The white stuff, I've been informed, is good. That's a good thing, because there's certainly a lot of it. I went down to see David Schneller's sausage hanging workshop—in a basement cellar behind Abbicci—before the restaurant closed.
(Word came November 21 that the doors had suddenly closed, apparently because of hard economic times.)
Nevertheless, I have happy memories of my trip underground. There were steep stairs, a sterile room, a hefty fan, and row upon row of penicillin covered meat. That's what the white stuff is—the good mold, white penicillin. It adds flavor, acidifies the meat, and helps ward off less friendly bacteria as well.
The curing season started back in the fall—when temperatures dropped into the 50s and 60s, and humidity began to hover around 75 percent. This is also when worries over flies desist, and when it becomes expensive to keep around a pig or cow, rather than slaughtering it for meat. The days of fresh pasture and outside living are over, and winter weather requires feed and a barn. As Schneller put it, it's the time when preserving the meat as sausage simply starts to make good economic sense.
His sausage recipe is more science than art. It has to be done in a refrigerator, with all the ingredients kept very cold. He relies not on measurements, but weights, and there are no pinches or sprinklings involved.
That's because making sausage can be scary. It's not the type of thing you want to experiment with if you don't have a plan. Preferably, it's best to have someone overseeing you who's done it before, and knows—so to speak—the lay of the land. This is because the meat starts out raw, and never really gets cooked. Instead it ferments, like sourdough bread or beer, and anyone who's experimented with either knows the process is a bit of a trick. It helps to have a teacher along the way.
(Luckily, most people who make sausage say it's easy to spot one gone wrong. It will lack mold, or have air pockets, or develop brown spots, all signs of botched meat.)
With all that in mind, I offer Schneller's recipe—or basic proportions I should say—and recommend that if you're interested in sausage, you find a mentor before you dig in. At the very least, it will save you wasting some expensive local meat.
BASIC SAUSAGE PROPORTIONS
10 lbs. pork butt
2 lbs. fat back
2 oz. curing salt
1/2 oz. sugar
1 oz. salt
To read an article on dry-cured sausage about history and safety from the New York Times, visit this link.
For more on safety procautions when making sausage, check out this USDA sausage storage & safety chart.
For more info on where to by local meats, check out the "Shop like a local" list to your left.