The Craftwork Of Small Organisms

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Bacteria are responsible for the delicious taste of salami, although industrial microbes do not yield as tasty dried sausages as wild microbes. Credit Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Fermented meat does not have the sound of mmmm to it, but we learn something new each day:

Actually, You Do Want to Know How This Sausage Gets Made

When you slice into a salami, you are enjoying the fruits of some very small organisms’ labor.

Like other dried sausages, salami is a fermented food. Its production involves a period where manufacturers allow microbes to work on the ground meat filling to create a bouquet of pungent, savory molecules. Traditionally, the bugs find their way to the sausage from the surrounding environment. But these days, industrial manufacturers add a starter culture of bacteria to the meat instead, much the way a bread baker adds a packet of yeast to her dough.

It’s safer this way, and leads to more consistent results. These industrial starters may not always yield the most inspired flavor, though.

recent study from researchers at the University of Turin, published in the journal Applied Environmental Microbiology, found that salami made with wild bugs scored higher with tasters than salami made with a starter culture. The amount of acid produced by the industrial bacteria as it works over the meat might explain the difference.

At the beginning of the experiment, Luca Cocolin, a professor of microbiology at University of Turin, and his colleagues had a local salami manufacturer create two batches, using pork, lard, pepper, coriander, nutmeg, wine and other ingredients according to their usual recipe. A starter was added to one batch and not to the other, and after the filling was packed into sausage casings and hung up to ferment, the researchers checked in on the microbes three, seven, and 40 days later.

What they saw was an explosive growth in the starter bacteria, to the exclusion of almost any other type. Very soon, they began to produce molecules that are usually made later on in the fermentation process, suggesting that having little competition had perhaps allowed them to jump the gun. In contrast, a rainbow of species cropped up more gradually in the other salami, generating a correspondingly more complex — and apparently more pleasant — array of scent and flavor molecules.

Read the whole story here.


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