How Microclimates Affect Product Activity Levels in Meat Curing
August 13, 2019
Cured meats are a labour of love. The process involves patience and skill in order for the product to reach the right balance of flavours and textures while remaining safe to eat. Anybody involved in the manufacturing of cured meats will understand the importance of not only the balance of ingredients but also the necessity to perfectly control the conditions of the curing areas. So when meat curing, how are microclimates affecting your product’s activity levels?
Sanitation, refrigeration and humidity all have to be carefully observed throughout the process to allow the meat to reach that iconic, perfect balance of flavours. There are plenty of modern methods for meat curing, from stitch pumping to needle injection- in this article we will focus on the oldest and arguably most authentic method of the meat flavouring and preservation: dry curing.
WHY DO WE CURE MEATS?
Meat curing is a process that goes back centuries with the sole purpose of preserving meats with salt in a time where refrigeration was not an option. While the core of the process remains predominantly unchanged, technology has provided this world with the ability to create atmospheric tolerances that have transformed curing from an ancient necessity to a modern-day culinary exploration. Given the efficiency that the food production industry operates with nowadays, it is a testament to this artisan process that dry-curing remains relevant and popular in spite of its manufacturing time. There is a focus with dry curing on creating the perfect blend of flavour and balanced textures, rather than it simply being a necessity- with that in mind, why would you settle for anything less than perfection every time?
WHAT’S THE PROCESS?
The process of dry curing is a relatively simple one at its core. A carefully measured combination of salt, sugar and nitrates are rubbed on to the meats at various stages of the curing cycle in order to replace the water content inside the meat without allowing for the development of bacteria. Salt is used to completely coat the meat to draw the internal moisture to the surface and alter its osmotic properties– this moisture will be replaced by the salt and help draw out flavour while simultaneously preventing bacteria from permeating into the deeper areas of the meat. This is only done after the meat has been left to acclimatise in controlled conditions for around 24 hours at a temperature between -1˚ and 3˚c with a relative humidity level between 85-90%.
After this first coating, the meat is usually left to hang for around 2 months as the salt mixture slowly displaces the moisture and the meat loses around 40% of its water weight. This process remains in similar conditions to the first salting in terms of temperature and relative humidity. If the moisture is drawn out too quickly then the meat will become extremely dry and inevitably become exceedingly hard on the outside. The hanging meat will naturally attempt to reach an equilibrium with its external conditions, so maintaining a humid atmosphere ensures that the rate of drying is perfectly matched to the rate at which the meat goes through this ‘ripening’ process and allow the salt to permeate through the entirety of the meat.
For the stage of pre-maturing, there are slightly different environmental factors that need to be upheld, the relative humidity around the product is dropped to around 70-85%RH, this is so that the internal humidity can leave the meat without drying out too quickly. Similarly, for the final cure there are conditions that have to be maintained, these usually vary depending on the type of meat that is being cured. It’s in this final process that the meat fully ages and is then ready to be cut and distributed.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE MICROCLIMATE
The development of a microclimate in every part of the dry curing process is important for a plethora of reasons. The first and the most important is to allow this process to be done safely. If meat is kept in the wrong conditions in any circumstance then it becomes dangerous to eat as bacteria can build up over the surface and inside the meat itself, rendering it unsafe for human consumption. By controlling temperature, airflow and relative humidity then the focus can be purely on creating the perfect flavours, rather than there being any concern regarding whether or not the meat will be safe for consumption.
The second major reason that climate control is so important is to get the flavours right. In an increasingly saturated marketplace, this is a factor that simply cannot be understated. Every manufacturer will have their own unique blends of salts and curing times to allow their product to stand out: by controlling the climate you are given the opportunity to have total control over the rate at which your salt will be absorbed into the meat and therefore have more options when it comes to the manipulation of flavours and textures that can be created from one core process.
The third reason to cement the importance of manufacturing a microclimate is consistency. Inconsistency in any process means that it is impossible to make a plan. From a baseline business point of view, a company’s production has to be planned for accurately in order to keep everything afloat and deliver results every time, rather than whenever the weather will allow you to. Climate control within the curing process will mean that you can achieve the results of your best day, every day.
From a health and safety, quality and consistency point of view, it is clear that the dry curing process can only be benefitted by the implementation of technology that controls the microclimate around the product. It allows your focus to be on what really matters and can make you stand out from everyone else: the food itself. Climatic control alleviates any worries about other factors ruining something that takes months of work. The food industry thrives on passion for the process driving it forward and to new heights, passion for what you are creating shouldn’t have to be hampered by external factors and controlling the environment allows that passion and focus to remain at the forefront.
For more information on how Dehum can help with your dry curing please visit https://dehum.com/applications/food-drink/ or call us on 01926 882624.
For over twenty-one years, Dehum (Sorption Wheel Services Limited) has been a major supplier of humidity control systems. We are a true Engineering Company, designing, supplying and coordinating installations of equipment alongside complimentary services. Our global client list spans across all industries, including food & drink, pharmaceutical, nuclear, automotive, aviation, chemical processing, ice prevention/cold storage, car storage and archives.