You can make Salami at home, with a few simple ingredients, items of kitchen equipment and a basic home made curing chamber. It may sound daunting but it’s straight forward and once you are setup, you won’t stop creating and experimenting.
This article aims to give you a basic understanding of how salami is made and to walk you through the preparation of a basic salami recipe. It also introduces a calculator that you can use as a basis for your own salami recipes.
Salami is cured sausage made from fermented, air dried meat. Its cured to slow spoilage and prevent the growth of nasty microorganisms, we’ll go into how this works and why.
Keeping food from spoiling is a battle against bad bacteria. Dried cured meats came about so that they could be stored longer, to supplement fresh food, that may not be available day in day out.
To prevent the growth of bad bacteria, we need to create an environment that they can’t thrive in. It turns out that bad bacteria, in general, don’t like acidic, salty conditions. We know how to create these conditions - so, happy days.
We create an inhospitable environment for bad bacteria by:
This serves to draw water out of cells, and lower the “water activity” in the salami, which means that less water is available for bacterial growth.
Adding a “good” bacterial culture, and allowing it to develop early on, will produce lactic acid, lowering the PH of the salami and preventing the growth of bad bacteria that will not thrive in lower PH environments.
Nitrates break down over time to nitrites. These chemicals inhibit botulism to some degree (a condition caused by toxins produced by Clostridium botulinum bacteria). They also preserve the colour of meat.
Again, lowering the amount of water in the product means less water available for bacterial growth. There are two separate concepts here! Moisture content defines the amount of water in your food and ingredients, but water activity explains how the water in your food will react with microorganisms. We want to lower both, hence salting AND drying, at the right temperature and humidity.
Please follow the instructions on adding cure (Nitrates / Nitrites) carefully and ALWAYS check the packet or contact the manufacturer for instructions. Measure using scales with a fine precision and always double check amounts. It can be toxic if measured incorrectly.
There are two critical parts to the process of making salami:
You’ll need to add a lactic acid bacterial starter culture, that will transform dextrose into lactic acid, until the PH is low enough to inhibit the growth of other spoilage bacteria. To encourage the growth of this culture, you will need to allow the salamis to ferment in an environment that is 20 - 25c (ideally 23c) with a relative humidity of between 85 - 100 RH (ideally RH 95).
You can build this sort of environment fairly easily, either by adding a heater to a simple curing chamber setup (see here: How to build a simple curing chamber) or finding an environment with these conditions! I hang salamis from a the underside of a stool, wrapped in a black plastic bag, left in my utility cupboard - it’s bang on 25c and the black plastic bag produces an environment near 100 RH!
You’ll need to slowly dry the salami to the point where it has lost at least 30% of its weight. This needs to happen slowly. If your environment is too dry the outside will dry resulting in “case hardening”, whilst the inside will rot or develop air pockets. This can also occur when you have too much air movement in the curing chamber. If the environment is too moist, the salami will develop mould that can be harmful. You’ll want an environment of around 12c with a relative humidity of 75RH with a very small amount of air flow. Creating this environment is not as difficult as you might think. I’ve been using the following sort of setup for more than 5 years, with lots of success - How to build a simple curing chamber.
You will need the following equipment:
I’ve put together a tool to calculate ingredient amounts based on percentages, to allow you to scale the recipes on this site or to come up with your own: