Thursday, 3 September 2015

Damn you humidity (Whilst shaking fist in the air)

As the title suggests I am struggling with the humidity, that is to say keeping the humidity steady, it is a constant sine wave peaking as high as 94% and troughing as low as 52% and this is non stop up and down all day, I take some solace from the fact that the light bulb acting as a heater seems to be working by degree, not sure if light will be an issue as it is very much more on than off (does salami have to be kept in the dark?).  Temperature is swinging between 14C and 11.2C which I guess is where it wants to be so happy with that.  At a loss as to how to decrease the amplitude of my humidity sine wave, I used today to tidy things up a bit see below, the hole in the right of the fascia is for humidity controller No 2 which will be used to turn a humidifier on, when it arrives.

4 Sept

Just a quick update, I've replaced the small container of salt I did have in the fridge with a larger metal tray with 3kg of salt in, this appears to have taken the high peaks down slightly to around 85%, not sure if it's a side effect of the salt or that ambient humidity is lower today???

6 Sept

I just read in a charcuterie book I have that it turns out salami do not like being kept in the light whilst curing, apparently it can affect the fat quality, so back to the drawing board for the heat source, I removed my light, closed the fridge door and immediately the humidity rose to off scale and never came back down, so I suppose it is fair to say the light was having the desired effect.  I had a quick look online and found low wattage cupboard heaters which I may come back to if necessary, however my first thought was to simply paint the light bulb I was using so I found a tin of black car spray paint and did just that, not sure if it will start to peel but I'll keep an eye on it.  I fitted the bulb to one of my regular house sockets and left it on for an hour to bake/stabilize the paint, long enough for it to no longer smell of paint anyway.  I put this back in the fridge and fired it up and within minutes the humidity fell back to normal, which is now cycling between low 60s to around 80% all day long so I think it's finally time to give this sausage malarkey a go, I'll set aside a day to tackle this so next weekend it is.  

8 Sept

A refrigeration God, cheers Vince, has pointed out that I will probably be able to improve the humidity peaks by bringing the cables through the side of the fridge and sealing the hole with silicon (other fridge hole sealants are available) instead of distorting the seal and allowing moist air to enter the fridge and this of course makes perfect sense, so with a degree of trepidation and a wing and a prayer, out came the drill, as luck would have it Vince had explained the precise spot to drill through to avoid hitting any pipes & cables ("Anywhere on that side and you should be alright"), so after making sure I was millimeter perfect through I drilled, popped the cables through and blobbed a bit of silicon around the cables inside and out.  Convinced now that my humidity woes were a thing of the past with a smile on my face I fired the old 'environment controlled curing chamber' up, sat down with a glass of wine and my thoughts of how I was going to escape the rat race and become the Salami making king of England, after 20 minutes of mentally penning my letter of resignation, I got up to check the spoils of my work..........Cock, 92 % humidity..........I changed the tray of salt to a freshly ovened batch and made periodic readings, a marginal improvement but still peaking at mid to high 80s, damn it!!!!!!!!!!  I've put this slight step backwards down to the humidity sensor being repositioned towards the rear of the fridge as opposed to by the door, and am now contemplating whether to proceed with batch 1 or see if there is any thing further I can do, I'm toying with reuseable silica bags, either way the resignation letter is now written (Ha Ha).

16 Sept

So the big sausage making weekend never happened because of the humidity problems. Out of curiosity I decided to fit a small fan into the fridge which comes on when the light comes on, this had a very dramatic effect on the humidity reading, which really surprised me, it raised the reading to off scale ( I realize that the fan was not increasing the humidity, but perhaps the displacement of the air gave rise to a more realistic reading of the overall humidity within the fridge).  Enough was enough and silica gel bags were ordered, long story short, this seems to be working, by degree, however I need to be able to regulate the effect on the humidity so I am looking at putting the silica into a butty box and sliding the lid to expose more or less of the silica to the air, I have devised an automated process to control the lid position, automated in that I have fitted a webcam linked to a webpage so I can look at the fridge at anytime (anytime when my son isn't gaming and eating all the broadband bandwidth), and if I notice it is too Hi or too Lo I can call my darling wife and ask her to reposition the lid accordingly. This process needs refining as I am still using the silica for the first time so there are a number of variables to try and juggle, such as when I put a fresh batch of dehydrated silica into the fridge it's effect will far more dramatic than silica that has been in the fridge a few days and is beginning to become water saturated, but I'm hoping that my genius lid adjusting automated process and my lovely wife's ability to learn by exposure, will hopefully be enough to keep on top of things.

19 Sept

Guess what............I've only gone and done it.  I opted for a classic, and supposedly the easiest to make, saucisson sec, found a load of recipes online but have opted for a no nonsense, pepper, garlic and added dextrose because I have read somewhere it gets the good bacteria off to a good start, can't believe the bad bacteria aren't partial but there we go. It was an incredibly slow old process and despite putting my minced meat in a bowl that was in a bowl with ice in I'm still a bit worried about the temperature of the meat getting too warm, time will tell.  It's all fairly easy to do and certainly easy to do with 1 person, up to the stuffing time, that is defo a 2 person activity (no pun intended, that said it was my wife I called upon to crank my handle, whilst I held the mighty beasts) I've got to say I'm dead chuffed with how they look, I didn't take many photos of the process but below are the spoils of our work.

Fingers crossed.......................

22 Sept 

Humidity, humidity, humidity

I expected an initial peak of humidity when the sausages were put in the fridge, wet sausages going into a dry fridge, but it went straight off scale and never dropped down below that, I decided to  put both my bags of silica gel in, 3kgs worth of the stuff but they had no effect, when I got home from work yesterday evening I turned the fridge off and removed a layer of ice that had accumulated on the back wall and thoroughly dried the inside, then put the fridge back on after about 10 mins the humidity had dropped to about 82% happy days, by the morning this had crept back up to 90%, so I think this will be a daily ritual if not twice daily.

22 Sept continued

Got home from work and the humidity was peaking at 91% so decided to repeat yesterdays drying routine, which worked to good effect, falling to 79%, I'm guessing that as the drying process continues it will reach a stage where I have to start removing silica gel. 
When I ground the back fat the blade wasn't fitted quite correctly which at the time I didn't realise until I had combined it with the ground shoulder, the bottom line being that the fat was far too fine, I read that this can inhibit or restrict the lost of moisture and goes some way to explaining why the fat in salami looks more like chunks (I used the term salami as a generalization for this style sausage, apologies if this is erroneous).  Anyway enough of this "Show me a photo" I hear you cry....

 Really pleased with the way they are looking after just 2 days.

23 Sept

Got up this morning to 92% humidity, with heavy icing on back wall of fridge, dried the fridge out which brought it back down again, not sure why I've had such a spike in moisture, I've just had a text from Mrs M saying that it has crept back up to 88%???????? Bit of head scratching required me thinks.

24 Sept

Not much to report today, got home last night dried the fridge out at the same time removed 1 of the bags of silica to dry it out, out of curiosity I weighed it before and after it went in the oven before 1550g, after 1425g I was expecting a bigger difference to be honest.  Without both bags in the fridge the humidity struggled to get below 89%, after I put the freshly baked one back and dried the back wall again it plunged to 55% this was mainly due to the silica still having latent heat from the oven, therefore the fridge ran for much longer than usual before getting back to temp......light bulb moment, quite literally, add another heat source, fridge has to run for longer, lower humidity, so I've added another light pendant and am spraying another low wattage bulb for trials later on.  Back to the current humidity, when I got up this morning it was sat at 80%, so I left well alone, I suspect that will steadily rise thro' the day but I will dry it out tonight and possibly add the other heat source, I do need to get the humidity to be consistently around 70%, which I haven't managed yet but I have a bit of time as I thing for the first 10 days I should be able to get away with 80-85% (this is a guess, based on nothing more than the thought that as long as the environment is dryer that the product water will travel from product to environment).

26 Sept

Well I got back from work on 24 Sept and the humidity was 90+ so I went for fitting the second lamp which was a conventional style tungsten bulb, just a small one, but it got too hot and the paint started to melt so I got another low power fluorescent tube style, at the same time baked the other silica bag and the combination of the two has been very encouraging I have to say, I not bold enough to say I've cracked it but I've manage to keep the humidity between 70 - 76% all last night and all today, I'm just starting to play with the set point on the humidity controller (that's what brings the lights on and off), so I can fine tune.  The downside, if it can be classed as a downside, is that the fridge runs for a lot longer but all in all a huge improvement and I'm even starting to think of my next batch, I'm resigned to the fact that because of all the mucking about that has gone on with this batch I'll be very lucky if something edible comes out of the other side.

28 Sept

All in all things are still looking pretty good, the humidity is still staying between 70 and 80%.  So I'm feeling fairly confident that the next batch I do I can perhaps run with 1 bulb fitted for the first week and then fit the second bulb from then on. This evening's plan is going to be to take the bags of silica out and see what effect they are having on the figures, they will probably get a baking while they are out of the fridge, just to see if I can pull the figure down even lower.  Yesterday I decided to weigh a couple of the sausages to see if I could see a noticeable reduction in their weight, not sure if I've said already but when I made each sausage I wrote the weight on a bit of card tied to each one but also the target weight ie. if the sausage weighed in at 100g when made a 35% reduction in weight would give me a target weight of 65g, well already one of the sausages has exceeded the target weight (it was the smallest one I did, which I would expect to dry out the quickest) not really sure what to make of that really, others had lost about 18% which is around what I had read (20% in the first week), none have started to take on that typical knobbly look that a standard salami has yet they are all smooth still, so I may use the look in conjunction with the weight as my guide.

29 Sept 

Salami really is the cruel mistress...............

I weighed all of them last night and they have lost too much weight too quickly, the skins feel very dry and the sausages feel quite squishy, so I think I have a number of beginners issues going on here. Case hardening for sure, I think that they were not packed tight enough, I'll know when I cut one of them open.  So lessons for next time to try and keep a higher initial humidity maybe even spray the skins daily and pack them tighter, I also didn't carry out a ferment stage, I have some starter culture for next batch so I will include a fermentation stage. I have heard that things can be turned around by vacuum packing the sausage which equalizes the moisture within but I'd really like to sort out a bullet proof start to finish process (if that is possible) before I go down the road of trying to recover cock ups.

1 Oct

Or is she.................

Well I have still kind of written off the sausages but...... whilst they have lost too much weight too quickly they are still losing weight at between 6-10g a day which makes me think have they case hardened? So I've decided to weigh them and give them a wipe down with wet paper towel daily to try and stave off any further case hardening and as long as there is a continual weight loss I'll keep on with the daily loving.

09 Oct 

Over a week on and they are still dropping in weight, some still feel very hard and some still have a fair bit of give in them so I'm not sure what to expect when I cut them open I have my fingers Xd that they are not raw in the centre but I think some will be.  I'm cutting the first one open this weekend so photos to follow.

11 Oct

Yes she bloody well is......

All in the bin it's not very easy to see from the photo but the centre is squidgy and lighter in colour than the outside, case hardened for sure.

New batch soon.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

What was that about cutting corners Baz?

Well my humidity controller arrived from China today, so I wired it up just as a means of monitoring the humidity not controlling it, and it settled at about 72%, 'good sign' I thought, how wrong I was. The fridge had been turned off whilst I was waiting for the humidity controller to arrive so when I first turned everything on the temp in the fridge was about 19C and the compressor was running and dehumidifying as it did so, as soon as it got down to temp the compressor turned off and the humidity immediately started increasing at quite a staggering rate so much so that the controller went off scale ie over 100%, so back to the drawing board or back to Phil's article on how to convert a fridge for some inspiration. In his article Phil mentioned putting trays of salt in the fridge to absorb moisture out of the air but that made no difference or not enough to dent the high humidity, he also referred to putting a heat source in the fridge (I know this sounds incredibly counter intuitive but a side effect of refridgeration is dehumidification, so adding a heat source means that the compressor is running for longer, more electricity being used tho') so I am now at the stage of adding a heat source in the fridge, a low energy light bulb, being triggered at 60% humidity and I am hoping that by altering the trigger points of the temp and humidity controllers I will find a happy medium but I think that as Phil's article points out that I will have to invest in another humidity controller to run a humidifier on days of low humidity (I bought a sonic humidifier from Argos today £29.99).

As can be seen I am very much at the Heath Robinson lash up stage, I will tidy up the whole affair when I get to a point that I feel no further intervention will be required.  I have to say that both the controllers are 230v ie mains voltage so potentially lethal, you can buy 24v dc versions of the controllers but then you will need a transformer but it would definitely be a safer way of doing things. As I have been writing this I have been tweaking set points, I may have to look at the hysteresis function on the controller which may smooth out some of the peaks in humidity. 

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Can I make my own salami

1 Sep 2015.

For years I've been considering making my own salami, however I've always fallen at the first few hurdles 'how do I maintain the correct temperature to cure the sausage', 'am I going to die from Botulism poisoning'? The years have rolled on and the thought of meeting my maker without having cured a sausage does not sit well with me, so over the next few months I plan to have a go at the impossible and document the process along the way.

The basic process is, as I understand it:

  1. Mince some pork meat, pork fat add curing salt, any additional flavours eg garlic, pepper, wine.
  2. Mix the whole lot up.
  3. Squeeze into a sausage skin.
  4. Cure in a controlled environment until the sausage has lost a set percentage of it's original weight, and you're done!!!!!!.

When put like that, apart from the last in the list it seems fairly straightforward.

I thought that I'd address the last in the list first and as luck would have it I found a fantastic article on tinterweb which shows exactly how to resolve the problems of temperature and humidity which if you fancy giving this a go is a must read . For my fridge I am going to try cutting corners and for my first effort I am going to rely on automated temperature control alone and then try and manage the humidity on an adhoc basis, I have ordered a humidity controller from Ebay which is coming from China and if necessary will put in a humidifier, but I will initially just use it as a means of monitoring humidity.  Another corner I am cutting is the additional use of a dedicated relay to turn the mains on and off to the fridge, I understand why they were used but I feel the temperature controller should be capable of handling the current and as it was cheap as chips, if I'm wrong it's no massive loss, time will tell.

So first off temperature control, with controller in hand I set about re-configuring the supply to the fridge to go through the controller, without going into too much detail the controller is supplied with a permanent supply and as the fridge temperature rises above the set point on the controller (in my case 12C) the controller switches the supply on to the fridge and as it drops below the set point it takes the fridge supply away.  The wire in the photo below that goes from the controller in through the door at the top is the controller's thermocouple (temperature sensor), it just dangles at about mid height in the fridge.