Thursday, January 20, 2011

On towards Charcuterie 101

I just flat-out stole this photo from Salumi Artisan Cured Meats' website because it is so wonderful! Clockwise from top: Lardo, Oregano Salami, Lamb Prosciutto, Culatello, Salumi Salami, Hot Sopressata Salami, Mole Salami, Lomo, Guanciale, Finocchiona Salami, Smoked Paprika Salami. Center from top: Cotecchino, Cotto, Coppa, Pancetta.
During all the sausage-making recently, I put aside (in the freezer) several small-to-medium venison haunch muscles cleaned of all silverskin, fat and tendons. When it gets warm enough to work outside however briefly with my cardboard cold-smoking set-up again, I want to play around with curing some bresaola, only with venison instead of beef. I'm starting with a little bresaola just because it is simple! (Bresaola costs $20-$25 per pound on average, plus shipping and handling if bought online.)

Bresaola is not common in the US, and is usually made from beef that's cured with salt mixed with tiny amounts of nitrates and nitrates to prevent botulism, marinated in the cure plus any spices of choice for 2 weeks, and then hung to dry for 2-4 weeks. The resulting meat is thin sliced... think 'creamed chipped-beef on toast' without the yucky taste and you have the general idea of the meat (the commercially dried sliced beef available in small jars tastes too much like chemicals and salt to suit me). Bresaola is good with cream cheese on toast rounds, too.

I also plan soon to try making prosciutto and pancetta, curing and cold-smoking some pork belly for bacon, and other such things when I can re-stock the freezer with more pork and lamb. Plus I need to buy some additional curing salts and bacterial ferments. Curing salts are not necessary for fresh sausage (although plain salt IS required) even if freezing them, but absolutely essential in any meat product that is smoked, dry-aged, or otherwise cured. (Unless you want to use a relative or in-law as a guinea-pig for any possible botulism contamination, which is tasteless and odorless!)

Earlier generations cured their hams in salt and sugar, and often had access to saltpeter which they also added as a preservative. Saltpeter (potassium nitrate) is no longer allowed for use in commercial curing of cooked or smoked meats and sausages, nor recommended for home curing. (US FDA 1999) Instead, there are curing salts available that contain regulated but limited amounts of nitrates and nitrates in a salt base. These mixes are generally known by such names as Prague Powder #1 and #2, Insta-Cure #1 and #2 and Modern Cure #1 and #2; they help prevent the growth of pathogens in meat.

Nitrates and/or nitrites alone do not produce the curing reactions of flavor, color and shelf-life. Nitrates must be reduced by lactic acid bacteria, which makes the bacterial fermentations that affect taste, color, texture and shelf-life... much too lengthy to explain in this post.

As I'm writing this, we are coming off a winter storm and the outside temp is 9ºF, not the outside temps I care to work in. I'll probably need a 2 week window of few to no storms to have time to cure meat in the refrigerator a few days or weeks, and then smoke and/or hang. I hope to make a varmint-proof box for the root cellar, and need to monitor the 24 hour temps in it to be sure first that I can use it to hang meats.

I doubt I can afford the controls this winter to actually make a temp and humidity controlled box, even if I manage to get a free freezer or old refrigerator. The promised free wine chiller unit hasn't appeared... so far, and another one has also been promised!

Update: I have been monitoring the hi-lo temps and humidity in my root cellar and so far it looks favorable to hang cured meats (or hard cheese) to age! Whoooeee! 

Now I'm just waiting on the curing salts to arrive so I can start curing the venison bresaola.


  1. Interesting. I know nothing about curing meat or smoking so will be watching for your posts.

  2. Thanks Becky. I hope it will be an interesting journey, and delicious!


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