Fermented Sausage Recipes
A fermented sausage can be either dry or semi-dry. They differ widely from conventional sausages, because they are generated by a carefully controlled microbial fermentation, caused by the addition of lactic acid-producing bacteria.
The process of producing a fermented product at home requires grinding, salting, sugaring, spicing, mixing, and a goodly amount of waiting, up to ninety days in some cases––before the product is ready to eat! While its not a complicated process, a fair understanding of the chemistry and microbiology as it relates to the dry cure process is helpful. Nonetheless, the desire to produce this tangy flavored sausage has been intensifying in recent years, resulting in a growing number of home-based sausage makers getting involved in this ancient method of preserving meats. A fermented sausage can be either dry or semi-dry. They differ widely from conventional sausages, because they are generated by a carefully controlled microbial fermentation, caused by the addition of lactic acid-producing bacteria and a tiny amount of dextrose. The induced activity resulting from the digestion of carbohydrates in the meat batter will reduces the pH level in dry sausage to 5.0 to 5.3 and 4.6 to 5.2 in semi-dry sausage.
Imagine the excitement of ancient folks when they first discovered that salt was a way to preserve their most perishable food. And later on, when they had a chance encounter with salted meat, that for one reason or another produced a friendly bacteria and a *chance fermentation that led to the first cured meats ever. I have to believe these early meat mongers were very excited as they worked to advance meat preservation and eventually deliberate fermentation, which was the first stages of semi-dry and dry-cured sausages. I think it would be safe to conclude that a few of those first sausage makers perished as a result of their cutting-edge experiments with completely unknown and dangerous bacterium before this new craft was perfected.
Regardless, there’s was a crowning achievement and multiple centuries later, both semi-dry and dry sausages are being produced worldwide using those foremost principles. Although, these sausages are similar to one another, in that both are fermented, there are dissimilarities between the two. The texture of semi-dry sausage, for instance, is harder and denser than fresh or smoked sausage, but it’s also softer than dry sausage types which are quite dense and hard. They can further be divided into either *fast fermented or *medium-fast fermented sausages, characterized by their pronounced tang (or tartness) due to the forced incubation in the beginning stage of production and a light or heavy application of smoke during the later smoke cooking period.
No doubt most of today's commercial and homemade fermented products are manufactured with the use of frozen *starter cultures, which interact with added glucose and encourage the growth of *lactic acid bacteria. Cultures produce a safe acidification (*pH drop of 4.6-5.3) in as little as 1-2 days for fast-fermented sausages and 2-3 days for medium-fast fermented sausages. The overall flavor of the finished product is determined by the final pH, type of sugar, and the herbs/spices added to the formulation. *Dextrose (glucose), used to trigger fermentation, is easily metabolized by the resulting lactic bacteria, leaving little of it remaining to alter the flavor of the sausage. Slow fermenting sugars, such as regular table sugar, corn syrup solids or brown sugar, are used in addition to dextrose when the finished product is in need of sweetening
Use only fresh, clean meat to make semi-dry sausage; trim away all glands, blood clots, and other visible impurities from the meat. Commercial semi-dry sausage is typically made from beef or pork. Venison is another meat option that successful hunters use to make these popular sausages, providing proper game care has been applied. If there is any doubt as to whether or not the venison is microbiologically safe––don’t use it!
Keep the meat and fat chilled to 36-40°F (1-4°C) during the cutting, grinding, mixing, stuffing and linking operation as a way to discourage the growth of dangerous microorganisms. Small amounts of bacteria including *E. coli, *Salmonella and *Clostridium perfringens are always present and will produce spoilage microorganisms if the meat is allowed get above 40°F (4°C) for any length of time. Animal fat turns rancid quickly over 40°F (4°C) as well. If tainted fat is used in the sausage formulation, it would trigger a rapid onset of spoilage microorganisms in the final product.
Once the chilled meat is ground through the appropriate plate, mix it together with the ingredient list as specified in a particular formula. Stuff the resulting sausage batter into natural or artificial casings as directed. Hang the stuffed product in the incubation (fermentation) chamber, which can be as simple as a smoker or a wooden box equipped with a small light bulb.
Fermentation is a process by which carbohydrates (glucose), added to the raw meat batter, is broken down into lactic acid. The addition of a bacterial culture coupled with the proper temperature and humidity, create the optimum conditions for the production of dry and semi-dry sausage. In this environment, one can expect a good starter culture to achieve full fermentation in less than 24 hours at temperatures between 85-90°F (29-32°C) and 85/90% relative humidity.
Semi-dry sausage does not lose as much water as its dry counterpart. A 10-15% moisture loss is the norm for semi-dry sausage while a loss of 30-35% is about right for dry sausage. The final pH is dependent on a number of parameters, including the type of starter culture used, sugar types, various additives and the diameter of the sausage being fermented. If you are unsure about using a starter culture, adhere to the suppliers recommendations as listed on each sealed packet.
After the short fermentation period is completed, the sausage is usually placed in a preheated 110°F (43°C) smoker. This temperature is gradually increased until the objective internal temperature of 140-145°F (60-63°C) is obtained. The smoking process can take up to 12 hours or longer depending on the diameter of the casing and the desired color. Lebanon bologna, for example, is fermented to a very low pH (4.5) and heavily smoked to add additional color and smokehouse flavor to the finished product.
Semi-dry summer sausage is well-known for its semi-soft texture and keeping qualities attributable to its lactic acid fermentation and a medium to heavy application of smoke during the final stages of production. Unopened semi-dry sausage can be safely stored in a refrigerator for 3 months (or up to 3 weeks once it’s opened), or vacuum seal and freeze up to 6 months.
Ready-to-eat, fully-cooked, fermented sausages, differ from conventional smoked and cooked sausage because of the distinctive tangy flavor they obtain during fermentation. The characteristic tang is achieved by introducing a commercial culture and dextrose to the meat batter. After the meat batter is stuffed into prepared casings, it is allowed to ferment for 24 hours. Post incubation, the sausage is placed in a preheated 110°F (43°C) smoker and smoke cooked (or just cooked) to a safe internal temperature of 152°F (67°C). Because it is fully cooked and safe to eat, the pH drop doesn’t have to be as low as in other semi-dry sausages. At the end of the cooking stage, the product can be smoked an additional one to four hours if a heavy smoke flavor is desired.
In order to inhibit the growth of harmful pathogens and to provide long term keeping properties, always use the specified amount of meat, salt and curing agents listed in any fermented sausage recipe (formulation). In addition, use only those formulas gained from a trusted source. Still, success isn’t guaranteed if you don’t abide by the basic fundamentals we’ve just discussed. However, if you adhere to the enclosed instructions and understand the importance of cleanliness, meat quality, coarseness of the grind, proper temperature and humidity control and producing fermented sausages at home is a fairly simple process.
The taste, sight, smell and touch of dry-cured sausage is influenced by the degree of bacterial fermentation as well as the biochemical and physical changes which occur during the extended drying (ripening) process. The actual number of days required to reach this stage of development will depend on a range of factors, including the diameter and type of casing used, coarseness or fineness of the grind and the temperature and humidity of the drying room. Under average circumstances, dry-cured sausage can be expected to mature within 30 to 90 days, during which time it will lose 30-35% of its green weight (green weight is the original weight of meat in it's raw state prior to the processing). An Italian salami stuffed into a 3” (76mm) protein lined casing will take upwards of 2 to 3 months to mature while a 2” (50mm) stick of pepperoni is ready to eat in 4 to 6 weeks.
Even though, dry-cured sausage is raw, it is shelf stable and doesn’t require any refrigeration. According to a recent USDA food safety fact sheet, an unopened (uncut) stick of hard dry sausage will keep up to six weeks in a pantry environment, or nigh on indefinitely when it’s stored in a refrigerator.
Starter cultures (good bacteria) are widely used in the production of semi-dry and dry sausage. Triggered by the addition of dextrose in the sausage batter, cultures produce lactic acid while fermenting, which in turn ensures that the necessary pH drop will be rapid enough to inhibit the growth of spoilage microorganisms. The amount of dextrose in a given sausage formula determines the pH level and ultimately the degree of fermentation.
Starter cultures are packaged in foil pouches (similar to yeast) and quick frozen until needed. They’re inexpensive to use and easily attainable through numerous online sausage and jerky supply stores. Low temperature cultures grow best at 70-80°F (21-27°C) while high temperature cultures grow best at 90-115°F (32-46°C). Usage depends on the style of sausage being made and the recipe/formula specifications.
The transformation from a seasoned sausage batter to a dry sausage begins as soon as the salt and other additives are mixed into the meat. While dry-cured sausage isn’t as difficult to make as its often portrayed at least not since the advent of the frozen starter cultures. It is a lengthy procedure, however, and requires a certain amount of patience to see it through from beginning to the end. It involves both fermentation and dehydration with controlled humidity which must be carefully monitored throughout the process. Producing a smoke cooked salami, for example, is at most a two day procedure from start to finish, with nearly zero shrinkage. On the other hand, if you were to make a dry-cured Italian salami, it would take upwards of 2 to 3 months to cure completely with a weight loss in the neighborhood of 30-35%.
Fermentation actually begins when the salt and other additives are mixed into the raw ground meat––forming a dry sausage batter which is quickly stuffed into an appropriate size casing. The stuffed product is transferred to an incubation chamber (or drying room) and allowed to hang for 1-2 days while fermenting. During this time period, the product is closely monitored so as to maintain a constant temperature range of 85-90°F (29-32°) and a relative humidity of 75--90%. The lactic acid produced during the fermentation process helps to inhibit the growth of spoilage microorganisms. The specific drying room temperature and the relative humidity required for a specific product should be included with each dry sausage formula.
The actual amount of time it takes to dry sausage will depend upon the specific product being made, but you can expect between 10-120 days. According to Wikipedia, (the online encyclopedia) “Lactic acid fermentation is a biological process by which sugars such as glucose, fructose, and sucrose, are converted into cellular energy and the metabolic byproduct lactate the process by which bacteria metabolize sugars and produce lactate”.