When it comes to curing meat especially dry-cured meat over a few months or more, the aspects of mold are one of the more challenging hurdles I’ve found in the beginning.
There’s not a lot of detail online or in many of the meat curing books that I’ve read about the good mold and the bad mold. So I hope this helps!
When I started doing dry-cured meats, I didn’t use any type of starter culture, which is one method for inoculating the curing chamber to create the right environment at the start.
I purely went down the natural path and willing to leave it in the hands of nature to decide whether things would progress or not. This was nearly 20 years ago!
Dry curing meat, specifically, has been going on for thousands of years, and good old-fashioned common sense played and plays a big part in successes and failures.
Common sense and logic and trusting you’re built-in instincts about whether the food is good or not will help a lot. There is definitely now a lot more detachment from the natural world with all our glorious technologies including blogs!
Here is a summary first about molds and then I will tell you about what I have learned in relation to doing it at home.
What are Good and Bad Molds for Cured Meat? Good Mold is predominately white either powdery or fluffy. Certain Green colors can be good molds and are related to the penicillin white mold also. Orange, Red needs to be removed, whilst black mold is definitely bad.
Purpose of Good Mold for Meat Curing
For many dry-cured meat projects, a minimum drying period is a one-month plus. Normally it takes a couple of days or a week before you start to see blooms of mold on meat depending on where it was hung (chamber/cellar etc. )or cold smoked.
Developing a good covering of powdery white penicillin mold on the outside of dry-cured whole muscle meat or dry-cured salami is the goal.
Temperature, Humidity, Airflow, Existing Mold Culture, and lack of light are the general environmental factors relating to this.
The white mold is a way of protecting the meat for certain recipes.
Other recipes such as Calabrian pancetta covered with pepper and chili/pepperoncino. External spices are used to deter the growth of mold.
Peppercorns & black (I think red, white, etc too) pepper have antibacterial and antifungal properties.
Dry-cured meats can create what some call the funk.
It’s really hard to describe the funk unless you have smelled or tasted it.
I think it would vary as well depending on the environment and how the moldable funk has developed. My thoughts are that the mold has a lot to do with the funk!
It’s probably part of the reason why over all these years I am still completely fascinated with dry curing meat, there are just so many subtle variations going on.
On a side note recently I’ve been thinking about cold smoking spices and using those for dry-cured meats. I’ll do some research around this and report back on this blog eatcuredmeat.com.
The Flavor of Good Molds
Yes, this is the same kind of mold that is used in medicine and hospitals from what I know.
It is that fluffy or powdery white mold known as penicillin.
It can be a purchased starter culture that you then inoculate the meat curing chamber with.
Or a naturally occurring white penicillin mold or good mold.
I would say the taste and smell are relatable to type of umami or savory.
One of my friends Lawrence, who I taught how to dry-cure meat absolutely loves the flavor of that white powdery mold on the outside of his wild pig guanciale.
Molds and Using Your Senses
I talk a lot about using your senses in my online meat curing course, it is one of those obvious things but like many things, it’s good to be reminded of.
That is, we have an evolutionary naturally developed ability to work out from smelling and looking at food whether it’s going to be good for us or not (not all the time, but in most cases).
I am guilty of getting my nose right up next to the dry-cured meat and giving it a big sniff. This gives me an indication of how things are going. I will continue to sniff all around that whole piece of meat!
There is quite a bit of complexity that can happen with the smell of salami or of a whole muscle piece of charcuterie while it develops, again, this is why I find this craft so fascinating!
Natural Molds and Lab Mold
Supposedly good old penicillin is floating around all over the place, and once you have finished curing with salt.
Your piece of meat has a chance, depending on your environment, that the naturally occurring penicillin will start on the meat. I’ve done this several times over the years with new DIY meat curing chamber I’ve put together.
But of course, this is not guaranteed.
Commercial producers of dry-cured real salami, the stuff that takes months to make not the tangy acidic stuff that is made in a few days often are using this culture to make outcomes consistent.
They buy stuff and inoculate the salami or whole muscles meats themselves.
Home charcuterie makers and many other producers use CHR Hansen mold 600 for whole muscle meat curing inoculation.
There are plenty of starter cultures, but many are doing a similar function for say salami ie. acidification (a key tool for making salami preserved and creating good outcomes).
Mold 600 is more about the outside of the meat whilst it’s drying.
I have it sitting in my freezer now, you can’t get it in every country be most countries in the western world. There are probably also other names it may have.
Guys have contacted me through the blog about trying to ‘scrap’ commercial traditional salami they buy to inoculate their own DIY curing chambers!
When I need to use it, I take half a teaspoon to half a cup of water. The water should ideally be distilled, but I’ve used filtered water which has worked as well.
Then you leave it for eight hours on the bench after giving it a bit of a shake and then spread it in the chamber onto cured meat. Within a few days, you should start to see the spores of white mold developing.
Development of White Molds Over Time
So a lot of people just go on about the powdery mold but when you start learning more about dry-cured meats, you’ll notice that at the beginning you might get fluffy mold.
But really underneath that fluffy white mold is powdery mold it’s just the way that it grows.
Then down the line, as the mold gets older there is a green mold related to the spores of the white penicillin mold.
Dark green mold in a commercial environment down the bottom of Italy in Calabria.
Molds I Can Deal With
Now I have had some funky molds going on here are a few examples of things that were not good not bad but also what you don’t really want.
When it’s developing on a case think it’s not so much of the big deal, because you’ve obviously got some protection on the meat.
When you’re using no casing and going natural which I often am because I like to see exactly what’s going on. Using vinegar and wiping the mold off or even giving it a blast of cold smoked for a few hours can knock back some of this unwanted multi-colored mold.
Bad Molds – Black
There is a certain smell and a look that I’ve only had a couple of times over a few decades and that is the ominous black mold.
It kind of looked a little bit translucent and it was on some very exotic spices that I used, whether this was a factor or not I do not know.
Spices like star anise, coriander, cumin, and galangal were used. And there was this patch of what I would consider black mold.
The smell was very offputting and instantly my olfactory system said this needed to go straight into the rubbish bin.
Mold – Final Notes
I try really hard in my online meat curing course to go over mold and pictures and smells in the videos. But also at the end of the day, you need to go through and have your own experiences about what the good stuff should look like.
Always be on the side of caution and keep it safe! If you have to question it, it’s probably not worth risking it for the biscuit!
Put differently, if you had any doubts about anything you’re making it’s not worth getting sick from, and you should always be on the side of conservatism.
If you’re not completely happy with what you produce then throw it in the bin!
Something also I’ve noticed, when I had a dry curing chamber powercut, it reset to a fridge temperature. The Hungarian salami that was hanging, did have some white mold. Since I didn’t notice the wrong drying temperature.
I change it back and after a day or so, the white mold was gone (back to 12C or 55F approximately). Lower temperature could be used to knock back mold that isn’t wanted!
Thanks for dropping by, I’ve been passionate about meat curing for around 20 years now. Having been lucky enough to learn inside fine dining kitchens through to backyard smoking sessions. From doing courses, trial & error and reading extensively – finally, I thought it was time to share my passion online.
My insatiable appetite and passion toward classic Italian dry-cured salumi and all forms of curing and smoking are what drives this website engine. All the best, Tom