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.