To a charcutier, sausage making is a beautiful thing.
Rusty Bowers is the owner of Pine Street Market in Avondale Estates, Georgia. He and his staff create a range of charcuterie (cured meats) from every part of a pig, from an award-winning coppa and an 18-month-old prosciutto, to a wide variety of salami, bacon and hot dogs.
They buy whole pigs from a local farm, so creation of any given sausage format is closely tied to the production of all the rest. Bowers explained the process of curing salami and coppa, a symphony of salt, seasonings, meat and mold.
After the meat arrives, his team does the initial breakdown, separating certain large formats like the coppa (which comes from the shoulder) and removing all the little bits of meat and fat. The separated meat and fat are recombined later in specific ratios based on the kind of sausage or salami is being made.
It's also important for Pine Street Market's style of salami that the fat be refrigerated nearly to the point of freezing so that when it's put through the grinder, it maintains integrity. This produces a salami that still has discrete fat and meat when sliced, or as Bowers says, "like a kaleidoscope" when held to the light.
The team adds salt and seasonings to the meat, then reintroduces fat as it is ground. Liquids such as wine and the starter culture are added afterward.
The culture is a lactobacillus similar to the one found in yogurt, and Dextrose is introduced as a feeding agent. After the team stuffs the salami meat, they put their handiwork into in a "greening room" or fermenting room which Bowers describes as "similar to a rainforest." This humid environment kickstarts the fermentation process.
After a couple days the team checks the pH of the salami. If the number has has dropped enough, the meat is moved to the "cave" or aging room, which is maintained at 55 degrees and 65 percent humidity. The salami then age for about six weeks before they are ready for sale.
The cave aging and culture produce a white mold on the outside of the salami. Another benefit: flavor. Bowers explains that the culture is responsible for the "harmony" of flavors in the salami. Without the culture it would be a "single note...almost like a jerky." (Not that there is anything wrong with jerky.)
After it's separated from the shoulder, the coppa is given a dry rub, then is refrigerated in a tub with the other coppa for 25 days. The rub becomes liquid as it draws moisture from inside the meat, so the liquid is rotated every two days. Then the coppa receives a white wine bath before its six month stay in the cave.
Cuts become other products with the application of various combinations of smoke, salt, and age. Belly becomes bacon, jowl becomes guanciale, ham becomes...ham. But for high end offerings like the 18 month prosciutto, a careful prediction of future demand must be made. For a large ham to take up space for that long in the cave, a maker must keep track of how many are coming out at a time, and how many they'll be likely to sell.
Bower's favorite product is the speck, which is a ham that is both aged and smoked. He sees it as a synthesis of European refinement and Southern United States flavor.
"It's the closest thing we are going to have to a country ham while still celebrating the prosciutto."