Microbiology of Dry Cured

It can be debated whether dry-cured ham is a fermented product. The reason is that the microbial flora is seldom higher than approximately 104 cells/g meat, although the concentration can be as high as 108 cells/g on the surface (57,58). Growth is limited due to the initial low temperature and due to the low water activity throughout processing. The natural microflora, in the core as well as on the surface, consists of Staphylococcus /Kocuria. Initially, lactic acid bacteria, yeast, and the Gram-negative Vibrio may also be demonstrated, but the predominant organisms throughout processing are Staphylococcus, although their importance in the biochemistry of ham products is unknown (59). The characteristics of dry-cured ham are determined by type of raw material, processing conditions, and the biochemical changes taking place during manufacture. These are largely the result of muscle proteases and lipases (17,56). A recent study, however, suggests that microbial amino acid catabolism resulting in, among others, methyl-branched aldehydes, methylketones, and ethyl esters influences the flavor of dry-cured ham (58).

Particularly, staphylococci are capable of such reactions (22). Accelerated production processes have been developed, in which the dry-salting step is replaced by brine salting or brine injection pumping. The total processing time of such ham products is approximately one month as the drying and ripening period is significantly reduced, resulting in the final ham to deviate from the traditional type in texture and flavor. The application of starter cultures is an advantage for this production method. The starter cultures, most often pure cultures of staphylococci, but also occasionally mixed cultures of staphylococci (S. carnosus, S. xylosus) and lactic acid bacteria (L. plantarum), are added to the brine and support flavor development as well as color development and color stabilization.

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