fresh, cooked, dried sausages

The science of sausages: fresh, cooked, dried (salami)

We would need a tone of posts to do justice to the sausages of each country. So here is a whistle-stop tour, which we hope gives you a better idea of why there is such a huge variation in sausage types. 

Fresh Sausages

When it comes to fresh sausages, customers should look for high meat content product, ideally 80% and over if it is plain pork. If there are added ingredients (leeks or apples for example), the meat content may drop down to make room for them. It doesn’t mean the quality is any worse, just less ingredients.

In lower quality pork sausages, meat content is usually anywhere from 42 to 60%. However, the meat content can sometimes dip as low as 30% in other sausages where government food labelling legislation allows.

The cuts used for sausages are important. Usually a mix of belly and shoulder is preferred, so you get the flavor from the fattiness of the belly with the meatiness of the shoulder. Poorer quality sausages use lower grade cuts of meat or even a mixture of pork trimmings and fat in their make-up. Although some use proper cuts of meat, they are often cuts with greater fat levels than those used in higher quality sausages. 

The lack of meat content is often offset with water and this is bound into the sausage using a selection of fillers, such as starches, pork rind and vegetable fibres, along with a large percentage of rusk. 

However, it is worth nothing that rusk is a common functional ingredient in high-end sausages, although used in far smaller percentages to stabilize texture over the product’s life, rather than to fill the gap where meat content is low. Permitted food additives are also used to help ‘fix’ the water in place, so that the sausage does not shrink when cooked. To achieve this with consistency, high speed mechanical cutters are used to create a rough paste, which is then filled into casings. 

Lower quality sausage seasonings are usually less authentic than those use in quality sausages and some even use flavorings to impart a more meaty flavor than the meat content would actually produce on its own. Premium sausages use fresh additional ingredients, such as herbs.

Cooked sausages

For cooked sausages the meat is often minced into a finer consistency and uses raw or cooked meat depending on the recipe. Meat is then put into a casing, which is cooked (and sometimes also smoked). Frankfurters, mortadella and extrawurst are examples of using raw material, while liver sausage, brown and haggis use cooked meat. 

Cured/Dried sausages

For cured/dried sausages raw meat is chopped or minced. Salt is added to the mixture, sometimes along with herbs and spices. The sausage is then dried over a period of time and normally we call this product salami.

Making salami has traditionally been a way to utilize small pieces of meat and fat by drying them in a natural casing. The English word salami is the plural form of Italian salame, while in French is known as saucisson and in Spanish as embutido.

As with cheese or wine, salami can be fermented. This is either done naturally or with a starter culture. Traditionally, in northern Europe the product is often smoked, while in southern Europe, where the climate is warmer, pepper or spice, such as paprika, is added. 

Some salami are also mould-ripened (similar to Camembert). This metabolises the acid produced during fermentation, which changes the taste and flavor. 

Salami can be coarsely cut with large pieces of meat and fat visible (saucisson sec), while other are finely minced (Milano).

Maturation time depends on the diameter of the sausage being produced, combined with the recipe and techniques used.

Just as in the production of cheeses, salami hang in a ‘bodega’ where naturally occurring microbes, which have built up over hundreds of years, ferment the meat. The bodega often comprises a number of rooms over several storeys, which allows producers to capture the air by opening and closing the windows. 

Since the 1940s, starter cultures have been developed to replicate the process and the natural wind has been replaced by fans to make the products more consistent and safer. However, if incorrectly done, the speeding up of the process leads to greater water loss, which often results in a dry ‘ring’ around the outside of the salami, affecting the eating quality. Not only is it dry around the outside, it also creates a blockage that stops the center drying correctly and makes it mushy.

Here, in our view, the best regions for making salami:

  • For smoked: Germany or northern Spain for a smoked chorizo.
  • For slowly matured: the Auvergne region in France for saucisson sec, and Parma in Italy
  • For spicy: northern Spain or Calabria in Italy
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