Curing sausages and meats can be a daunting task, but it is incredibly rewarding and the end result is worlds above any store-bought product you can find. True, there are some techniques you will have to master to safely produce a quality cured meat or sausage, but with modern technology and curing products it can be surprisingly simple.
Pepperoni is a type of sausage traditionally made from finely ground cured pork & beef that is lightly smoked. It is stuffed in thin collagen casing and gets its characteristic red colour from paprika & cayenne and the curing reaction of sodium nitrite.
You can buy an expensive curing chamber to regulate temperature and humidity throughout the process or you can take the DIY route and retrofit a used fridge! I bought a used mini fridge that already had temperature control, of course. Now to get a humidifier inside the fridge I didn’t want to drill a hole through the door of the fridge so instead I cut a thin piece of the rubber from the edge of the door seal so I could feed a cord through. I placed a cool humidifier and a thermometer-hygrometer (measures temperature and relative humidity) inside the fridge and brought it to the specifications I needed. I regularly checked on the environment in the mini fridge and raised/lowered temperature and turned on/off the humidifier to maintain a desired environment. If you are more technically inclined you can make it more automated than I did, but my little fridge was inexpensive and effective nonetheless.
When curing sausage you will do through four main steps: making the sausage itself, fermentation, smoking and drying.
Making the sausage itself is simple enough; here you will add all of your seasonings, culture and cure to the meat. The key, as always, is to ensure that you maintain a sterile and cool environment throughout production. I like to wash my equipment prior to use and throw it all in the freezer while I prepare and measure all my spices. Then I can grind, mix and stuff in record time, reducing the exposure to any harmful bacteria.
Fermentation is where the bacterial culture you’ve add gets to do its thing. Inoculating with good bacteria ensures that the bad bacteria can’t take over and spoil the meat, as it becomes the dominant bacteria in the sausage. Essentially if the good guys take up all the space, there’s no more room in a sausage for the bad guys. The good bacteria feeds on the sugars added to the sausage and multiply under the correct controlled conditions that are specific to the culture added. So if you chose to use a different culture (such as TSP-X) remember to consult the culture’s specification sheet for proportions and fermentation conditions.
Cold smoking adds flavour to the sausage and helps preserve the product, but it is not fully preserved until it is partially dried thereafter.
The final step is to dry the sausage, once again in a controlled environment that is cool and dark so that it will allow for the moisture to be pulled out of the sausage. Bacteria are drawn to and multiply in moisture, so to ensure that your product will be preserved and won’t be spoiled by bacteria you have to remove as much water as possible.
Now an important point I want to make is the need for cure in smoked and/or dried sausage. There are two different types of cures conveniently named Cure #1 and Cure #2. Cure #1 is the short-term cure which contains nitrites (either sodium or potassium bound) and Cure #2 is the long-term cure which contains nitrates (either sodium or potassium bound) that over time breakdown into nitrites. Nitrites prevent growth of botulism bacteria which thrive between 40-140°F. This temperature range is where the sausage will be during the last three steps of the pepperoni making process and it’s crucial that this bacterium does not multiply within the pepperoni. Regardless of all the good bacteria we add, the smoking and the drying botulism bacteria can still take hold so this is why nitrite cures are so important. Never cold smoke and dry sausage without it!
Now with all the rules and warnings laid out I hope you’re still keen to give pepperoni making a try. When you follow the steps and be mindful of what you’re doing, you’ll see that it’s a fun and easy process.
2lbs pork shoulder
0.84lbs beef (I used stew cuts)
3.2g Cure #2
2.5g Dextrose 0.2%
3g anise seeds
2g fennel seeds
0.8g Mondostart 2M culture
1. Cube and then finely grind pork & beef together
2. Weight out remaining ingredients and mix together
3. Mix together with meat until well combined (2-3minutes in a stand mixer on low speed should do the trick)
4. Stuff into collagen casings
5. Ferment at 71F for 72 hours, 85-90% humidity
6. Cold smoke for 8 hours with hickory bisquettes
7. Dry at 54-60F, 80-85% humidity, for 5-7 weeks (dry until you observe a weight loss of 30%)
8. Store in a cool dry place (less than 60°F)