are trying to work without nitrite & nitrate that acidification becomes a vital safety matter.

However, we are all entitled to choose what margin of safety we are comfortable with - most especially when we offer the fruits of our labours to others.

Nevertheless, it seems like an extremely cautious action to dump the lot because you hadn't detected acidification, and without any other indication of a failed cure.

You could have completed the cure and given first tasting rights to a neighbour's dog if you yourself didn't fancy the role of guinea pig, once known as the Court Taster. (Beware the salami and the mushrooms at the Borgia's!)

Certainly, I suggested using cheap pH papers rather than an expensive (and annoyingly fussy and demanding) meter.

Nevertheless, I wouldn't have expected you to be dumping large quantities of nitrate-protected meat on the basis of a pH reading alone (whether from a test paper or an unreliable meter).

I'm astonished.

Have you checked the pH you measure when testing (with identical methodology) other samples of dried sausage, commercial and home-cured?

It might be interesting to try calibrating your taste sensation of acid tangeyness against your standard-methodology measurements.

Anyway, a practical question, how much are you diluting the meat to make your "slurry"?

"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch ... you must first invent the universe." - Carl Sagan

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Chris, you may not have killed your starter. It was probably just "underachieving." I used a starter my last 2 salami I thought was a little old. The first never really hardened. So, I tried it again and the same thing happened. Both of them took forever to dry out as well. However, they tasted just fine. So, I think you may have abandoned ship too early. But, better to be safe anyway. How old is your starter?

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dougal, you're right, of course, dumping the whole batch was really unnecessary for a home charcuterier. The guidelines I am following with regard to the safety are intended for commercial producers in the US, who of course must follow much more strict controls than we do. In addition, I was a little gun-shy because I've never used this particular culture before, nor the salami recipe, so I don't really trust either of them yet. Nevertheless, what's done is done, and the new batch (using much more starter and being much more careful with it) is in the chamber incubating as we speak. scotty2, the starter was purchased the week prior to using it, and was in an unopened package until I started mixing, so I sure hope age wasn't part of it!

To do the pH measurement I am diluting the salami with an equal weight of water. I didn't bother to correct the numbers I reported for the dilution since they were so far off the target pH. If my math is correct, if I dilute a sausage with a pH of 4.9 by half, I should measure a pH of about 5.2. The (corrected) pH of my Salami Lombardia mixture before curing was about 6.

Chris Hennes
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Chris, I'd think that (especially with pH papers rather than a meter probe) the idea was to add as little water as possible, just enough for the paper to wick up enough water to damp it. And to maximise the contact between the meat and the diluting water.

Because the sausage isn't 100% water, and because only a fraction of the sausage-water is truly free to mix with the dilution water, I think an apparent 50:50 dilution could in effect be a massively greater dilution.

I'd be thinking of testing by cutting up your sample as finely as you possibly can - really mincing it with your knife. Then I'd be adding a tiny amount of water, maybe 5 to 10% of the meat sample weight, and continue chopping to mix the water in. And then I'd leave it to infuse for a while. Absent a stoppered test tube, wrapping the wet meat in clingfilm sounds like a reasonable idea.

After half an hour or so of infusion at room temperature, I'd try and squeeze a drop of liquor from the paste and test that drop with the test paper. Maybe a scrupulously clean garlic crusher would help with the squeezing.

And I'd be trying to calibrate my method against the sharpest, most acid, sausage I could lay my hands on.

Certainly, I wouldn't believe that my sausage WASN'T acid until after I had successfully detected the acidity in a "known-good" sample of sausage.

The pH paper should test the solution's pH well enough. The thing I'd be worrying about was whether the solution adequately represented the sausage - which is why I'd be doing "calibration trials" against known acid ("tangey") sausages. And minimising the dilution.

I'm sure that commercially, macroscopic samples would be blitzed in some sort of blender -- but domestically, you'd want to be taking the smallest possible sample, which probably rules out your blender.

Edited by dougal (log)

"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch ... you must first invent the universe." - Carl Sagan

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Excellent suggestions. I thought about doing the blender thing, but I would have had to use up my whole sample (about 100 grams per variety) to have enough volume to get it to blend. So what I did was add 10mL of water to 10g of sausage (this is the ratio suggested in the Marianski book), mashed it up as best I could with a fork, and let it sit for 10-15 minutes. Then I stuck the strip in and sort of "scooped" at the little chunks of meat in there, for maybe three seconds. I wonder if the sausage is moist enough on its own to just press a test strip against it: I bought two packages of strips, so maybe I'll do some experimentation with the next batch. Your idea of trying to squeeze a "liquor" out of the sausage sounds promising. After all, only a drop or two is really needed, the test area is very small.

Chris Hennes
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Salami pH Testing, Take Two

Using the test strips I've got, and armed with two fresh batches of salami at 80 hours of fermentation at 20°C with the T-SPX culture (adding in greater quantity and with greater care than before), I tried a few different pH measurement techniques.

First off, I simply pressed the test area onto the middle part of a sample cut off of my test article:

Pressed onto sample.jpg

Second, I added just a drop or two of tap water to the test sample, mashed it in with a fork, and again pressed the strip against it:

Pressed onto wetted sample.jpg

Next, I followed the instructions typically given in books to make a slurry using 50/50 salami and water. I mashed the salami and water together thoroughly with a fork, and then immediately dipped the strip, scooping against the meat chunks:

50% dilution, immediate measurement.jpg

Next, I took dougal's suggestion and let that slurry "marinate" for an hour. I then stirred it up a bit more, and again scooping against the meat:

An hour later.jpg

Finally, as a control test I wetted a piece of clean paper towel with tap water, and then squeezed it as dry as I could, in an attempt to approximate the moistness of the first test sample (the salami alone test, with no additional water):

Tap water control.jpg

It's interesting to me to look back at these photos as see how much clearer the colors are than they were live in my kitchen: there, the differing reflectivity of the test sample and the chart made it a bit difficult to compare the colors, as opposed to looking more at the darkness, or saturation. For reference, based on the quantity of sugar in these salami and the fermentation temperature, I expect the pH after 80 hours to be approximately 4.8, if everything worked properly. This is the minimum pH I expect to reach during the process, after 80 hours nearly all of the sugar should have been consumed by the T-SPX.

In the photos, a couple things seem apparent:

First off, the "control" sample I show at the end gives the same results as dipping the strip in a cup of tap water (no photo taken, but I compared them side-by-side), which confirms that very little actual liquid is required to get a measurement.

Second, I believe this confirms dougal's suggestion above that the slurry is much more dilute than expected, at least until it has "marinated" for a hour. I only tested a one-hour time lapse: it could well be that it takes several hours for the solution to equalize at the actual pH. By my reading the pH of the pre-marination reads between 6 and 6.5, whereas after an hour it reads closer to the 5.6 on the chart (which corresponds to an actual measured pH of 5.3 once corrected for the dilution).

Third, the pH measured by simply pressing the strip into the middle of a freshly-cut piece of my test article gives between 4.8 and 5.2, basically exactly the expected pH for a successful fermentation. So IF this is a valid measurement technique, then the pH is spot on, the fermentation was successful, and my second safety factor is in place (the cure #2 being the first line of defense). Any suggestions on how else to test the correctness of this way of using the papers?

Finally, here are the salami after fermentation (the plastic-wrapped bit in the middle is one of my test samples). On the far side are three Salami Finocchiona, and an the near are four Salami Lombardia.


Chris Hennes
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  • 2 weeks later...

Just a quick update: about a week ago I noticed a bit of mold formation, of a variety of colors and textures. Taking the over-cautious route I pulled the salume out and wiped it all down with vinegar. This also gave me the opportunity to rotate them around the fridge, and to check on them, etc. Drying was progressing at about the expected rate, I guess, and there didn't seem to be any other issues with them. Fast forward a week, and now I'm getting formation of a white powdery mold that I plan to leave alone and not wipe off. I didn't innoculate the surface with anything, so I guess this stuff just likes the lowered acidity from the vinegar wash.


Chris Hennes
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  • 3 weeks later...

Another month has gone by and the sausages are ready to come out of the curing chamber. Most of them were completely covered in a powdery white mold that smelled like cheese:

White Mold.jpg

A few of them had small patches of green mold on them:

Green Mold.jpg

After Chris Amirault's and my encounter at the Calabria Pork Store, I followed that guy's practice of washing and skinning the salami, and not worrying about the green mold. I then vacuum-sealed them and tossed them in the refrigerator where I will leave them for the next week to allow the internal moisture to even out some. I sampled the ends of a couple of them and they both turned out very well. I thought the Lombardia tasted a little too salty, considering that it has very little other flavorings besides just the taste of the cured pork. The Finocchiona was fantastic, though.

Chris Hennes
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Hi all,

I am in N.California, started making salami several month ago, made total ~15 lbs so far with great results. So far I was drying it in my garage and the temperature/humidity was perferct (50-60F, ~60%) until a few weeks ago, when it became too warm during daytime. Then I converted small dorm fridge with diy temperature controller.

Now, I had a batch of Salame di Sant'Olcese with a T-SPX starter, fermented with a light smoke at ~75F for 60 hours, then put it in my fridge. Longs story short, few hours later accidentally disconnected my temperature controller and the temperature in the fridge dropped to about 37F for 5-6 hours or so while I noticed it, then I returned it back to 55F.

Now, the question is: is this batch completelly ruined or is it safe to use it when it is dryed?

Anything can be done to salvage it?

Thanks anyone!

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Your salami should be fine: getting too cold for a short period of time is not much of a problem, it's really getting too warm that is a bigger issue. It sounds like you caught the problem promptly, so I would not expect any adverse affects, except perhaps a very small increase in drying time.The bacteria did most of their work during the initial incubation period, and will just sort of "coast" to the finish.

Chris Hennes
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A previous attempt at the saucissons sec from Charcuterie ended in tears, or at least in things gooey and furry and generally felt to be unhealthy. That was done using an old fridge with temperature control, fan assisted air circulation, a salt tray; everything I could think of.

Encouraged by the discussions of green fur being washed off, this time round I started at the right time of year. The sausages were simply hung in the [cool but otherwise near ideal] conditions out in the unheated workshop about a month ago. They could, I think, have been called ready a week ago, had I been home to deal with them. In any case, here's the result. I'm happy.


Stuffed into regular hog casings, the only deviation from the Ruhlman recipe was a rather heavy hand with the garlic. Not a disaster in these parts :smile:

With vague notions of innoculation, after stuffing the casings were wiped down with a piece of white-molded rind from some brie we had to hand, but at no point was any sign found of the mold on the sausages. The dark flecks visible in the cut product are coarse black pepper.

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  • 5 weeks later...

Just a quick update to my previously-stated opinions on the Lombardia and Finocchiona I posted about: after a couple weeks tightly sealed in the refrigerator, I found the flavor of the Lombardia to be considerably improved, and the moisture completely evened out. Of the two, it was my favorite for eating raw. The fennel in the Finocchiona tended to be overwhelming when eaten raw, but sliced atop a pizza it was excellent.

Chris Hennes
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You better dig those things out of the trash and hang them back up because I think they would have been fine. I have been dry curing meat for almost four years with much success and have never used a PH meter. People are much to paranoid about food born illness especially when it comes to salumi. Just hang'em up in the right environment (55 degrees-65/75%humidity) and let them do their thing. Judge your success when they're done drying.

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You should be able to avoid bad mold if you dry under refridgeration, but this will eliminate chances of producing nice attractive white mold on the surface of your meat(not mandatory in producing very flavorful salumi). Butcher & Packer offers a product called: 600 Bactoferm that will help in generating good mold, It's verry easy to apply but works best in the 55-65 Degree range.

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  • 2 months later...

Hello - I have some Tuscan Salami hanging. After inoculation I left town and looks like the room they are in ended up at pretty steady 72 degrees(hit a high of 75) for about a week with about 65% humidity :-( Followed the Ruhlman recipe - Cure #2 and Bactoferm™ F-RM-52. They look fine - nice pink, drying perfectly and no off smell or mold. Are they a waste? Any thoughts?

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