Introduction

Ever since the realization that one of our most important foods, meat, cannot be left''as is'' because in some hours or some days—depending on the ambient temperature—it spoils (i.e., cannot be eaten), human beings came up with ways of'' preservation." Of these preservation techniques, drying and later fermentation and drying are probably the most ancient ones. In early ages, meat pieces were dried (and smoked) in caves above open fires, which ''technology" must have been remembered much later, too, when animals were domesticated and raised as a source of meat (and a source of milk as well as leather and fur). At that time, open fires existed in the nomads' tents. At a later stage, some hundreds to some thousands of years ago, whole pieces of killed domesticated animals were rubbed with salt and spices, or meat and fat cut into small pieces were mixed with salt and spices, and were dried, making use of the animals' intestines. This way it was possible to supply humankind with food of animal origin all year round; and in the past centuries, fermentation and drying has become an art—the manufacturing of high-quality meat products (1). A real breakthrough in fermented dried meat product manufacturing happened only about 50 years ago, when Niinivaara and Niven discovered the great potential of controlled fermentation. These two excellent scientists revolutionized fermented meat manufacturing, a field of meat processing which has developed ever since both in theory and practice. Importance of this starter culture technology is clearly shown by its benefits: a rapid turnover, a typical and consistent pleasant aroma and taste as well as good safety record in comparison to natural fermentation, a process in which the ever-changing microflora of raw materials may metabolize the ingredients thus affecting the quality of a product mainly because of shorter ripening time. It has to be emphasized, though, that there are traditional technologies (e.g., Italian and Hungarian salami, Iberian and Parma ham) in which excellent sensory quality and safety records can be achieved; this is ensured, in addition to (curing) salt, by a long ripening-drying time at low temperature, relying only on these selecting effects: allowing growth of desired microorganisms yet inhibiting growth of undesired members of the natural microflora. As a matter of fact, the safety record of mold-ripened meat products— characterized by long drying times and low aw-values—is better than that for short-ripened products because of low water activity, which is a reliable hurdle alone, inhibiting pathogenic growth. (In the case of rapid fermentation technologies, metabolic activity of surface mold may cause breakdown of lactic acid, thus raising pH and allowing growth of pathogenic and spoilage microorganisms.) As far as food safety is concerned, possible presence and activity of toxin-producing molds also has to be dealt with in the case of mold-ripened meat products.

Mold-ripened products can be divided basically into two groups:

Those made of intact meat cuts: i.e., different types of hams

Those made of comminuted meat and fat stuffed into (natural or artificial) casing: i.e., different types of sausages

This difference in appearance requires basic difference in technology. In this chapter, production of sausage will be described.

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