Summer sausage is a seasoned sausage that is thoroughly cured and does not require refrigeration. There are many varieties of this sausage, including cervelat-style sausages such as blockwurst, thuringer and mortadella. People in many countries, especially those in Eastern Europe, have their own varieties of these sausages, dating to periods when meat needed to be well preserved because refrigeration was not an option. This food product is often available at butchers and in boutique shops that import special regional foods.
Despite its name, summer sausage is not necessarily made in the summer, although it can be. It is made with meat scraps, like all sausage, so it tends to be made when animals are butchered, which is often in the fall or spring. The sausage might also be made with a combination of meats for efficiency and flavor variety. Cuts are often kept lean to ensure that the sausage does not become rancid during the curing process.
Types of Ingredients
A common combination in summer sausage is beef and pork, although venison and other game meat might be used as well. Some of these sausages also traditionally contain organ meat, although this culinary tradition has waned. Salt is always used in the seasoning of summer sausage because it promotes a sound cure. Pepper, mustard seeds and sugar might be used as well in some regions. People from different areas have their own seasoning traditions, resulting in a wide range of flavors within this diverse family of cured meats.
After the ingredients are thoroughly combined and forced into sausage casings, summer sausage must be cured. Cures for this sausage vary, with it generally being smoked or dried. Traditionally, air drying is accomplished in the open on large racks that take advantage of seasonal winds. Smoking is slowly done at a very low temperature to create an even, strong cure. Complete curing might take weeks or more than a month, and careful monitoring is needed to ensure that the sausages have not gone bad.
Preparation and Serving
After curing, summer sausage generally can be eaten straight, and it is often served cold. The end texture is semi-dry to moist, depending on the type of cure used. It can be heated or cooked, or it might be tossed with other foods. Some modern versions might be less extensively cured, requiring refrigeration and cooking before it can be used. The flavor of this type of sausage is more mild and less salty than true summer sausage.