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The Salami Process

Michael Giacopassi

Posted on March 26 2019

Each February I assemble a group of like-minded friends for our annual all-day charcuterie making fest. Yes, I not only make custom cherry, maple and black walnut serving platters and charcuterie boards – but I make the charcuterie that accompanies it as well.

We had the same group of guys as previous years minus Chris, the ones who made it were; Danny, Steve, Thomas, Matt and Jamie. We worked from 10 – 4 straight with little to no breaks.

This year’s fest included:

  • 150 lbs of Tally – or classic salami
  • 150 lbs of chorizo (using a recipe we have perfected over time)
  • 50 lbs of fresh sausage (hot and jalapeno cheddar)

The salami recipe I the same one that has been in the extended family for as long as I remember. My Great Uncle Tally started it and it is his recipe. He made it with his group of friends, then my Dad joined that group and made it with them for years (still does), then I joined, then I started making it on my own with my group of friends. Some people say it is the best they have had, I tend to agree and if you follow the recipe and create the right conditions it still tastes the same as I remember it growing up.

 Charcuterie, curing meats was a dying tradition until recently when it started to experience a resurgence and more people are taking up the mantle for which I could not be happier. I was applauded by my father and his group for keeping the old traditions alive. And with my Great Uncle Tally (the salami’s namesake) having passed over 10 years ago what better way of honoring him than naming it after him?

February is the perfect time of year to make salami for several reasons. First is the temperature. The cold weather outside creates ideal curing conditions inside my cure room in the basement. Humidity levels drop as the air dries out in the winter but an old humidifier takes care of that and can bring the room to 90% in a couple of hours.

The first part of making salami with 7 guys in their 40s in February is finding a date everyone can agree on. I like to send out a nice and early reminder in December, so the date can be set aside. Understanding many of the guys have kids and working around February vacation is always fun, but once a date is set, the fun begins.

picking up the pork

Before ordering anything it must be decided how much of what we are going to make. My father and his crew have done the straight up Tally recipe year over year for decades. They don’t make anything but. However, in order to mix things up a bit my friends and I have tried pepperoni, sopressata, chorizo and a few other one offs over the years. Every year we also do a few pounds (50 or so) of fresh sausage. Making the fresh sausage allows for everyone to take something home with them. After a day of being around 300 lbs of raw pork and going home with nothing to show for it can be a bit disheartening so we added sausage to the mix. This way everyone has something to bring home to cook and eat right away.

Making the sausage also allows for the opportunity to feed the hungry masses at the end of the day. My Dad’s crew rotates the responsibility for feeding everyone by who the salami they are making that day is for. You see my Dad and his crew is big enough and each person each wants a decent amount that they will make 100 – 200 lbs a week for five or six weeks in row. Some weeks the 200 lbs is for one person, others it all might be for one person. Whoever the salami is being made for that week is who brings the food for the troops. We don’t make that much, so we start the day by making 50 lbs of sausage, then putting a few pounds aside to cook/smoke that day for later on in the day.

The Tally will always be made. Year after year – its that good. After researching and making several batches of variations of chorizo we found one we really liked so for the order we decided on 150 lbs of classic salami (Tally) 150 lbs of chorizo and 50 lbs of sausage. For the sausage we would do 25lbs of hot and 25 lbs of jalapeno cheddar.

Much of the ordering can be done ahead of time, for Tally you need collagen casings, pink salt #2, Bactoferm peppercorns, garlic and red wine – that’s it – that’s all it is. The chorizo requires a lot of additional sometimes hard to get spices, natural casings and start cultures. The sausage is straight forward, casings, pork and spices.

Although new online sources for these types of products are popping up – there is still no one stop shop for everything we need which makes prices only increase as we need to pay shipping and handling to different retailers. The oldest one out there that we have used for decades is Butcher and Packer - http://www.butcher-packer.com/. The site is nothing to get excited about – no nonsense straight delivery of the products. They have never let me down and have a pretty good overall selection. The other site we frequent is newcomer Craft Butchers Pantry - https://butcherspantry.com/ it features a slicker looking site and some higher end specialty items that Butcher and Packer does not carry. The peppercorns, salt, wine and garlic can all be purchased locally – then for some of the more exotic Chorizo spices there are a few more online stores that I jump around until I find a price I like.

Getting all of the ingredients from all the locations together and running the numbers on each batch of cured product can take some time. You never know the full end amount until the week of since pork prices can fluctuate so much from distributor to distributor and time of the year. I like to be able to break down costs on a individual batch amnt (25 lb runs) and then per person and then for finished, cured product over the fresh wet hanging weight. The curing process takes anywhere from 30-40% of the weight out of the finished products – so if you start with a 100lbs you may end up with only 60lb – all of this must be taken in to consideration.

The prep of the room is as important as any other step. Where the tables will be situated, where the meat will be mixed, casings stuffed, tying station are all an important part of the process. There is a clear progression of events when making charcuterie and if set up properly things can run smooth. Of course it makes simple sense to have an assembly line with raw product on one end and finished at the other. When it is cold enough out we leave the boxes of raw product outside and take in a 25 lb box as needed – that’s one end of the room, the other end is closer to the actual cure room.

Raw pork comes in, gets put in to the hand mixer or wood trough, then we have pre-measured (Very very important part) spices. Pre-measuring everything a day or two ahead of time and having someone there to double check and confirm everything that is being weighed cannot be overlooked. There were years that only afterwards did we realize we forgot the bactoferm or garlic and it can ruin an entire run. Plus, when things are moving along you do not want to have to weigh everything – premixed containers just get dumped in and you move on.

stuffing the casings

Buy yourself a good kitchen scale that weighs in grams, ounces and pounds. Getting the amount of spices per batch is essential in creating the same consistency and flavor each time. When I cook I tend to drop in a dash of this and a dash of that without ever really weighing things too. If I’m baking, then yes of course measuring is key – same goes for charcuterie. Instead of tablespoons and cups all of our measurements are done on a digital scale in grams and ounces – it makes things right on. Also – you can then dial it up or down for next batch accordingly.

Be sure and not to mix your diced garlic with your dry ingredients a day or two before time. Keep all wet and dry separate and dump them in the mixer at the time of mixing. You can choose to dissolve the other ingredients in to the liquid you are putting in. This helps dissolve everything and provide for a more uniform mixture.

Additionally, I purchase the meat pre-ground. My dad and his crew still buy whole pork butts (shoulders) and go through the process of cutting it away from the bone – then cutting away any silvery connective tissue and separating the fat from the meat only then to add the fat back in depending on the ratio which is typically 80/20 or 75/25. Buying the meat this way saves at least a couple of hours. It is slightly more expensive but doing a quick time cost analysis proves that it is the way to go especially when doing 350lbs in one day. We are already working from 10 – 4 as it is, no need to add another 2 – 3 hours to that.

As with any job of importance the longer hours you work the less motivated you become and more willing to cut a corner here and there – that’s when work gets sloppy and the final product is not up to exacting standards. I suppose drinking red wine for the whole day might just have something to do with that motivation as well – but I choose to ignore those truths as a cost of doing business and leave it at that.

Day of pre-prep – this is where it gets busy. If it isn’t cold enough outside or in the garage I will bring the meat over to The Hickories and keep it in their walk-in. I don’t think Dina understands how huge it is to have this option, as our distributer is not open on Sundays so I must pick everything up Saturday before noon. If it is too warm out I don’t know what else to do – 350 lbs doesn’t exactly fit in your standard fridge.

Once the meat is picked up you can start to lay out all your premixed spices batches. Make sure to label what is what - as when things start moving and there are people there not involved with the mixing itself you do not want any mistakes made. A half hour or so before show time is a good time to soak all of your casings in the bactoferm. You can dissolve it in water and then spray it on, but dissolving it in water then soaking the casings make for a truly impressive mold bloom in under a week with the right conditions.

Now is a good time to strain the garlic from the red wine for the salami. We use actual freshly chopped garlic in the chorizo but strain the garlic from the red wine for the tally. This is who it has been done – so this is how we do it. By the time the garlic soaks in the red wine for a week it is more than enough infused. Having fresh minced garlic in the chorizo does wonders as well. My Dad always taught me not to put any organic products I the meat as it will spoil it, but after reading and learning more about it that doesn’t seem to be the case – so we do both and both turn out just great.

Sop meat comes in the door and right in to the mixer. Pre-measured spices, wine, garlic, gets added and the mixing begins. 10 – 15 minutes should suffice – you want all the ingredients blended smoothly without any bland or intense spicy pockets.

Once mixed the meat goes in to big lugs to await stuffing. We have a 10 lb manual hand crank stuffer. It does the job for now – anything larger would probably create a log jam of finished material waiting to be tied so this gives the tying crew time to catch their breaths.

Pack the stuffer – then using some fat grease up the tube coming off the stuff to get the casing to fit on it properly. Depending on what you are making with decide on your casing type and diameter. For the sausage we use natural pig intestines, salami we use large diameter collagen and for the chorizo 45 – 50 beef middles. Although everything should have been washed out during packing, we still take the time to untangle the mess of intestines and flush completely with water. The collagen casings need to soak for about 30 minutes ahead of time. Additionally, you can choose to soak your casings in bactoferm – this will ensure the mold is present throughout and give your cured meat that taste that can only come from a nice mold bloom.

The natural casings- if sourced from a reputable seller like Butcher and Packer to Craft Pantry should arrive untangled and nice and long without too many holes. Try and fit as much on to the feeder tube as possible so you aren’t stopping to reload every few pounds. Once the casings are on the tube, go ahead and tie a knot at the end and start cranking away. One important thing to not forget is pricking the casing to allow for air to release during the packing and drying process. For awhile we were using wooden skewers however we moved over to corn cob holders. They have two prongs per poke rather than one and have a nice grip on them so your cob doesn’t get away from you.

You can never over prick – go crazy – prick, prick, prick, prick, prick.

If you are loading the salami collagen casings it is pretty cut and dry. Casing comes pre-tied with a loop at one end. Put the casing on, fill it, then tie it off. Hang in netting and then in to the cure room it goes- making sure it has been fully pricked. Tying off the top takes a little skill, you want to make sure that you tie down far enough than you leave no pocket at the top so some meat will always come out on top – that’s OK, we just throw it back in the bin for the next batch.

For sausage, chorizo, pepperoni and other link cured meats you have two basic options. Twist the links as they come off the stuffer or leave enough room in the casings to twist afterwards. I prefer the twist as you go method as it leaves nothing to chance to not too much room or too little.  Too much room and you have air pockets that could expose themselves to bad stuff, too little room and you open yourself up to blowouts where the casings cant expand anymore, a hole forms and out goes the meat.

Once the casing is filled, twisted and poked its tying time. We have had long discussions on the best way to tie our chorizo links. There are commercially available tying machines but no one we know has had much luck with them. Looping each link together adds labor and time to the process but it ensures that if any link were to break it would not fall to the floor and be wasted.

Once everything is tied up, and the Tally is netted it is moved to the cure room.

To bring out the best of the fermentation process of the mold we cure in a three-step process. First 48 hours the cure room is at 90% humidity and 80F. The following four days it is set to 80% humidity and 70F. The remaining time it steps down to 60-70% humidity and 60F.

Ideally your final product will lose between 30% - 40% of it’s initial hanging weight. I keep close records of a sample batch. Different ones, where they are placed within the room, some that look heavier than others. I record the date and weight of about ten different ones 2 X a week in the beginning to make sure everything is going according to plan.  

Case hardening is a common occurrence that many people simply solve through vac sealing the end product. I have done that too – and it definitely helps even everything out but I prefer a nice smooth uniform curing process. One year, at my old apartment that was not ideal for curing everything started drying out way too quickly, so I took all the salami down, wrapped them in wet beach towels and let them sit for 3 days. The salami soaked up the moisture, I rehung them and they turned out to be one of the better batches I had made – but it was a lot of work and a little sketchy.

That’s it for now. It’s a watch, record and wait game. I check on them every day just to make sure nothing funky is going on or any weird weight loss or mold formations.

I hope you enjoyed the salami making process and primer.

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