With the weather growing colder in the fall, a feature of our new home finally took shape. I would no longer need a curing fridge. I had a garage that, while slightly colder in the deep winter months, could safely cure and dry meats. On the first weekend where temps dropped into the 50s, I grabbed a freezer bag of venison and a package of bacon and go to it.
It was well over five years ago when I made my first sausage, a fresh sausage that is, and it was not made with pork. Five years ago seems long ago, but it feels like it was yesterday. It was a venison/rosemary/juniper/red wine sausage. Looking back, I added red wine because that is how Ruhlman made his sausages in Charcuterie. In the end, I do not love the addition of wine to sausage, so when I make fresh sausage, I typically omit the wine. In the fall each year, I find myself recreating that sausage unintentionally and, with the possibility of dry curing in the garage, I immediately moved to a rosemary and juniper dry cured venison sausage.
A day before I started, I had just gotten in some really gnarly hog middles for making nduja and I figured why not give those a shot. The thing about these middles is that they smell like the back end of a pig. These are essentially chitterlings and come with that barnyard funk. What I found is no matter how you treat them, flushing them with water, vinegar, and/or lemon, you will not remove the funk. Get over it, get past it. It smells like hog ass.
And the hog-ass smelling hog middles have the advantage of being easily stuffed by hand, so when you have mixed the venison, bacon and all of the seasoning (including ramp kraut for its fermenting powers), you do not need to dirty up the stuffer. Once you have stuffed the hog middles, be sure to prick the casing with a needle to eliminate any air bubbles. Now hang it in a warm area of your kitchen (or even in your laundry room or oven light-lit oven).
Finally, after the casing seizes up and the meat changes into a bright pink color, it is a good time to cold smoke the sausage. Again in the winter and late fall, cold smoking becomes easier even without a cold smoking set up. After 24 hours of smoke exposure, it is a great time to hang the sausages to dry.
After almost eight weeks, the sausage had reduced in weight sufficiently. At this point, I pulled the sausage down and noticed the texture of the casing was more papery than I was used to with the more traditional hog casing. I opted to remove the entire casing in this case. I am not sure what impact it had, but my first instinct was the papery texture would be unpleasant.
It filled a summer sausage-y void without being exactly that, it was not cooked and there was no mustard seed. It validated the use of the garage as a curing environment. The texture was right on, which is really difficult with a curing fridge.The flavors were concentrated wild venison, smoke and rosemary. The juniper and black pepper took a bit of a backseat, but still very present. I really liked the combination of wild venison, which is a bit gamey, with the deep notes of smoke. It sets this dry cured sausage apart from those made from pork.
Dry Cured Venison Sausage
550 g venison, ground
225 g bacon, ground
20 g kosher salt
2 g curing salt #2
3 g dextrose
1 tsp. ramp kraut juice
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
6 peppercorns, freshly cracked
6 juniper berries, freshly cracked
Step one: Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix until bound. Stuff into casings. Prick with a needle to remove airholes.
Step two: Hand to ferment in a warm place in your house for 2 days.
Step three: Cold smoke for 24 hours.
Step four: Hang in a cool corner of your house, garage, or curing fridge until 30% weight loss has been achieved.