Just like any other homemade food, homemade sopressata is beyond delicious. It’s nothing like the store-bought dry cured sausage. It’s much fresher, it’s tastier, and it has intense natural flavors. No artificial coloring or flavor enhancers. No additives of any kind. When making salami at home you are in full control of what the end result will be. You are at liberty to experiment and tweak your recipe to your heart’s content, and each new batch can be slightly different. That’s why I love curing salami at home. It’s exciting.
Sopressata (also spelled soppressata, sopresseta and I even saw some spell the name as soprasata and sopresatta) is an Italian dry sausage. There are two types of sopressata, a cured dry sausage typical to the regions of Lucania, Apulia and Calabria, and an uncured type coming from the region of Tuscany and Liguria. Traditionally, sopressata is smoked and pressed during curing process, hence the name of the sausage, sopressata. The type of sopressata that has become internationally renowned and that we all know is not pressed. It is the type that originally comes from the Veneto region in Italy.
Soppressata differs from salami in that typically the meat is not as finely ground, so it has a less uniform appearance, with some bigger chunks of fat in the slice. Because the fat in this sausage should be distinct from the meat, it’s especially important during the grinding and mixing stages to keep the fat as cold as possible, to avoid smearing the fat on the meat.
There are numerous seasoning variations for sopressata, and there are hundreds, if not thousands of sopressata recipe variations out there. The recipe that I’ve had exceptional results with and that will be sharing here is an adaptation of Michael Ruhlman’s simple recipe found in his amazing book on curing meats at home called Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing. If you want to learn more about how to make sopressata at home, or how to make many other cured meats, this is an excellent book to read. I modified the original recipe to my taste by removing red pepper flakes and wine, but feel free to add them back. I also substituted white pepper for black pepper, my personal choice, and bumped salt content from 40 g to 60 g just to be on the safe side. It seems that quite a few readers thought that the original recipe’s salt content seemed to be too low, as can be evidenced from some criticisms this book received. I also noticed that in another sopressata recipe that Mr. Ruhlman later posted on his blog he uses a higher total amount of salt (3.2%), while using the same fast acting F-RM-52 starter culture. The original recipe’s overall salt content, including salt in Cure #2 is 2%. I see that Amazon now shows a new edition of the book, which says ‘revised and updated’, and I am hoping that this inconsistency related to salt percentage has been addressed.
Making homemade hard salami requires some basic equipment and tools, so let me share my experience on that.
A good meat grinder is essential. It’s important to keep the meat and the fat cold while you are grinding it. A grinder that can grind quickly would definitely help with that. You should also chill the parts of the grinder that touch the meat in the freezer for half an hour or so before grinding.
If you plan on making delicious sausages like Salami Milano, Dry Cured Sujuk, Polish Kielbasa, Summer Sausage, Bratwurst and many other, do yourself a favor and get a good, commercial quality meat grinder from the get go without first wasting money on something you won’t be happy with like I did. More likely than not, you will be buying it later anyway. A good commercial quality meat grinder makes a huge difference – it grinds much faster, it accepts a wider range of grinder plates, it’s more powerful and grinds clean and with definition instead of squishing the meat and smearing the fat. That’s very important for making sausages. It’s also easier to clean and it lasts longer.
A few years ago I settled on LEM Products Stainless Steel #8 Meat Grinder and could not be happier with it. It’s built like a tank and can grind 10-15 lbs of meat in a matter of two minutes.
Ground meat is mixed with spices, then stuffed into sausage casings. To do that you will need a sausage stuffer. I find that manual sausage stuffers are the best and most economical for home use, like the LEM Products 5 Pound Stainless Steel Vertical Sausage Stuffer that I use. If you can justify spending a little more to get a 15 pound stuffer – do it. Sometimes I wish I did.
Update on June 30, 2016
Recently Amazon has started carrying more affordable units like ARKSEN 8 Pound Vertical Sausage Stuffer and the ARKSEN 15 Pound Vertical Sausage Stuffer. I don’t know how they compare to LEM stuffers quality-wise, but they get quite good reviews. I would definitely take a closer look at them if I were looking to buy a sausage stuffer.
Mr. Ruhlman recommends fermenting sopressata at room temperature, ideally 85F for 12 hours. This recommendation needs to be clarified as mistakes at this crucial step can lead to very poor results. Finding a room with 85F for 12 hours straight will be problematic for most who would want to attempt making sopressata. Especially during colder months. Finding a room with 85F and the right humidity (90%-95%) would be even more challenging. That’s right, you also need high humidity. Proper humidity will ensure proper fermentation (growth of beneficial bacteria) and will prevent the sausage case from drying out and hardening. Stanley Marianski talks in great detail about the importance of humidity at different stages of fermented sausage production in his books Home Production of Quality Meats and Sausages and The Art of Making Fermented Sausages, and how to control it.
I use a large water cooler as my fermentation chamber. I hang my sopressata inside the cooler and cover the top with plastic wrap, leaving a small opening in each side for some air circulation. That gives me about 90-95% RH inside the box (the sausage releases water and that keeps the relative humidity up). The temperature is controlled by adding a container filled with warm/hot water. You can also use a heat pad or something similar. Easy as that. The temperature and humidity is monitored by a portable temeperature and humidity meter, in my case it’s the Extech 445815 Humidity Meter with Alarm and Remote Probe, and adjusted as needed.
Meat Curing Chamber
A meat curing chamber equipped with a temperature and humidity controller is an absolute must. I started off with a basic meat curing chamber that I later upgraded to a dual controller setup that incorporates both a humidifier and a dehumidifier to allow for precise humidity control.
The results that I have been getting from my re-designed meat curing chamber have been nothing short of spectacular. Be sure to take a look at my post called Advanced Meat Curing Chamber. It contains a lot of useful information that may help you avoid some of the problems I had.
Casings, Curing Salt and Starter Culture
Besides the equipment, you will need natural or artificial sausage casings, curing salt and a starter culture. Salami making supplies stores such as www.sausagemaker.com or www.butcher-packer.com carry all of those supplies. Many local butcher stores have a great selection of natural casings too, so that is also an option. My local grocery store sells all sorts of natural casings all year round. They don’t have them packaged and on display, but when you ask at the meat counter they are happy to sell you what you need.
Once you have your equipment ready and set up, the rest is pretty easy. Grind the meat and fat, add seasonings and mix. Then stuff into hog middles and let ferment your sopressata at warm room temperature for 12 hours. After fermentation is done, transfer your sausages into the curing chamber and dry for about 3-4 weeks until the sausage has lost about 30% of its weight. Slice and enjoy.
Proper temperature and humidity control are essential to making sopressata and any other dry cured meat or sausage. If the humidity is too low, the outer part of the sausage will dry too quickly, leaving the meat in the center mushy and wet, and prone to rotting. If the humidity is too high, bad molds will develop and contaminate the meat. Bad molds are any molds other than white, chalky mold. They can be black, blue or green in color. Black mold is very bad due to its toxicity and any meat that contracts black mold should be discarded. With blue and green mold, as soon as you see them starting to develop should be wiped off with a cloth soaked in a solution of 50% distilled water and 50% vinegar. If you let these molds grow too much, they will move inside the casing and contaminate the meat inside, so keep an eye on your sausages as they cure.
- 1 pound / 450 grams pork back fat diced
- 4 pounds / 1800 grams boneless pork shoulder diced
- 1 tsp / 5 g Bactoferm F-RM-52 starter culture
- 1 ⁄4 cup / 60 milliliters distilled water
- 60 g kosher salt
- 1 level teaspoon / 6 grams Insta Cure #2
- 1 ⁄2 cup / 70 grams nonfat dry milk powder
- 3 tablespoons / 30 grams dextrose
- 1 tsp / 3 grams ground black pepper or white pepper
- 1 tsp / 6 grams minced garlic
- 1 tsp / 2 grams hot red pepper flakes optional
- 1 ⁄4 cup / 60 milliliters Pinot Bianco or comparable dry white wine optional
- 12 to 14 inches / 30 to 35 centimeters hog middle casings soaked in tepid water for at least 30 minutes and rinsed
- While the fat is very cold, grind it through the medium die (6mm / 1/4 inch) into a bowl set in ice Chill while you grind the meat through the large die (12mm / 1/2 inch). Combine the ground meat and fat in the bowl of a standing mixer and refrigerate while you ready the culture and the remaining ingredients.
- Dissolve the Bactoferm culture in the distilled water and add it, along with the remaining ingredients, to the meat. Mix by hand, or using a meat mixer, until the seasonings are thoroughly distributed, 1 to 2 minutes.
- Stuff the sausage into casings. Tie the ends of the hog middle, if using. Using a sterile pin or needle, prick the casings all over to remove any air pockets and facilitate drying. Hang the sausage at room temperature, ideally 85 degrees F./29 degrees C., for 12 hours to “incubate” the bacteria; the beneficial bacteria will grow and produce more lactic acid at a warmer temperature.
- Weigh your sausages and write down the weight.
- Hang the sausage in the curing chamber (ideally at 60 degrees F./15 degrees C. with 60 to 70 percent humidity) until completely dry or until it’s lost 30 percent of its weight. The time will differ depending on the size of the casings you use and your drying conditions— roughly 3 to 4 weeks.