What is starter culture? A starter culture is a specific mix of micro-organisms that convert various sugars in the sausage mix into various organic acids. By doing so, the starter culture imparts a distinct flavor to the sausage, develops the color of the sausage, and preserves the sausage by creating an environment that prevents harmful bacteria from growing. Starter cultures have one more very important function in sausage making: the micro-organisms in the starter culture help in nitrate conversion and thereby reduce the levels of residual nitrate in the fermented dry sausages, making the product more wholesome.
Pure forms of starter cultures have not been around for very long since their production requires modern incubation and clean room equipment. The predecessor of the modern starter culture was a method called “back slopping.” Yes…, back slopping. This is what the old timers called a process where part of the old already fermented batch of sausage was thrown back into the new mix. The already fermented product contained the necessary micro-organisms to start the fermentation of the new batch. This is also sometimes described as “spontaneous” fermentation. This form of fermentation in not utilized in industrial use in the US any longer, due to potential for contamination.
When we make dry sausages with UMAi Dry, we use the starter culture method to ensure consistent results. We recommend Bactoferm T-SPX European-style slow-fermenting starter culture because its fermentation temperature matches room temperature 65-70F. This is both convenient and matches the desired balanced not-too-tart flavor that we look for in our Italian dry salami.