Growing up I would say I knew of 3 sausages: Hot Dogs (of the Oscar Mayer type), Polish Sausage/Kielbasa (again of the Eckrich/Oscar Mayer type) and Salami. A bit later came Bratwurst. I will admit I knew of Bologna, but never really got into it. That is still the case. Many years later I have really gotten into encased meats, and even the un-cased ones. I received my KitchenAid grinder attachment for Christmas in 2002 and began making my own. Then it was mostly different versions of brats. In 2005 I picked up Charcuterie and made several of the recipes over then next few months. Some were successes (breakfast, brat) and others not so much (peperone, chorizo). Since then I would say that I have down the fresh sausage techniques and could even judge a sausage just on the recipe alone. What I have failed to master thus far has been the fermented sausages. So when I saw the new challenge for Charcutepalooza, I decided to tackle a fermented sausage once again.
The 2 most important differences of a fermented sausage past all the important steps for ANY sausage are: proper fermentation (time/temperature/culture/humidity/pH) and drying (time/temperature/humidity/air circulation). Of all these challenges in making a nice final project, my trouble has consistently been the humidity. This isn't saying I haven't screwed the others up! I've over fermented and created a sausage that was too tangy/sour (time/culture). I've fermented at too high of a temperature and rendered out some of the fat. I've tried to dry in an area with bad air and got lots of bad mold. But of all these, the humidity control has been my nemesis.
That was until I finally said "no more." I created a large chamber in which I can control the humidity, temperature and air circulation. And guess what! I did it the same week the new challenge from Charcutepalooza was announced, sausage. I read the details and saw the options and decided to do something different than the chorizo and merguez. I love both of these dearly but I wanted to give my new chamber a run so I decided on a style I have loved for a couple years now, the Italian dried sausage, Finocchiona. I read once that it was once told a thief stole a piece of Finocchiona and was chased. He hid the sausage in a field of fennel. When he came back to retrieve it the sausage had taken on the taste of the fennel. Obviously the main flavor components include fennel. I have some excellent seeds from Scott at Sausage Debauchery and also used a good amount of Black peppercorns plus red wine, garlic, white pepper and other small touches. I got the recipe base from the book The Art of Fermented Sausages which is a nice read if you're into numbers, graphs and details. I increased the amount of black peepercorns in hopes of getting a close replication of my favorite Finocchiona, the Batali version from Salumi in Seattle.
As I always do I started with ground pork shoulder from Slagel Farms. I mixed all the meat, cure and seasonings the night before. The next day when I was ready to stuff I added the culture after reviving it in some distilled water. And the casing began. I decided to use a standard bratwurst sized casing since I knew I had limited drying time to make the post deadline. As Rebecca helped my load and feed the meat into the KitchenAid attachment things went well. Then about the third link I noticed the farce came out looking like bratwurst, NOT GOOD. This is a properly textured sausage, not an emulsified one. Since I had to be to work in less than an hour I had to act fast. I got on the phone with Rob at Butcher & Larder and asked him to bail me out. He offered his hand-crank vertical stuffer. Awesome, but I don't have enough time by the time I get there. Everything went into the freezer until we could head over there. When I walked in he sent me over to a former culinary schoolmate whom he had asked to help me out by stuffing them for me. I got them back later that night and they looked great. Same size I had started making, great looking farce (not smeared by mediocre equipment) and perfectly stuffed. Thanks Rob!
That night they went into the chamber set at 75% relative humidity at 80˚ F. They stayed in there for 3 days with steady air-ciculation. After that I decreased the temperature (end of fermentation) but left the humidity the same. After a week I decreased the humidity down to 70% and then a week later dropped it again to 65%. The weight loss was aided by the smaller size of the sausage and by keeping the sausages in a slightly lower humidity than if I had another week to complete the project. I was happy in that it worked perfectly and no flavor was sacrificed by the slightly quicker drying. It is normally during this time that the flavors of the pork truly get to shine. I will admit that due to a very hectic work schedule this week my humidifier went dry for what I figure was a day or two towards the very end. This caused the casing to dry a tad bit which means it peels off easily. Only a minor flaw.
When I finally cut into one I was immediately excited. Beside the slight porky scent that has taken over the corner of our apartment nearest the office/curing room, the Finocchiona smells fabulous. Your get the tang immediately then the pork, fennel and pepper almost simultaneously, in that order. The texture is nice. I think it could stand to dry a few more days and it would only get better, but I don't know if it will last that long! Again, like with most items like this, I like to simply eat it straight, or maybe with some bread, pickled somethings and some cheese. Oh, did I mention the New Holland Brewing beer Charkoota Rye, Smoked Dopplebock Lager? Nice pairing!