Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Key equipment piece #4: The fermentation box

Well, maybe not really a "key equipment piece", but an important one nonetheless for making salame.

When making salame, a bacterial culture is added to the meat to inoculate it with a beneficial flora, rather than relying on random colonization and hoping for the best. This gives the salame flavor as well as protection against harmful bacteria. To assure that the bacteria added rapidly multiples, the salame has to be held at a certain temperature and high humidity before being dried, this is called the "fermentation" or "maturation" stage. The temperature is dependent on the bacteria added, and its optimal growth temperature. Various cultures can be found on butcher-packer's page, and they also have instructions for use there.
So, anyhow, the salame needs to be kept at a certain temperature and high humidity. In order to do this, I bought a large plastic storage container, added some hooks to the lid from which I can hang the salame, a light bulb for heat, and a small computer fan on some perforated pegboard to circulate the warm air.

To the left you can see my plastic box, and the lightbulb. I lined the corner of the box with foil to reflect the heat from the bulb.

Right below that picture you can see the pegboard with the fan in place.

The last important part of this box is something to control the temperature. If the light were to stay on the whole time it would get too hot, ruining our meat. I bought a thermocouple temperature switch which has a built in line voltage controller from Love Controls.

This controller is set for the target temperature, and it turns the bulb on and off. It is about $50 for a controller plus a little more for the thermocouple, but I bet a cheaper one could be found on Ebay.

Having said all that, this isn't really necessary. This can be done by putting the salami in a tupperware, and then in an oven with just the light bulb and leaving the door a little open. You'll need a thermometer and keep track of the temperature for a while at the start, but once you figure out what works for you and your oven, you should be fine.

Pretty much you want to put the salame somewhere where it can stay at a relatively steady temperature of about 70-85 deg. F (exact numbers depend on the bacteria you're using, and desired speed of fermentation), and be in a high humidity environment so it doesn't dry out. I'm sure you can figure out a simpler way to do it than what I did...I just set it up like this to be able to specify an exact temperature and have it be repeatable every time. The temperature of your fermentation and how long you leave it will have a profound effect on the final flavor.

The amount of time you ferment is dependent on your temperature, you must get the pH of the meat paste below 5.1 within 36-48 hours. Most of the time I ferment for 24 hours. I urge you to read "Charcuterie" or "Cooking by Hand", as they can explain the process and timing much more clearly than I can, and I don't want to be held responsible for improperly cured salame getting someone sick. Look in my books list for these two books, they're books you should own anyhow, if you're into curing or sausages.


Anonymous said...

Your link to Cooking by Hand is broken.

Good tips though. It seems like you should be able to switch your thermocouple form your curing chamber over to this box though, as long as it can control heat elements as well as cooling ones.

Jasonmolinari said...

Thanks, i fixed the broken link.

Yes, as long as the controller can do heating and cooling this won't be a problem. If that is what you want to do, I would recommend the Love Controls switch as you can adjust the hysteresis of the control.

I would call them first though and make sure you can change it from heating to cooling, but I think you can as they are labeled as "Heating and Cooling Control"

Whole House Dehumidifier said...

Unless of course the intention of Heating and Cooling is simply... cooling when the device is turned off. Though that would be pretty sappy marketing and I doubt they would continue to sell products as a result. Thank you for the cost effective information, much appreciated.


jason molinari said...

Dan, maybe but that would be shoddy.

Tonight i will check the settings and adjustable parameters, and see if i can set it to "power on" when temperature is above set point (for cooling applications), rather than below set point (as i have it set now)

Anonymous said...

can you bring it down to say around 60-70 degrees F?

Jasonmolinari said...

No, i can't control how low the fermentation box goes. That's controlled by the surrounding environment.

Aaron said...

how do you conrtrole the humidity inside the fermentation box? would a cup of salted water work if i placed it underneither the light and infront of the small computer fan? also a question about the love controle switch, do you plug the light into the back of it? or how does it turn te light on and off, an last question can u use maybe a heat pad rather than a lightbulb

Jasonmolinari said...

Aaron, i don't control the humidity in the fermentation. Since the box is closed it naturally rises to about 90% b/c of the salami exuding moisture.
The love control has a built in switch that you have to wire into a female plug end.

A heating pad would definitely work, but you have to find one that doesn't have a timer on it. It seems all the new ones i looked at for this purpose wouldn't work as they have a safety timer that shuts it off after 1 hour or so.

Mamaliga said...

Jason -

Any reason to not use the curing chamber (a small size fridge in my case) as a fermentation box? I am thinking to simply add a 25w bulb with a computer fan attached to it, regulated by my heat controller.

Then once I am done with the fermenting stage, I simply turn the fridge on and eliminate the light bulb fixture reversing the thermostat to control the cooling.

Does this make sense?

Thanks again!

Jasonmolinari said...

Gabi, that would work fine. Shouldn't have any problems.

Mamaliga said...

Thanks a lot Jason!!!


matt said...

I use an old fridge as a fermentation box, and have to add humidity to it. I have just had one heat lamp bulb explode on me, because of the humidity. My suggestion is to look at ceramic bulbs, or perhaps a waterbed heater - that is what I am looking at next.

I have real trouble getting the pH down to 5.1 within 36h with the T-SPX culture. seems like 48h minimum for that one.

andrew said...

i am having trouble keeping my humidity level low enough. I have 1 mini dehumidifier, and now waiting on the 2nd to arrive in the mail. any suggestions?

Jasonmolinari said...

why are you trying to keep the humidity low in the fermentation chamber?

Paul said...

Do you leave the fan continuously running or only when the heat lamp is on?

Jasonmolinari said...

Paul, i had it wired to run continuously, but i just changed it to come on only when the bulb comes on.

DB said...

I built a fermentation chamber just like the one that you have in your post (i used a different temperature control switch). When i try to ferment the humidity raises to about 80% after 8 hours or so. It seems to hover around 80 and i cant get it to go higher. The temperature stays perfect. I was wondering if you had any suggestions for the humidity? Do you think that my fan is too powerful? Should i unplug it etc? As of right not im using a spray bottle to add some moisture every 10 hours or so.

Thanks for the help.

Jasonmolinari said...

I dont acutally measure my RH during fermentation. I know it stays nice and high...could be 80 or could be 90, no real idea.
You can try the spray bottle, but i think as long as you keep the container closed and at temperature for 48-72 hours your fermentation will be fine.

JP said...

I just discovered your blog a few days ago and I have to say that I love it so far. Great job! My love of making barbecued meats has naturally progressed into an interest in cold smoking, sausage making and charcuterie, to the point that I have purchased and read several books on the subject and am currently reading Ruhlman & Polcyn's book on Charcuterie, planning about all the equipment I will need and where to begin my foray into this intriguing lost art.

If you don't mind, I have a couple of questions: 1) Where do you obtain your pork? I see you are in Atlanta; I'm just a little north of you in Beechgrove, TN. I'm sure we have local pig farmers around here, but I don't know about how to find them and negotiate with them, so any tips would be appreciated. 2) How do you go about ensuring that your meat does not have trichinosis?

My gmail address is, if you have the time for email communications with a newbie. Thanks!

Jasonmolinari said...

Thanks JP.

1) Most of the pork i use is regular commercial pork i get from groceries. If you want to find local pork to you check

2) Trichinosis is essentially unheard of in today's commercial pork. If you want to feel more comfortable, you can freeze your pork. Take a look here:

Anonymous said...


How did you power the Love Controls line voltage controller you bought... did you just cut the female end off of an extension cord and wire it to the controller that way? And what about the light bulb, same approach?


Jasonmolinari said...

Brian, yes, i bought an extension cord and cut off one end, but you could wire your own plug. The lightbulb goes through the controller by running one of the 2 wires through it as a switch.

Anonymous said...


First, much thanks on your help. I have my curing chamber up and running with a bresaola, lonzino,and some duck prosciutto. Still fine tuning the rig but seem to be getting 50-55F and 70-80% RH pretty consistently. I have a butcher harvesting a coppa for me next week. Awesome feeling to have this going.

On the Love controller for the ferment chamber: can you clarify how you wired the output/light bulb? I have mine programmed and can hear the unit click on when the temp probe drops below the programmed threshold so I know it is powered/programmed correctly but the output (tried both a bulb and fan) are not coming on. And, I have run power to the light bulb directly so I know it works. Which output ports (9, 10, 11...? I assume we have the same 1HP model) do you run the bulb to? I feel like I have tried every configuration but to no avail. Thanks again for your help.


Anonymous said...


I'm good, man. I found the answer to my wiring problem at a home brew site: Wiring that controller is anything but intuitive to a non-electrician type.

If I read your comment above correctly, you now have a fan and light bulb wired to the controller to run simultaneously? Do you also use a fan in your curing chamber? Seems an easy approach would be to hook it up to run off the humidistat.

Thanks again,

Jasonmolinari said...

glad you figured it out brian.

Yes, the controller powers a fan and light.
And the fan in teh curing chamber comes on with the humidifier...hooked up thru humidistat.

Martin E. Andresen said...

Hi Jason,

I´ve been following your blog and reading up on old posts for a few weeks. Thanks a lot for good instructions and inspiration. However, I have a few questions:

1) Is there a problem curing different stuff in the same curing chamber at the same time? Will, for example, the bacteria of one salume "infect" a whole muscle, which wasn´t supposed to be inoculated with that specific bacteria?
2) Assuming there is no problem mixing as outlined above, and noting that you wrote earlier on there would be no trouble using a curing chamber as a fermentation box: What would you do if your making a salume, but already have something else in the curing chamber? Take out the other meat that´s curing while the salume ferments, or keep it in there nonetheless?

Thanks a lot for your help.

I´m making a curing chamber right now with cheap controllers from ebay, if you want I can send you some links when I´m finished, maybe they can help others out. :)
1) As you mention ear

Jasonmolinari said...

Martin: no problem putting different items at different stages of drying in the same chamber. They all use the same surface mold.

I definitely would not keep an already drying item in the curing chamber if you turn it into fermentation chamber. I'm not sure what i would do with the already drying stuff. I don't think it's a good idea to have parallel batches going if you only have 1 box.

Martin E. Andresen said...

A million thanks, Jason. Will build a separate fermentation box then, temp controllers are so cheap these days anyway. :)

Anonymous said...


I read your reply in the comments on another post that you do not measure pH when taking meat out of the ferment box, that you trust your process at this point. On that note, is the change in color of a salami in the 24-48 hours that it has been in the ferment box from the pale pink/grey of raw pork to that nice deep red color evidence that the culture has worked or is that change of color caused by something else -- curing salt?


Jasonmolinari said...

Brian, another sign that fermentation has occurred is that the salame is stiffer. The acidification tightens up the muscle fibers. I'm not sure if the color change is due to fermentation or the curing salts.

If i were doing this commercially, i would definitely be testing pH.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Jason.

I just came across this on the Butcher & Packer site: "As a part of the general improvement of hygiene and production methods the application of starter cultures is now widespread. Thus, not only is a uniform fermentation with the right lactic acid bacteria (homofermentative strains) secured, but also the color and flavor development are improved. Color development and stability are strongly influenced by selective strains of staphylococci that are applied as starter culture."

So, according to their site color is definitely developed and enhanced by the starter culture. I still test pH because I am pretty new to this and want to get the science right, but I have noticed the salami changes pretty dramatically by way of look (deep red), feel, and even smell after a day or so in the fermenting box. For non-commercial production these observations may be good substitutes for actual pH tests.


Jasonmolinari said...

Thanks Brian. I think pH testing is a good idea until you've seen a few "transformations" at least to understand what it looks, feels and smells like.

Andrew said...

Can you post a pick of the wiring for the controller. I followed the link posted above and I am still lost. Any help with wiring the controller and heat lite would be awesome

Jasonmolinari said...

andrew, i can't. My controller is in a project box with the internals looking like a rats nest, a picture won't help.

Google how to wire switches. The controller is just a switch that goes on and off based on the thermometer reading.

Andrew said...

Thanks for the help. I think I got it. Basically I am going to put a plug and wire it into the controller and have it come out and go to a light socket. My only question is should I cut off and old extension cord and use the wires in that or should I use some romex?

PS your blog is awesome.

thanks andy

Jasonmolinari said...

I have been known to use extension cord for a prewired plug....

Andrew said...

Alright Jason,
I need your help again. I wired my tcs 4010 controller to a light socket with a heat bulb. I plug it in and I am totally unsure of what setting I want to put it at. I am using this type of probe.

Basically I just want the light to be on until the temp hits 75 degrees, correct? Also the temp displaying in the controller is way off. Is there any way to calibrate it?

Thanks for any info you can provide. The homebrew forums haven't yeilded much.

Jasonmolinari said...

Andrew, now sure what your question is.
You want to set it up for heating mode, J thermocouple.
Correct, you want the bulb on below 75 and for it to turn off at 75.

If you didn't buy the controller for a J type thermocouple and are using a J thermocouple that would explain why your temperature is no where near reality. The instructions say you can change it, but then it says "do not adjust, set from the factory" i'm not sure. Try changing it. It's in the instructions.

Anonymous said...

If you painted your reflector matte white it would reflect light and heat more efficiently that crinkled tin foil.

Sky said...

Jason, how much weight loss should you expect from your salami during the fermentation process? I just took out my salami and the one I weighed had lost about 15% in the 60 hours of fermentation. Does that seem to be in the right ball park or too much loss. I am using beef middles for the casings. Thanks, Skyler

Jan said...

Hi Jason,
Was wondering if there is any experience with drying biltong in a wine refrigirator. What needs to be done, how is it done, andare there problems with using this method.

Thanks for your comments,

J. The Netherlands

Jasonmolinari said...

Jan, see my recent post on different refrigerators and their issues.

Юрий Ёжикович said...

I have a wierd idea. Would this work in a sous vide water bath? It gives you exact temperature control, though there is almost no air circulation even going on if you put the meat in a large enough watertight vessel istead of a plastic bag. Although you do say it can be done in a tupperware, so I gather free flowing air is not so important or is it?

Jasonmolinari said...

i could work in a water bath, yes. It's discussed in a couple books to do that...but i don't see why. Seems overly complicated.

Michael dietz said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Michael dietz said...

The simplest reason for me to do it in a sous vide setup, is I already have that, and don't have another curing chamber.

That aside, I have used a cheap house thermostat, about $18.00 at Home Depot, to control a 100 watt conventional light bulb to heat a dog house. That will control the temperature within about 4 degrees or so. Would that be good enough for someone who didn't have a sous vide setup?

Thanks for your help.


Jasonmolinari said...

4 deg. F shouldn't be a big problem during fermentation...