Cured meats: how to do it best

All the useful tips to carry out the seasoning of cured meats and choose the most suitable equipment for this process

Tuesday 14 May 2024

Cured meats seasoning is a fundamental process in determining the distinctive characteristics of the finished product because it allows meat to undergo a series of biochemical and microbiological transformations that give them unique flavors, aromas and textures. This ancient method of processing not only prolongs the shelf life of the meat, but also enhances its organoleptic qualities, making it more tender, tasty and easily digestible.

Seasoning takes place in controlled environments, where temperature, humidity and ventilation are carefully regulated to promote a correct maturation of cured meats. The various stages of the process, from stewing to drying, up to the actual seasoning, require expertise, experience and attention to detail to obtain optimal results, but also the use of specific equipment, certified for contact with food.
Food grade plastic boards and stackable grids are certainly among the indispensable equipment to carry out this process in an optimal way because they allow adequate air circulation around the cured meats during the seasoning phase, thus helping to avoid the formation of unwanted mold and to ensure a uniform and controlled maturation.

Let’s see in more detail what are the different stages of cured meats seasoning, how to carry it out at its best and the equipment necessary to achieve high quality results.

The different stages of seasoning

Cured meats seasoning is a process divided into several stages, each of which is distinguished by the degree of humidity and temperature necessary, but also for the duration. All these aspects help to define the aromas, flavors and quality of the cured meats. The three main stages of seasoning are:

  • stewing, which represents the initial and fundamental phase of seasoning, in which crucial microbiological changes take place, with the consequent elimination of harmful bacteria and the proliferation of useful ones. During this phase (which can last up to four days) it is vital to carefully control the temperature, which can also reach 26 ºC, so the meat loses a lot of water, decreasing in weight and volume. The humidity of the surrounding environment must also be carefully regulated to keep meat slightly moist at the level of the casing;
  • drying: during the drying phase the temperature is lowered (to a minimum of 12 ºC) and the overall humidity is raised to about 80-90%. This phase, which can last from 5 to 10 days, is extremely delicate as it determines the right moisture balance between the surface of the sausage and its interior. A mistake during this phase could cause excessive dehydration of the sausage. During drying, the pH is lowered further and the moisture of the product stabilizes, allowing mold to develop on the surface of the sausage;
  • maturing, the final stage and longer, which represents the real maturation of the sausages. The length of maturing can vary considerably depending on the type of product. During this phase it is necessary to continue to carefully monitor external temperature and humidity, while molds develop on the casing that contribute to the formation of the characteristic aroma and taste of the cured meats. The environment in which maturation takes place is fundamental: cold cuts tend to absorb the smells of the surrounding environment, so, to obtain a quality product with typical and distinctive aromas, it is important that the seasoning takes place in a clean and neutral environment.

Ventilation, natural or artificial, is also of primary importance in the maturing process. In general, the natural one is preferable because it allows to obtain higher quality products, distinguishable from the characteristic scents, typical of the place of origin.

Maturation times in the seasoning process

Maturation times of cured meats represent a fundamental aspect, which varies significantly according to the type of sausage and its specific characteristics. Generally, the duration of maturing can vary from a few weeks to several months, depending on the type of product and the preferences of producers or consumers. For example, salami may require a relatively short curing period of between 4 and 8 weeks, while long-ripened cured meats, such as some types of raw ham, may take 24 to 30 months to reach optimal seasoning.

It is important to underline that the duration of maturing is not only determined by the type of meat, but also by the environmental conditions in which the process takes place. Temperature, humidity and ventilation are all essential factors, which affect the speed and effectiveness of cured meats ripening. Therefore, it is always essential to carefully monitor these variables and adapt the ripening time accordingly to obtain optimal results and ensure the highest quality of the final product.

Meat curing equipment: which to choose?

When it comes to choosing meat curing equipment, it is essential to opt for tools that guarantee a safe, controlled and ideal environment for a correct maturation of products. Among the most suitable meat processing equipment to carry out this process, grilled boards and stackable grids in plastic material are distinguished by their practicality, versatility and effectiveness.

Food grade plastic boards are designed to promote proper ventilation and good air circulation around the cured meats during the maturing phase. These boards are equipped with wide mesh grids that allow the air to flow freely, avoiding the risk of unwanted mold and ensuring a uniform maturation of meats. In addition, the plastic is durable and easy to clean, thus minimizing the risk of contamination and simplifying maintenance operations.

Thanks to its particular structure, the TGRA grilled board in food-grade polypropylene proposed by IFT is ideal as a drying and seasoning surface for cured meats and can be used on various types of shelves, racks and trolleys, both on new and existing systems. In addition, it ensures maximum hygiene and extreme ease of cleaning inside cells and maturing warehouses, ensuring safe and controlled processing processes.

Stackable grids are another excellent choice for seasoning cured meats. These grids are designed to be stacked on top of each other, allowing you to optimize the space available inside the seasoning room. This feature is particularly useful in sausage shops and slaughterhouses where space can be limited. 

IFT stackable polypropylene grids are lightweight but robust, easy to handle and transport, making them ideal for speeding up and simplifying the storage and handling of cured meats during the maturing phase. 

In addition, the special structure of IFT grids promotes greater air circulation, thus contributing to a uniform maturation, avoiding the formation of unwanted mold. To better adapt to the specific needs of each manufacturer, grids are available with different sizes and types of surfaces. In fact, it is possible to choose between the standard wide mesh GRPE grid and the new stackable perforated grid with round holes, easily adaptable to the various stages of drying and maturing of cured meats. 

For more information on meat curing equipment or other products offered by IFT, contact us! Our staff is always available to advise you on the most suitable solutions for your business.