The Super Pig
By Ana Elia Rocha McGuire
A great variety of Salamis exist throughout the world. Their variations are mainly related to the type of meat used, if it is fermented or cooked, the length of the curing process, and the type and diameter of casing. However, in all types of salamis there is distinct particle definition. Particles of fat and meat can go from medium-coarse to very fine, but they are clearly noticeable.
Another common characteristic of most salamis is that no water is added to its formulation during processing (except in the case of some cooked salamis, like cotto). In many types of salmais a drying period is desirable to obtain a firmer product that will also slice well, develop a characteristic flavor and have a longer shelf life.
A key factor when manufacturing salami is managing the temperature of the fat and the meat, as this will have a great impact on particle definition. At higher temperatures fat will tend to melt and smear, causing quality problems in the product and perhaps technical problems with the equipment.
This article will focus on the manufacturing of cotto, or cooked salami. The sausage is generally flavored with garlic and whole black peppercorns and stuffed into a large-diameter casing. Some varieties of cotto salami should be kept at refrigeration temperatures after cooking and throughout distribution and display at retail until consumption.
Meat and Fat
Basically, salami can be made from any type of lean meat and fat. However, in the case of Cotto salami, pork and beef lean trimmings are most commonly used.
Avoid using meat that shows freezer burn, as its protein has a reduced functionability that can affect the final quality of salami. In the case of beef avoid using meat that exhibits DFD (dark, firm and dry) characteristics. This meat will hold more water; some water retention is desired, but not a high level. Some experts suggest that using meat that exhibits PSE (pale, soft and exudative) characteristics is not really detrimental for salami manufacturing, but they warn that levels of 20% or higher of PSE meat could cause color quality problems, resulting in a lighter than normal salami.
Fat source is important as well. Despite the fact that pork fat tends to oxidize faster, it is most commonly used because of its flavor and mouthfeel. Back fat from the loin and neck of pigs should be used for salami because of its lower level of unsaturated fatty acids; this fat is such an important component of salami, avoid using raw materials that have been frozen for more than eight months. Fat that has been stored for too long can result in accelerated oxidation, which also will impact the flavor and color of the final product. Fat percentage for salamis varies from 25% to 35% of the formulation. For cotto salami, fat content is usually 30%.
Other common ingredients used for cotto salami formulation are salt, sugar, nitrite/nitrate, ascorbate or erythorbate as a cure accelerators, spices and liquid smoke, although a smoke flavor can also be applied after the cooking process.
As mentioned previously, the definition of meat and fat particles is characteristic of salami. Particle reduction can be accomplished with a bowl cutter or a meat grinder. If the desired particle size is between 0.8 millimeters and 3 millimeters, a bowl cutter or chopper is recommended. A grinder with half-inch and 1/8-inch plates works well for a paritcle size larger than 3 millimeters. Keep in mind that a bowl cutter should be only half full to make sure meat and fat will flow properly.
Overloading a bowl chopper will raise the meat mix temperature too quickly, probably causing fat to smear.
When using a bowl cutter, frozen fat is added first to obtain a coarse particle. Lean semi-frozen fat then is added followed by all ingredients except salt and nitrite. The mix is cut until the desired granulation is achieved. Salt and nitrite are then added and mixed evenly. The cutting continues until a slightly sticky mass is obtained and the temperature of the meat is between 25°F and 30°F (-4°C and -1°C).
When using a grinder, the meat is first coarsely ground using a half-inch plate. The ground meat is placed in a mixer, and ingredients are added and mixed just enough to incorporate them. A second grind is required using a 1/8-inch plate. The meat is then mixed for about 6 minutes to obtain some protein extraction.
After the particle reduction step, the meat mix is stuffed into a large casing, usually a fibrous or collagen casing.
The use of a vacuum during stuffing is highly recommended since the raw materials have been exposed to so much aseration with the mixing and chopping, and excessive exposure to oxygen could accelerate oxidation. Applying a vacuum during stuffing not only will reduce the amount of air or oxygen in the meat mix, but also will compact it, giving the finished product a better, firmer texture for slicing and uniformity, with no pores or empty spaces.
Some types of cotto salami, such as Italian-Style, have a short fermentation period after stuffing to give the product a characteristic flavor.
Cooking and Smoking
To cook salami, hanging sausages should be placed into a oven preheated to 130°F (55°C). Gradually increase the temperature to 185°F (85°C) until the internal temperature at center of the salami reaches 152°F (67°C).
Salamis are then showered with cold water to decrease their internal temperature to 100°F (38°C). Rinse briefly with hot water to remove fat from the surface, and dry at room temperature for about 1 hour before moving product to refrigerated storage.
If desired smoking should take place before the cooking process in the same smoke oven. Sausages are placed in a smokehouse preheated to 130°F (55°C) and cooked until the desired color is obtained. Smoke is then shut off, and cooking and chilling continues.
Another way of giving salami a smoked note is by adding liquid smoke to the formulation, mixing it in along with the other ingredients before adding salt and nitrite.
Let salami cool for at least eight hours in refrigerated storage before slicing to ensure a good, firm texture.