Soppressata w-credit While David Lebovitz considers molecular gastronomy and  The Alinea Cookbook in a long and thoughtful post today (he approaches with great skepticism, as he's a traditionalist at heart, and leaves with appreciation having come back round to where he'd begun but by a whole new route), I would like to consider some of the oldest molecular gastronomical magic known to man.  Combining ground pork and salt and seasonings, introducing to it some microscopic creatures, and waiting for it to dry a little, to achieve a tangy flavorful sausage that has never gone above room temperature.

In December, a few of us went in on a pig.  One of the pleasures of hand-raised hog is the quality of its meat when dry-cured.  I've dry-cured grocery store pork and it's terrible. Grocery store pork is, typically, uniformly bad, but the dry-curing process magnifies it.

Of the many things we did with the hog was use shoulder meat and back fat to make soppressata and I also tested a product not yet available when Charcuterie came out: a mold culture from  Another first was the environment.  Among the most asked charcuterie questions I get is "What can I dry-cure meat in?"  I bought a $90 dorm-room sized fridge from Sears specifically to test this method.  Both the mold and the fridge worked perfectly.  I was able to set the fridge to it's warmest setting and it stayed at around 60 degrees.  I kept a pan of salt water in it for additional moisture. I spooned the dissolved mold culture over the sausage and it developed a beautiful coating of mold, like a powdered donut.  (The reason you want this, is that that the good mold protects the sausage from growing bad mold.)  I recommend both products, though i look forward to more tests.

Here's the recipe for a standard soppressata, adapted from Charcuterie.  The DQ Cure #2 (sodium nitrate) is critical in that it prevents the growth of botulism within the sausage. I used a beef middle, also from butcher packer, but you can use hog casings if you wish.  I added a lot of coarsley chopped black pepper to the one above and did half the following recipe. It dried in about 4 weeks to a perfect, not overly chewy consistency, with a tangy, garlicky, peppery deliciousness.

1 pound/500 grams farm-raised pork fat, diced
4 pounds/2 kilogram farm-raised boneless pork shoulder, diced
1.5 ounces/40 grams kosher salt (about 3 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon/7 grams DQ Curing Salt #2
1/4 to 1/2 package live starter culture Bactoferm
1/4 cup/60 milliliters distilled water
3 tablespoon/30 grams dextrose (or sugar)
1 teaspoon/6 grams minced fresh garlic
1 teaspoon/2 grams red pepper flakes
1/4 cup/60 milliliters Pinot Bianco, or comparable dry white wine
hog casing or beef middles for stuffing
mold culture if using (linked above)
Be sure the meat is very, very cold.  The fat can even be partially frozen. Grind it through a large die into the bowl of an electric mixer set in ice.

Dissolve the Bactoferm in the water and add it, and the remaining ingredients, to the meat.  Using the paddle attachment, mix on the lowest speed until seasonings are thoroughly distributed, being careful to avoid warming the fat, one to two minutes.

Stuff tightly into casings.  Weigh your sausage and record this weight.  Hang at room temperature for 12 hours to “incubate” the bacteria; the beneficial bacteria will grow and produce more lactic acid in warmer temperatures.

Move to whatever drying environment you're using.  If using a mold culture, follow the instructions introducing it to your soppressata now.  Ideally, this sauasage should hang at 60 degrees F./15 degrees C. with 60%-70% humidity.  The sausage is "done" when it's lost 30 percent of its weight, which usually takes between 3 and 4 weeks.  When it's lost that weight, slice thinly to serve.  To store it, wrap it in parchment and refrigerate.


39 Wonderful responses to “Soppressata”

  • ruhlman

    its actually a pretty sharp slicing knife. i kind of like the rough edges though, and because of it’s tenderness, the thicker piece ate perfectly.

  • Tags

    Now THAT’s what a Ruhlman page should look like. That cabbage sandwich was giving me the willies.

  • Cured Meats

    Michael, have you done a head to head of farmer pork vs. commercial pork, dry cured using the same formulation for both batches, changing only the pork?
    I have, and i did a blind taste test with a number of people. Unbelievable, ALL of them chose the commercial pork. It was strange, and very interesting. You can check out the results on my blog.

    I’m not saying that one should use commercial pork over farm raised, i’m just wondering if your taste buds are being obfuscated by your knowledge of commerical vs. farmer pork, and its morality.

  • Cured Meats

    Sorry, i forgot to mention that since the results in the 1st farmer vs. commercial pork were so incredible, i re-ran the experiment with another farmer’s pork.
    Same results. Everyone chose the commercial.

    The tastings were blind.

  • Bob delGrosso

    Nice looking salumi man. A couple of questions and an observation
    1)What’s the cheesecloth for?
    2) Why did you use DQ cure #2?

    I’ve been having luck eliminating Bactoferm from recipes and letting ambient lactic acid producing bacteria lower the pH. It’s the traditional way to do it and it takes longer, but it’s cheaper and it works. All I do is cut up the meat into large, grinder-ready chunks, add all the seasoning (nitrite included) except for what I don’t want to put through the grinder. Next, the meat goes into the refrigerator for 4-5 days. At this temp pathogenic bacteria will not grow but lacto-bacilli will. Have you tried this? I’m sure you are aware of the method.

  • Latenac

    Cured Meats that sort of depends more on what you grew up with. I know Cook’s Illustrated did a taste test of grass fed beef vs. commercial, the younger people all picked commercial and the older people picked the grass fed beef. All of their reasoning for the choices were b/c it tasted like what they had growing up.

  • Laura

    The refrigerator is a fantastic idea! I always get a little worried about the temps in my apartment…especially in the warmer months (since I’m too cheap to use the air conditioner with any regularity).

  • ruhlman

    cured meats: that’s surprising. i’ve only dry cured whole muscles of factory hogs. maybe youre grocery store get’s really good port. maybe with seasonings it doesn’t matter as much.

    bob: cheesecloth? that’s parchment it’s wrapped in. I use DQ #2 because in addition to sodium nitrite, it also contains sodium nitrate, which over time becomes nitrite, thereby taking care of any pathogens that might be left over–it’s a precautionary measure and i don’t see any reason not to use it for dry cured sausages.

    And yes, I love the method you describe. Back when this began, farmers didn’t have a mail order source for bacteria, they got it the same way you are. But if i’m going to the trouble of making a dry cured sausage, i don’t want to take any chances on its lacking the right natural acidity. An artisan maker such as yourself should do it as you’re doing. Very commendable.

    Salumeria Beillese in nyc doesn’t use a starter culture. I don’t know about armandino in seattle, or cosentino and bertolli in the bay area.

  • Cured Meats

    Michael, for the reason you mention, the spices overwhelming the flavor, the salame i made was a VERY simple, salt, pepper, touch of garlic salame. A cacciatorino of sorts.

    It was very surprising. If you get a chance, try running it as an experiment and taste them side by side.

    What are the off flavors you get from the commercial pork?

  • Todd

    Could you post a pic of your refrigerator setup? How often do you change the water in the pan (or do you at all) and what concentration of salt?

  • Elizabeth

    I echo Todd’s request for more info regarding your fridge set-up. I live in an apartment (with cats) and don’t really have the space or tempurature regulating ability needed for most charcuterie. I’ve heard about using a fridge, but any thoughts, tips, or pictures you could share would be extremely useful.

  • ntsc

    I’ve dry cured both comercial and ‘Slow Food’ pork – whole fresh ham – as ‘proscuitto’. They could only hang 5 months. The ‘Slow Food’ was better tasting and was chewable in thin slices. The comercial tasted pretty good ot 79 cents a pound, but was too tough to eat as uncooked slices.

    Both yielded about 10 pounds.

    I’m going to try a wine cooler come spring when my basement gets too warm. One will hang for at least 16 months.

  • Tags

    Michael is not alone in favoring small-farm pork products over factory meats & hams.

    Peter Kaminsky, author of “Pig Perfect,” overwhelmingly endorses artisanal pork as well. He did a LOT of research to come to this conclusion. With all due respect, I’m more inclined to believe him than a blogger, who could be anybody.

  • Cured Meats

    Tags, fair enough. Which is why i encourage people to do the experiment themselves. I’m just stating my facts and findings that were found using scientific method, not feelings and prejudices.

    I’ve done my research as well, and because i haven’t published books, that makes me less of an authority? I venture to say that i’ve cured more meat than many people. Then again, I am just a lowly blogger, unpublished. What do i know.

  • Abra from French Letters

    Beautiful! It almost (almost!) makes me want to go back to America and back to the charcuterie making ways that I learned from you originally. You kind of have to be nuts to roll your own here in France, since really great stuff is everywhere. I do confess to making my own terrines occasionally, but that’s about it. And I’ll freely admit, it’s a lot more fun to make it yourself, it’s just that France makes me lazy.

  • Angry Brit

    This looks amazing. I’ve never cured my own meat (although I have made my own confit and pate) and this definitely makes me want to try. Just out of curiosity, would this method work with other meats such as duck, goose, or venison?

  • Sean Kelly

    Michael, or other cured meat people- what if the temperature was too low? I would think the fermentation would slow, but would there be ill effects?

  • Sean Kelly

    Can anyone comment of whether it makes sense from the perspective of time and money to home-cure meat? I live in Seattle where there are several good local options.

  • Vivian

    @Sean. You are very fortunate. I live in Oklahoma where there are no Salumerias. I have found a few sources here where I can obtain just some of the imported meats that I like, but they can’t always bring in what I wish to have. I can get prosciutto de parma but I can’t get filipino style longanisa or portugese sausage (linguica). I now make those sausages at home and at a minimal cost too. It makes sense to do this if it is worth it you.

  • ruhlman

    it’s just a little fridge with a pan of salt water. wet salt as cured meat says is fine, you just don’t want molds growing on the water. i kept a cable thermometer in there to watch the temp. really not much more to it.

    i know some chefs who cure the whole time in their walk in cooler and it works great for them, but yes, cold would slow it down and i’d worry about case hardening in a fridge.

  • drago

    Sorta related open question to anyway (included Michael): I tried making the duck prosciutto from a few weeks back.

    It darkened to a wonderful hue and achieved that “flexible firmness” but after a week it smelled really gamey, like chicken that should be tossed.

    Did I screw something up or was it maybe just sub-standard meat to begin with? Or is that intense smell what I’m actually looking for?

  • heather

    so glad to hear your fridge set up worked! we picked up half a farm-raised hog a couple of weeks ago, and were hoping we could dry cure in our basement. the temperature down there fluctuates so much, though, it’s nice to know that there’s an relatively inexpensive alternative that would be easier to control.

  • Salty

    On a side note….my wife looked at the title picture and exclaimed “what is that?!” I explained it was a sausage and she replied, “why is it wearing a shirt?” “It looks like some one’s head was cut off in a guillotine!

    After looking at the photo……..I can see it.

  • Abra from French Letters

    Sean – I was living on Bainbridge Island when I was deeply into curing meat, so I’ll answer. You probably can’t make anything better than Salumi does, and it won’t be cheaper, but it’s more of a hobby than a foodstuff per se. You can make incredibly delicious products and have lots of fun both making and serving them. If long, slow cooking projects are your thing, curing meat is a natural.

  • Davidsrecipesite

    You have truly inspired me and I will be ordering your book tomorrow. I have had that craving in the back of my head for several Spanish and Portuguese cured meats since youth. I have always just pushed it back to the miscellaneous section of my head that stores such ideas. My great nana used to make linguica and Serrano hams – hence my bug. You have finally sold me. I figure if I can take the time to BBQ and other tasks I can do this. I also already have a mini fridge that is not used.
    I do wonder if a full sized fridge would also work. We have a spare in the garage and since I know myself so well, if I was to spend the time to make these things I know I would want to make a lot of stuff.

  • JBL

    At the risk of opening a can of worms; are there any recipes that use “natural” sources for nitrites (i.e.:celery juice)?

    It seems like many people’s expectations are that if the pork is organic, heritage, etc… then by extension it should contain no “added Nitrites/trates”.

  • Richard

    Michael, I bought the book before Christmas, and have tried a couple of recipes in it, namely the beef jerky and the Tuscan salami. The beef jerky turned out great, and my dad tells me the salami turned out great as well. He was a bit apprehensive about leaving the sausage out at room temperature overnight, but after I explained what was going on, he’s on board. Now that he’s tasted it, I need make sure I get some before he eats it all!

  • Adam

    Can you please clarify if you hung the soppressata in the fridge, or laid it on a rack/shelve?

    I would assume you hung it … But I’m curious to know.

    Also, what ratio did you use for the salt water?


  • Silvius

    Mr. Ruhlman I want to get into charcuterie but there is one piece of equipment that I am unsure what will work/I should buy and I need help-

    I’m not certain what to cure my meat in.

    I’ve heard of people taking regular refrigerators and augmenting them with other things to control humidity levels, but I’ve also heard of people just buying wine cellars/refrigerators because a good one will already have temperature and humidity control.

    What do you use for your charcuterie endeavors? What do you suggest someone who is starting out to use?

    Thank you incredibly much for your help.

  • Ben Moscia

    There is a gadget that some of us home-beer-brewers use, its a temperature controller with a probe that you can turn any fridge or freezer into a temp-controlled box. Its $75. or so, but when you have a lot of stuff going on, like curing meat and keeping a big pot of stock cool until you can deal with it, its a wonderful tool. For beer, different yeasts perform best at certain temperatures, so its indispensable. The Freezer(in my case) just plugs into the controller which plugs into the wall.

  • Devon

    I am so impressed when people of, any culinary background, take on these type of endeavors. There’s nothing like spooning mold and getting something delicious on the other end. Very awesome

  • Erin

    Oh my, that looks delicious. Only a few more months in my postage stamp sized apartment, then I’m so taking this on. For now I will have to settle for hoofing down the road for some Salumi soppressata. . . it’s a tough life.

  • Lucy Vaserfirer

    That looks absolutely fantastic. I want to try the saucisson sec recipe from the book (been suffering saucisson sec withdrawal since my trip to France), but, I’m wondering, would you use a mold culture on it too, and if so, which one? And since you’ve mentioned the mold cultures a couple of times now, is there a general rule to follow about their application? One last thing-if you want to coat a dry-cured sausage in cracked pepper or herbs, how do you do it? Thanks!