Disclaimer: This being only my second batch of dry cured product I do consider myself a newbie to dry curing. However, the first batch came out so well that I feel that I do have something to contribute to the topic. I am going to explain the process and the principles to the best of my knowledge and the little experience I have. If I make a mistake and you catch it please let me know so I can correct it.
Dry curing is a mixture of science, art, and circumstance. To get myself familiar with how it all works I read several books over and over, read countless blogs, and kept up with a few different forums until I felt comfortable to proceed. I first built a dry curing/fermentation chamber. This is imperative to the beginner because it allows you to control the environment making the results more predictable.
Cure #2 - If you have made sausage for any length of time, chances are you are familiar with cure #1 or TQ. For this we are using cure #2. Cure #2 is a combination of sodium nitrite (6.25%) and sodium nitrate (1%) mixed with salt. This is a long term cure. The nitrate part slowly breaks down into nitrite before finally breaking down yet again to nitric oxide. Cure produces a pink color as it interacts with myoglobin as well as adds some flavor. But the real purpose of using it is to prevent botulism poisoning.
AW - The key to dry curing is controlling AW (water activity). Bacteria need water to thrive and reproduce. If we can control the amount of water available to these bacteria, we can control the bacteria. Salt and sugar both bind to water to reduce the amount of water available to bacteria which is why both are staples in dry curing recipes. Most pathogenic bacteria (the bad stuff) needs .91 or greater AW in order to thrive. So why not just salt the hell out of the meat and bind more of the water so the bad bacteria can't multiply? The answer is we need some water available for the good bacteria to thrive to accomplish the fermentation. Fermentation significantly slows down below .95 AW.
PH/fermentation - Bacteria thrive in a neutral environment. To help control that we want to lower the PH of the meat to make it more acidic so that our pathogenic bacteria can't make us sick. With the use of a starter culture and some food (sugar/dextrose) for the starter culture, we can lower the PH of the meat through fermentation. The good bacteria eat the food and produce lactic acid.
Temperature - For fermentation to occur, the starter culture works best at warmer temperatures. Anyone who makes beer or wine knows all about this. For the ideal temperature, consult the documentation for the starter culture you are using.
Humidity - Controlling humidity is very important. Too dry and your casings will dry out trapping moisture inside the sausage leading to rot and spoilage.
Mold - With high humidity and warm temperatures mold is inevitable. There are good molds and bad molds. If it is white or cream colored, chances are it is good. If it is any color other than white or cream it is most likely bad. It is possible to get the right mold by innoculating the sausage after stuffing by giving it a mold bath. Mold 600 is readily available to all. While innoculating your sausage from bad mold, good mold also helps keep the casing from drying out.
The art is totally up to you. You choose the ingredients and craft a flavor whether good or bad.
I will spare you the common images of grinding meat and go straight to the good stuff.
I had bought a packet of Mold 600 from the last batch of dry cured sausage I did. While it isn't overly expensive, once you have some good mold growing there is no need to keep purchasing it. For this batch I harvested the mold from the casing of some pepperoni we ate the night before. I literally stripped the casing off and put it in a tub of filtered water to let it start reproducing. This created my mold bath for this batch. You could also purchase a mold-covered salami from your favorite store or deli and do the same thing.
Since the goal of dry curing is to reduce the amount of water so bacteria cannot thrive, I do not add any unnecessary liquid to the mix. This is very different than a fresh or smoked sausage. The liquid you would normally add makes mixing so much easier but in this case I am not adding any additional. This if course makes the meat set up pretty quickly as the dry ingredients soak up the moisture from the meat. The meat will be very sticky.
I mix my ingredients the night before and like to write on the bag what my next steps are.
For these I am using T-SPX. Make sure you follow the directions from the manufacturer. Each starter culture is different.
From left to right:
Lebanon Bologna, pepperoni, Len Poli's favorite salami, Milano salami, and hot salami.
Make sure you record your starting weight or you will not know when it is done drying. You should be shooting for a 30 - 35% weight loss.
Since I am using T-SPX for my starter culture, I have my chamber set up for 72* F and 90% humidity. After three days I will drop the temp to 55* F and the humidity level to 80%. I will lower the humidity level slowly as the sausages lose weight. Note that I have tagged each sausage with it's name and the green weight.
Resources I used to get to this point:
Edited by solaryellow - 2/20/12 at 1:25pm