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When making salami at home goes horribly wrong (in other words, do not promise your first batch to your father-in-law for Christmas)

In Dried sausage,Fermented sausage,Fermented Sausage Equipment,Lessons learned,Salami on July 21, 2010 by fred Tagged: , , ,

This was a video Christmas card I made for my father-in-law to tell him that he will get some of my first batch of salami.  See how smug and self-satisfied I am in  my naivete?  Of course, everything went horribly wrong after I shot this video, and I ended up having to throw away the meat AND the converted freezer.

embedded by Embedded Video

So what happened?  Through some troubleshooting and testing, I found out:

DRYING CHAMBER

To start, I was using an older, non-frost free freezer — one where the metal shelving has cooling tubes running around the outside edge.  I used an external, inline thermostat from McMaster-Carr that works great and I’ll describe another time.  Problems:

  • When the cooling lines are inside the drying chamber, the condensation forms on the lines and then drips into the bottom of the chamber.   Condensation when at freezing temps = frost, condensation at optimal drying temps of 50-55 F = water constantly forming on the shelves.  Because the shelves are made of steel and they have water on and around them, they tend to rust and they also attract mold.
  • The shelves are in fixed positions, and are permanently in position because the cooling lines are soldered to them.  I ended up bending the middle shelf up to a 45 degree angle and attaching it on both corners to the top shelf.  I did this VERY carefully, as I didn’t want to break open a cooling line, however I knew that the line was made of copper tubing and it should have some flexibility in it at a warm temperature.  This gave me space to hang the salami in the middle third of the drying chamber, but some of the spray-on coating that was on thelines came off the tubes and shelf, which added to the area of exposed metal ripe for rusting.
  • A non-frost free freezer has no air circulation because unlike a frost-free freezer it doesn’t have a fan to blow in air over the coils that are outside the chamber.  Coils inside mean a fan is not necessary for cooling.  So I drilled as large a hole as I could through the sidewall, screwed in a quad-box electrical box, and attached a 4″ 120v fan to it (available from Radio Shack).  I connected this to the power feed between my hydrostat and humidifier, thinking that when they run at the same time the fan won’t dry out the meat too quickly.  This whole problem goes away completely with the use of a frost-free freezer.

HUMIDITY SENSOR

I use a Honeywell TS33F temperature and humidity sensor with probe.  It sits on top of my drying chamber and transmits to a home station that sits inside my house.  Both pieces are relatively inexpensive and save me hours of worry that something has happened to my drying chamber.  Issue:

  • If you read the fine print in the manual, the probe only senses temperature — the humidity level you receive back at the home station is actually from the remote unit itself, not from the probe!

While my humidity sensor was showing me the outside air’s relatively low humidity, I was regularly turning up the THC-1 humidistat in my drying chamber.  Starting at 70% and working my way up to 100%, all the while seeing 64% on the display.   (Turns out, this was an unusually wet winter in Los Angeles.  If I had started this batch in the spring or summer, the humidity reading would have been significantly lower, so I would have caught on sooner that something was amiss.  As it happened, I was duped by the local weather).

CURRENT SOLUTION

I picked up two cigar humidifier analog hygrometers.  Before I put the hygrometers in, I tested them with a hygrometer test kit, an inexpensive plastic bag with a pouch that is designed to hold a constant 75.5% relative humidity.  I found one was over by 1% and the other was over by 4% — I noted this on the hygrometers with permanent ink.  You can also recalibrate them with a screw in the back but I haven’t verified how long they stay calibrated.  I put one on the top shelf above the salami and one on the shelf below.  The THC-1 hydrostat sits in the door at about meat level and roughly halfway between the two analog hygrometers.

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