Monday, August 31, 2009

Preparation for a Hanging

It's amazing to realize that something as fragrant, sweet and supple as Prosciutto di Parma or San Danielle is acheived by simply curing meat with nothing more than salt and letting it hang for upwards of a year.

I make a version of salt cured air-dried ham that, when aged successfully, is very similar in aroma, taste and texture to the Italian versions that most would recognize as prosciutto.

The hams in the slideshow are from Berkshire hogs that were raised on grain by another farmer (we currently have no hogs on the farm). The fact the hogs were raised on grain and have not been mast -finished on say, acorns or hickory nuts, might be problematic.

As Mangalista hog breeder Heath Putnam explains in his great blog Wooly Pigs , most hogs in the United States are raised on a diet high in polyunsaturated fat (from grain) which results in soft polyunsaturated pork fat that is prone to oxidation. Hogs that are fed a diet that is high in the monounsaturated fats that are found in acorns and other types of produce soft fat too. However such pork fat is much less prone to oxidation.

Ironically, Heath writes that at least one way to produce pork with hard fat involves feeding the hogs a low fat diet in the final few months of their lives. I don't understand the science yet, but apparently the lack of fat in the diet forces the pigs to synthesize saturated fats.

So, since my hams came from hogs that were fed grain, the fat might be prone to turn rancid. I'll monitor them as they age and if I see any yellowing (a sign of rancidity) I'll pull them down, trim them and cook them off.

Here are some shots of the final stages of preparation of the two hams I hung last week. By the time these shots were taken, they had cured in salt in the aging room for a little over three weeks (1 day per pound) and, after being rinsed, spent a week in the refrigerator. Now they will hang for a year before they are salable (provided they don't get funky).


Ulla said...

it is amazing! more people are not only understanding how to do it but appreciating those that do:)
keep it up rockstar;)

Bob del Grosso said...

R&R Ulla!

Jennifer S said...

Bob- is it possible to do this if you can't get your hams with the skin on? I'm having issues finding a place that will scald the pig... if he has dark skin... Inspector seems to think dark skinned pigs aren't hair free after they are scalded. Only knows white containment hogs...

Bob del Grosso said...

I suppose it is possible to air dry a skinless ham but it will dry a lot faster, not develop the same flavor and have a lower yield of usable meat.

Why not just use a ham from a light skinned hog? That's what I would do.
Breed is important but it's not as important as how the hog was fed during the last few months of its life. If you can find a light colored hog, like a Yorkshire, or any hog that has not been fed corn or soy but is mast finished (pastured on acorns or other tree nuts) that will give you the best ham for air drying.

Check out the Woolly Pigs blog (the link is on the right side on my page) for a more complete discussion of the relationship between breed and feed and quality of meat.

Jennifer S said...

Seems like a logical option, Bob, but I know the guy with the darker skinned hogs is feeding them well, not the same with the avg. producer around here. Guess it's time to go do some more research! Thanks for the suggestions. Time to get to know some more producers, I guess!

Jessika said...

Wouldn't the probability for developing rancidity exist in the curing or aging of steak/beef as well when or if beef cattle are fed grains?

I watched a food program that is made by the BBC (In search of perfection) the other night. In search of the perfect (!) steak, one thing adressed was the diet of the beef cattle. The diet of American beef cattle is apparently grain whereas in England it is not.
I don't know how it is here other than that people fail to appreciate a great piece of marbled meat, thinking the marbling makes it too fat.

Bob del Grosso said...


"Wouldn't the probability for developing rancidity exist in the curing or aging of steak/beef as well when or if beef cattle are fed grains?"

I don't know. However, as aged beef is not aged for very long (a few weeks) it is not really an issue. Also, cured beef products that age for months either have most of the fat removed (bunderfleisch, bresaola), or are treated with antioxidants (beef salami).
Mainstream cured pork products are also treated with substances that retard rancidity.

Jessika said...

Here they were talking 3 days upwards to 12 weeks. I unfortunately wasn't listening to where they were being aged for that long. At their tasting they concluded that although the aging had impact on the flavour it wasn't necessarily the best beef. It was all about what you started with. If you start with great beef, then the aged beef at various intervals will be great too, even at 3 days.

Michael said...

After you scald a black pig, the pigment comes off. Check out these photos. You can see a picture of the mangalitsa (black) and the carcass which is white. I would find a new slaughter house.


Adriana said...

Two questions: do you fill the crack with lard so that it sticks and no air gets in? Also, what's your take on bactoferm and MEK4?