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).

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Pickled and Packed

The pickled onion project I started at the farm at the end of July came off much better than I expected. The finished onions are crisp and tart with a an aroma that is all onion but with no sharp/acrid edge. I packed them up in filtered brine for sale in the farm store yesterday. They taste great as they are, but would be wonderful with raclette or julienned and served with knockwurst. Actually, because their flavor profile is very similar to sauerkraut, almost anything you would pair with kraut you could pair with this.

The success of this project surprised me not because I'd never pickled onions before and was worried that I couldn't pull it off. (Screw that, after more than 30 years of cooking there isn't much that I worry about messing up.) Rather, because the only pickled onions I'd had were the type that had been put up in vinegar, I did not know what to expect.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Nothing much

I'm not feeling like being prolix these days. So until I decide that I have something worth saying, I'll fill in the gaps with things like these photos of things I do during the course of my working day. These are shots of me (my hand really) taking pork bellies out of a cure and getting them ready to hang in the aging room.

I fried up a few slices and ate them with Trent Hendricks' raw milk Bavarian Swiss for breakfast.

It would have been a great breakfast except the only "bread" in the house was a bunch of hot dog rolls. I'm serious, I ate this bacon and 2 year old cheese on a fraking cotton ball tasting hot dog roll for breakfast. Wonders never cease.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Salted Ham

This is what hams can look like after they have sat in salt (sodium chloride) for 3.5 weeks. During that time they lost close to 14% of their weights as serum moved from the flash into the embedding salt. As I write they are sitting in the refrigerator for a "burning off" period (1 week) during which the concentration of salt will equalize throughout the muscle.
By Friday they should be ready to wrap and hang for at least one year.
Because the foot has been cut off, I will also coat the end of the shank with lard to prevent infection by bacteria and fungus.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Umami of Tomatoes

As most of you know, umami or the savory taste, has only recently been accepted as a basic taste by the scientific community that concerns itself with matters of human neurology. Umami is generally considered to be caused by glutamic acid and it's salts e.g., monosodium glutamate or MSG (And YOU thought MSG stood for Madison Square Garden. C'mon admit it!:-)

Now that tomatoes are starting to come into season in the Northern Hemisphere, I thought it worth mentioning that they contain quite a bit of glutamic acid, especially in the "jelly" that surrounds and suspends the seeds.

So don't waste those tomato guts. I don't want to stir up any trouble but years ago, I heard Julia Child advise throwing out the pulp because it was tasteless. I suspect that she made the remark under pressure and said the opposite of what she meant to say because I can find no such advice in any of her books that I own. However, I am slightly chagrined to admit that at the time I believed her and began to toss out the pulp whenever I made tomato concasse or dice.

I suppose it is never a good idea to suspend disbelief because someone with authority tells you that what you thought was true or false is otherwise.

Source of histogram Umami Information Center

Coffee fetish

I'm sure coffee made from beans that have traveled through the intestines of a civet is wonderful. Although I am not sure why anyone would care so much about drinking it that they'd trundle around the bush looking for civet turds.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bread Starter Test Update no. 2

After 47 hours of incubation the samples were all actively fermenting and beginning to show signs of exhaustion of starch supply. All of them had separated into a mat of gaseous foamy starch on top of a layer of relatively clear water and a layer of stringy, insoluble gluten on the bottom.

None of the samples containing rinsed and not-rinsed red cabbage appeared to be bubbling (evidence of the growth and respiration of yeast and bacteria) any more vigorously than any other. And none of the samples with cabbage were bubbling more vigorously than the control made with only flour and water.

All of the samples with cabbage had an "off" odor suggesting the presence of either bacteria or yeast that is either not desirable in bread starter or a desirable form of yeast that had begun to produce a noxious aroma (e.g. butyric acid). By comparison the control smelled like a typical batch of fermenting (proofing) bread dough.

All, except one of the samples with cabbage were slightly more acidic than the control. Cabbage starter samples ranged in pH from 4.5-4.75 with one sample testing at pH 4.90. By contrast the control tested at pH 4.8.

It is still too early in my investigation to draw any conclusions about the efficacy of making sourdough bread starter with cabbage. Nothing that I have seen so far suggests that the method does or does not work. However, the preliminary results of my little test suggest that adding cabbage to the starter may be introducing a microbe that can produce an "off aroma."

Since so many people have reported that starter made with a cabbage leaf produces great bread, I suspect that at some point during the build, the colony of microbes that is responsible for the "off" smell dies off.

As I wrote above, I'm a long way away from drawing any conclusions. I still don't know why or how this method works or, for that matter, if it works any better than more traditional ways of building bread starter.

How to make pasta con filetti di pomodori

It's almost the whole process. I didn't show how to cook the spaghetti. The sauce is minimally cooked. Really it's only the pulp that cooks (10-12 minutes) while the filetti (made from the skinless outer flesh) and the basil are merely warmed through.

Caveat: Don't watch it if you don't like tomatoes!

Bread Starter Update

This morning (8.13.09) at 5:00 I checked the bread starter samples and took a bunch of photos. Unfortunately, I cannot post the pictures because the camera's battery fizzled out before I could download them to my computer (When is someone going to build a high quality camera that can do direct uploads?). So until the battery is recharged words will have to suffice.

Here is the skinny
  • After 35 hours of incubation, all of the samples are showing signs of fermentation.
  • No one sample appears to be any gassier than any other. Even the control (flour and water only, no cabbage) is fermenting
  • None of the samples stink, which I take as an indication that although there is probably leuconostoc bacteria in all of the samples with cabbage, the bacteria, which is naturally present on cabbage and is responsible for sauerkraut fermentation requires anaerobic conditions to grow well, is not thriving in the open sample glasses.
While it is too early in the game to draw any conclusions, I think that it is pretty obvious that the cabbage is not introducing large numbers of yeast cells into the starter. If the cabbage was adding yeast, the samples with cabbage should be fermenting more rapidly.

I think that if from hereon, we see any increase in the rate of fermentation in the samples with cabbage it is likely that it will be caused by the breakdown of the leaves into sugars to be consumed by the yeast and bacteria. Or it is the partial result of wild yeast introduced by the cabbage undergoing a growth spurt following a reduction in pH (many types of yeast require acidic conditions for optimum growth).

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Bread Starter Test

Way back in July (7/21 to be precise) Michael Ruhlman posted about a method of kick starting sourdough starter. The method, which he learned from Carri Thurman of Two Sisters Bakery in Homer, Alaska called for the addition of a red cabbage leaf to a mixture of flour and water.

Both Ruhlman and Thurman, as well as several of the former's readers, reported remarkable results. Yet no one could explain why the cabbage had the reported effects.

Some speculated that the cabbage was loaded with wild yeast, while others (myself included) thought that bacteria might be responsible for the uptick in microbial activity and signs of fermentation (gas bubbles). Since no one could provide a plausible explanation for what might be occurring, I decided to test the idea with a series of tests.

Last night I conducted the first test. The purpose of this particular test was to answer the question "Will adding rinsed and un-rinsed organic red cabbage to a mixture of flour and water make any difference in the rate at which the mixtures ferment?"

Test Design

I made up 7 samples. Each sample contained 20 g of unbleached non-organic bread flour (I wanted as little as possible yeast in the flour) and 50 g of unchlorinated tap water.
  • In three of the glasses I put 5 g each of red cabbage that had been rinsed (as per Carri's method) under luke warm water.
  • In three glasses I put 5 g each of red cabbage that had not been rinsed
  • In one (Control) glass I put only flour and water
Each sample was mixed with a spoon which was washed with hot water and soap to avoid cross-contamination of the samples. The I left the samples uncovered on the counter in my (68 degree F) kitchen overnight before checking them 13 hours later.

By 7 Am this morning, none of the samples, not even the control have shown any signs of fermentation. Even now (almost 14 hours after mixing) there are no obvious signs of fermentation.

Ruhlman and Thurman suggest that additional flour (a "feeding") and 48 hours of incubation is required to produce vigorous bubbling. I will let my sample go at least that long before drawing any conclusions. (I will not add more flour.) If after 48 hours, two or more of the samples with cabbage appear to be fermenting more rapidly than the control, I will assume that the cabbage is contributing something to the process and move to the next phase of the testing which will be designed to answer the question

"Will limiting the supply of oxygen have an effect on how the flour cabbage mixture ferments?"

This question is designed to begin to get a handle on what (if any) microbe on the cabbage is responsible for the enhanced fermentation reported by Ruhlman, Thurman and others.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Brine Dilution

A couple of weeks ago I told you how I started a batch of pickled onions. At the time I expected the onions to be ready in about 10 to 14 days. Well, I am happy to report that after about 16 days in the aging room they were almost done. On the day that these pictures were taken the onions had softened to the texture of a peeled Macintosh or Macoun apple and were almost sour enough to be considered a proper pickle ( I'm guessing pH 4.0; my pH meter is dead.).

They were, however, too salty so I diluted the brine from 5 to 3.5% salinity.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Thursday, August 6, 2009


Here are two stages in the life of air dried beef in the style of the bresaola of Lombardy. The piece in the foreground was taken out of the cure today, rinsed and tied, and hung in the aging room where it will dry and mature for 4-6 weeks. The two specimens in the background were hung at the beginning of July and are ready to be sold. All three are made from whole eye rounds from our grassfed cows (foreground) and bulls (background).
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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Ginger Man

I am mildly chagrined to tell you that a few months ago I made this out of ginger root. I'm not sure what I was thinking about when I decided to make it. And I distinctly remember Trent asking me if I was going to post it on my blog and me responding "No, never."

Yet here it is.

I suppose that no matter how civilized and cool we think we have become, Priapus will rear his head (s) and remind we are nothing more or less than animals bent on procreation and blind-to-every-other consequence.
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Monday, August 3, 2009

Pardus and Livert Discover Gold on the Shores of the Delaware

Just checking in during the busy summer. This weekend was spent with David Livert and his wife at their house on the banks of the Delaware River. Despite beautiful weather for canoeing on Saturday, the rest of the weekend was a series of down pours and fog reminscent of the 1985 floods in Northern California. This reminded me that , contrary to what you may hear about foraging several days after the rains subside, chaterelles do not mind popping their golden heads up in the midst of a deluge.

So, donning shoes we were sure to soak through and attitudes sure not to, we took walk- about, culminating in the discovery of one of the richest chanterelle veins I've ever seen in my life. We spent about 45 minutes on our hands and kness in the same spot, filling 4 grocery bags before deciding that - since we couldn't carry more, we should stop.

Returning to the house for a celebratory libation, we finished the hunt by cleaning and then cooking all of the mushrooms - my logic went like this "What the F are we going to do with all of these? They suck when you dry them and they're too wet to last very long as they are....I got it!....saute in olive oil and butter, reduce resulting liquid, cool and freeze them in portion sized bags for convenient later use".

It's been a wet summer - get out doors and make the most of it!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Free Range Chicken Family

Left to their own devices, chickens will act like wild birds, build nests in fields, lay eggs and, when they hatch teach the young ones to forage and, I suppose, cultivate their chicken identity. We don't have a lot of chickens on the farm (maybe a dozen) and all of them live out in the open like these. The picture is not great but if you squint you can see 4-5 chicks scratching around at the base of the tree.

Now, because the chickens live outside almost full time, they get taken down by predators pretty regularly. You'd suppose that given the dangers of living in the open air, they would choose to spend more time in the barn. But they don't. There's feed at the barn too, but they don't spend much time on it in the summer when the fields are full of juicy bugs. And it's a good thing for us that they do, because those bugs get translated by chicken guts into really great tasting eggs -when you can find them. See, true free range chickens like these hide their eggs all over the place and it sometimes takes a hour just to pick up a half dozen.
Too bad we can't train them to roll them by their beaks down to the barn.

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