Thursday, March 12, 2009

Natural or Artificial Casings?

I've often wondered if using natural casings when making salami really makes a difference. Let's face it, artificial casings have numerous advantages: they're clean, they're evenly shaped and sized, they are shelf stable, they come in just about any size, and I'm sure I could think of a few other good reasons why artificial collagen casings are advantageous. The disadvantages are that they are more expensive, and they aren't "traditional".

Since I'm a very practical person (well, as practical as anyone who cures his own meats in his basement can be!), unless there is good, documented evidence for using something (natural casings) over an easier substitute (collagen casings), I won't use more difficult product. I like to explore these things myself; see my Farmer Vs. Commercial Pork Battle 1, and Battle 2 . So during the last batch of salame I made, which was the Sant'Olcese, I decided to take the opportunity to do a head to head of salame cased in natural beef middles and 60mm diameter collagen casings.

So, the product came out a few weeks ago from the curing chamber. What was interesting was that the product in the collagen casings took about 5 or 6 days longer to lose the same amount of weight by %. The 2 salami stared off pretty close in weight, but for whatever reason the collagen casing took a little bit longer. This may be cause by a couple of things:

  1. The salami were in different places in the curing chamber, and therefore their exposure to air and humidity currents was different. Possible but unlikely. They were pretty close to each other.
  2. The collagen casing slows the moisture loss of the meat mixture more than the natural casing.
I don't see this difference as a huge deal, but I do see if as a slight advantage for the collagen casing. The slower curing/drying theoretically would allow more flavors to develop.

In cutting the 2 products they looked identical (I would post a picture but i've vacuum packed the collagen salame already). They were indistinguishable visually, both cut, and uncut. Both had a nice mold bloom.

More did they taste? They were indistinguishable. The same, delicious, and equivalent.

So, as far as using beef middles, well, i'll use up what I have, which is about 56 miles of casings, and then i'll move to using 60mm collagen casings. I do have 1 more test of collagen vs. natural casings and that's with a hog bung. Since the hog bung is a very fatty, thick casing, this may slow the drying to be even slower than the collagen one, so it may in fact be better. Only a trial will tell. I will note that the hog bung casings are MUCH more expensive than a collagen one; about 10 times the cost!

So this time, modernity has beat out tradition I'm afraid.

Sorry traditionalists.


dmjnola said...

This post was interesting to me. I have been making fresh sausage for several years, but have just recently become interested in curing (and possibly fermenting).

Being the hard-headed purist that I am, I have always used natural hog casings for my freash sausage. I dry my fresh sausages overnight in the fridge overnight before grilling. I think you get a better "bite" to the casing this way.

After reading your blog, I recently purchased some 90mm collagen casings to try my hand at Bresaola.

Question: Do you soak collagen in warm water to rehydrate, or is there some top-secret trick to handling them?

Thanks for sharing your projects,


Jasonmolinari said...

David, the large, thick collagen, non-edible, casings like the one you mention, and the ones i use, definitely need to be soaked in warm water for about 15 minutes.

I don't like the small edible collagen ones, which would be replacements for natural hog casings in grilled sausages. I think the collagen ones are too delicate for that particular type.

scott said...

The only reason that I have read to use natural over artificial is to achieve the old world "look." But, I'll tell you, I bought and used the mold culture Jason suggests, and it really couldn't look much more old world that that. So, with that, and the fact that the collagen casings ar so consistent, I'm leaning toward the artificial. However, I don't think that I could really form an educated opinion until I've used both. Right now, I've only used natural hog casings for tuscan salami. My next project will be the beef middles vs. 60mm collagen.

Jasonmolinari said...

As scott says, visually if the salami are covered in mold, it would be very hard to tell the difference between natural and artificial.
For right now, other than tradition, i see no reason to use natural.

Eric said...

Jason, I've only used beef middles. Do the collagen casings shrink with the meat like the natural casings? I see there are also protein-lined synthetic casings with a protein coating on the inside designed to cling to the meat as it shrinks. Do you have any experience with these?

Jasonmolinari said...

Eric, yes, the collagen casings shrink against the meat, just like the natural ones.

I haven't used the protein lined fiber ones.

bux2_get_her said...

Hi Jason,
which part of Italy did you come from? I'm from Abruzzi, but living 15 miles west of Athens, GA right now.
Just to let you know, I found your website thru a small article in the march 2, 2009 isssue of Forbes magazine of all places.
Have you found a place in Atlanta tha t carries Italian style salumi? we are always looking for a place. We used to live in Pittsburgh, PA and that place had the best Italian lunchmeats on this side of the Atlantic. There was a place called the "Strip District" way back in the '70's and '80's that we loved to go to, now it's changed. Then there's Delallo grocery stores which we frequent when we go see family there. But we keep looking for one in ATL.

Jasonmolinari said...

bux2, thanks for the tip on the Forbes article, pretty neat!
As far as salumi in Atlanta, there are a couple of places. Star Provisions on Howell Mill has them, both commercial and house made.
There is also a new shop called Pine Street Market in Decatur.

Jasonmolinari said...

Oh yeah, i grew up in Milan.

Larbo said...


Just got back from London, where I had a chance to eat nduja, the raw, spreadable, Calabrian sausage, and it was love at first bite.

I've found descriptions of this sausage that say up to 60% consists of local hot peppers, but I haven't been able to track down a recipe for it. Any chance you could help another love-lorn sausagemaker with this one?

Jasonmolinari said...

Larbo, i have a recipe from an Italian salami page.
This gentleman says:

700g pork belly
300g crushed red pepper
15g salt.
Mince everything very very fine, almost to a creamy texture. Let sit in fridge for 1hr. Case in bladders or a beef casing that i don't know the name of in english.
Dry at room temperature for about a week., then put in the curing chamber for a few months, up to a year.

Alternately, substitute the 700g belly with 300g shoulder, 300g belly.

Larbo said...

Thanks so much, Jason!

I'll have to play around with sweet and hot peppers to get the right flavor and heat.

I'm puzzled by having the sausage sit out at room temperature (for a week!) without any added to ferment it. I wonder what protection the hot peppers give it against spoilage.

Because of that, and the extended curing, I would feel like I have to add some curing salts to the recipe. But, in my experience, nitrite makes the meat stiffen up and thus I might not get the same creamy spreadability.

What do you make of this recipe?

Hmmmm. Looks like I'll have to do some experimenting! I'll let you know the results.

Jasonmolinari said...

I would definitely add nitrates. I'm sure the red pepper give it a fair amount of protection, but nitrates for sure.
Maybe even a fermentation bacteria..but that would definitely cause it to stiffen up..hrmmmm, but then again the rest at room temp is to allow the fermentation to take place. This guy doesn't use added bacteria, but his fermentation is usually 12-24 hours...not a week!

scott said...

I've been looking for over an hour. I know there is a starter culture designed for longer fermentation periods(correct me if I'm wrong, Jason), could this be the answer? I know Len Poli had a recipe, but, I believe it's been pulled. Salame morbido may have the same consistency? Not sure.

Larbo said...

Bactoferm T-SPX is designed for long, slow fermentation and a mild acidification. It's available from Butcher-Packer.

scott said...

Thank you, Larbo. I made the suggestion for you as a possible answer for your n'duja.

Larbo said...

Thanks, Scott! I was thinking the same thing. The sausage I tasted did not have a strong lactic acid flavor, so I wanted to try a slower-acting culture that would produce a milder acidification.

I'm glad to see more and more of these bacterial cultures become available in the US!

Elie said...

When you vacuum pack the cured fermented sausages,like this one, do you freeze them or just store them in the fridge?

Jasonmolinari said...

elie, i kept mine in the fridge. When i opened one the other day it was a little tacky on the casing, i guess from the mold covering getting moisturized in the vac pack, but it was perfectly delicious.

I've read somewhere the best way to keep them is vac packed and frozen...but i don't remember where i read that.

scott said...

Hey, Larbo. Don't know if this is you or just a coincidence(pretty sure it is). Anyway, on the off chance that it isn't, look here.....

Jasonmolinari said...

I do believe larbo is THAT little pig:)

scott said...


Larbo said...

THAT pig I am! I guess I get around . . .

Thanks again, Jason, for the help with the Nduja recipe. The batch I made tasted great, fresh; now I just have to see how it ages.

The Humble Chef said...

This is something I had wondered about for sometime thank you for shedding some light on the subject.
I have a question that you may be able to answer for me. we recently made a batch of Salamis using beef middles. After aging we sliced and were ready to enjoy when we realized they tasted of blue cheese. Is this a problem with the casings not being cleaned enough or what? I hope you can help us solve this problem.

Jasonmolinari said...

Humble Chef, i'm afraid i don't know the answer to your blue cheese salame. Sounds like some kind of mold other than beneficial mold got in/on there.
Could be improperly cleaned casings, contaminated meat while grinding/stuffing, proximity to cheeses and the molds transferred...not really sure.

Larbo said...

Wow! Humble Chef, I've never heard of this either. If your salame tasted like blue cheese, then I can't help but wonder, like Jason, if it got infected with the same fungus that makes blue cheese: penicillium roquefortii. I imagine it would feed on meat protein just like it does on milk protein. You'll know if it's this fungus, because it would leave pockets of the same blue spores in your salame.

How it would get into a salame is still quite a mystery. Not from the casings I think. Some other contamination I suspect.

The Humble Chef said...

The only reason I have for blaming the casings is they smelled of blue cheese before we stuffed them. we have had great success with other casings it was only the beef middles that gave use this adverse taste. we are going to stuff our next batch in small pork casings and get some more middles after we use them up thanks for your thoughts and your blog.

Jasonmolinari said... it. That's odd. You can try soaking them middles in some water and vinegar for a little while to try to get rid of the smell before casing them.

Larbo said...

Humble Chef,

That is odd. I use beef middles quite a bit, and they do have a bit of a "ripe" odor, but not like blue cheese. More like gym socks. But I've never noticed the odor affecting the salame at all. Adding some vinegar to the water you soak them in is a good idea.

Jasonmolinari said...

blue cheese, gym socks, i think you guys are getting too close and personal with your casings :)

The Humble Chef said...

thanks guys. for the ideas

scott said...

Is it at all possible that the starter culture was bad? If it was in fact the beef middle as the problem, yet another reason to go artificial.

Anonymous said...

So my question here is about the outside mold. When we by salami's at the deli that have mold on them, we eat the slices without removing the casings mold and all! So if you are using inedible collagen casings, you are not getting the mold flavoring while eating, right?

Jasonmolinari said...

Hrm, i guess not. The outside mold does affect the flavor through the casing, but i don't eat the mold.
I've never eaten the casings though, so i woulnd't even know what the mold would taste like.

Rumela said...

The Norwegian producer Tind makes cured meat based on old traditions with a modern twist.its true or not?

Anonymous said...


I have a question about the meat cultures. I notice on Allied Kenco that the F-LC starter culture (25g) retails for $14.95. You call for 1g in your recipe for this salami. What is your preservation method for the remaining culture? Is it shelf stable, or do you refrigerate it? How long does it keep? Naturally, I ask because I would hate to spend $14.95 for one use of a product when it could provide 24 additional ones with wise management -- and because this is a living thing, after all.


Jasonmolinari said...

Allied Kenco sells them now? Cool.
For storage, i vacuum pack it (leaving them in their foil pouches in the vac bag) and put it in my chest freezer.
I've used them after a year and they were still fine.

Jhon said...

WOW!... You have so many idea that good.
Thanks for the recipe.

Home Security Systems no CREDIT CHECK everyone is approved

Todd said...

Hi Jason,

RE: Dry Salami

Is the initial fermentation process of approx 48 hours at higher temp and high humidity on a salami done before or after stuffing when using starter culture?

I want to make sure that when I start this journey, now that I have my two units set up and ready to ferment in one and dry in the other, I know whether to begin the fermentation process in or out of the casings.


(I'm a newbie)

scott said...

Stuff first.

Jasonmolinari said...

todd, i ferment after stuffing.

Anonymous said...

I have problems with casings tearing and sausages falling to the floor of the fermentation chamber and or curing chamber. I have only used natural hog casings for my cured suasages. I do not stuff the sausages on the heavy side. Would the artifcial casings solve this problem? Maybe I lack technique in tying my links? Any help you could offer would help.

Thank You

Jasonmolinari said...

Artificial casings are very strong, although natural ones should be able to handle the weight. Sounds like you're doing something in the tying that is causing problems.
I'm not very familiar with specific knots or tying methods for sausages though, sorry.

Terry Lapain said...

We would like to know if these collagen middles casings can be boiled as we have a type of Italian sausage that needs to be boiled for two hours.

Jasonmolinari said...

I'm not actually sure Terry.