Last weekend I cut into my large coppa, which was stuffed into a beef-bung. It was a mix of emotions, both enjoyment and disappointment. This was the first sausage I’ve cured with large chunks of meat (2-4”) and I was very curious to see how it came out. Most smaller salami can be checked for “doneness” by giving them a squeeze and seeing if they feel firm and dry. Wet or soft to the touch means they need to dry and cure longer. You can also weigh them, to see if they’ve lost 30% of their original weight, which is a good sign they’re now in a microbial-stable state. But with curing a large salami, or a whole ham, you may want it to age further, to help develop the flavor. To test this, you use a very cheap, simple tool; an ice pick.
Jam the ice pick into the meat, then quickly remove it. It should have a clean, savory aroma, with the sweetness of cured meat to it. I’ve always found this to be a cool “trick of the trade,” similar to the way they test 80 lb wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano by striking them with small hammers and listening for sounds that might indicate gaps, faults, or air pockets.
So while the coppa carried the rich, cured aroma I was looking for, cutting it was a bit of a disappointment. The meat was well cured, with a rosy color and intense flavor. But the chunks had not knitted together. You could pop them apart, like puzzle pieces of pork.
It is a poor workman who blames his tools, so I am blaming the recipe. In Rulhman’s Charcuterie, he says to simply stuff the chunks of meat by hand into the casing. If you do that, I don’t see how you’ll ever get a salami with a close-knit texture. Now, going off the Marianskis’ Home Production of Quality Meats and Sausages, I realize I should have mixed the cuts of pork, just as I would normally mix the ground pork for any other dry cured salami. The vigorous mixing and tumbling will produce a sticky exudate of myosin protein on the surface of meat, making the pieces bind and join together as they dry and cure.
Although it won’t win any awards in the looks department, I’m still very pleased with the taste of this salami. It was also a good learning experience, and I still have the enjoyment of knowing I took raw meat and made it safe, edible, and tasty with salt and time.