History and Evolution of the Fermented Meats Industry

Like other fermented foods, recorded references to fermented meats date back thousands of years. The manufacture of these products likely originated in southern Europe and areas surrounding the Mediterranean Sea during the Roman era, although there were probably Asian counterparts that appeared around the same time. Even though it is not absolutely clear from the historical records whether these early sausage products were actually fermented, it is difficult to imagine, given the circumstances, that there wasn't some sort of natural fermentation occurring.

The manufacture of these early fermented meat products most certainly occurred as a result of accidents, and repeating these successes on a consistent basis must have been very difficult. We know that the key to produce these meat products via a natural fermentation relies on creating conditions that select for the proper organisms (discussed below). However, the technique of backslopping—taking a portion of a good finished product and adding it to the starting raw material—was likely adopted to increase the probability of success, despite the fact that the rationale behind this step was not understood. This technology is still practiced throughout the world, even though, as we shall see later, there are now far more reliable methods for ensuring a consistent fermentation. In any event, the technology of fermented meats production remained an art for many years. In fact, sausage manufacturing was, like the manufacture of other fermented foods, performed by craftsmen, monks, and other trained specialists.

The actual number and types of products that evolved were many, and like other fer mented foods, depended largely on geography. Certainly, preservation was the likely driving force for many of the processing practices that were adopted. In warmer areas, such as those in the Middle East and around the Mediterranean, spices were often added, and a drying step was common. Thus, dry, peppery, and spicy sausages, such as Genoa salami and pep-peroni, evolved in Italy. In colder, more Northern areas, where sausage technology is more recent, spices were rarely added, and instead products were usually smoked or sometimes cooked following fermentation. Most of the moist and semi-dry German-style sausages, such as Thuringer, Lebanon bologna, and cerve-lat, are of this variety.

The drying, cooking, and smoking steps, the addition of salt and spices, as well as the incorporation of nitrate salts, not only added flavor and appeal, but also would have given these products a long shelf-life, even at ambient temperature. That these products are enclosed within casings also contributes to their preservation, since post-processing microbial contaminants are excluded. In fact, the preservation of fermented meats serves as a perfect example of what food scientists now refer to as the hurdle or barrier concept of food preservation. Preservation is achieved not by any one specific process, but rather by a combination of processes, such that fermentation is combined with drying, salting, smoking, cooking, and antimicrobial chemicals to ensure safety and to enhance preservation (discussed later in more detail).

The fermented meats industry, compared to other fermented foods industries, is relatively new. In fact, it was not until well into the twentieth century that producers of fermented meats began to develop and apply modern production technologies. Previously, sausage manufacture was mostly confined to craftsmen and at-home producers who made products on a batch-by-batch basis. Product quality, consistency, and especially safety were not always achieved. Equipment for grinding, mixing, and stuffing procedures, as well as fermentation chambers, only became available in the past sixty to seventy years. Moreover, pure curing agents, synthetic casings, and starter cultures have only been available since the 1960s. It is no coincidence that it was during this period that the industry increased in size and that rapid, high throughput manufacturing methods capable of producing products of consistent quality and safety developed.

Today the variety of fermented meat products available around the world is nearly equal to that of cheese. In Spain, for example, there are at least fifty different types of fermented sausages, and in Germany there are more than 350. Not only is this variation due to the meat source (i.e., beef, pork, goat, sheep, etc.), but the cut of meat, the amount and coarseness of the fat, and the casing material used to form the shape all have a profound influence on the finished product. The level of dryness and whether or not smoking is applied or mold growth permitted to occur are especially important factors and form the basis of fermented meats classification (Table 6-1).

It is worth emphasizing, especially for readers less familiar with sausage nomenclature, that many of the sausage products available in the marketplace are simply cured, comminuted products, meaning they contain curing salts and undergo many of the same processing steps as do fermented sausages, but they are not fermented. Thus, frankfurters, bologna, and breakfast sausages are not fermented and will not be discussed in this chapter. In contrast, there are fermented meat products that are made from whole, intact meat materials, such as the country hams popular in selected regions

Table 6.1. Examples of fermented meats and sausages.

Product

Meat

Areas Produced

Features

Moist sausages

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