House Cured Prosciutto...

I have been fortunate enough to be able to practice my craft for the most part, exactly the way I choose to at the place where I work, and for the matter, many places I have "done time" cooking at. I think that is possibly one reason why I have not ventured out on my own to open my own place because I have not had that need to, to some degree. I know that a lot of chefs and cooks get into places that they are restricted and stifled with their creativity, their vision and the like. The situation is always someone else's vision, therefore, they strike out on their own. I do not blame them in the slightest! One of the things I have been able to work on is my desire and passion for the Garde Manger, or...the cold kitchen if you will. This is an area in the kitchen that produces a lot of the cold foods, i.e; pates, terrines, salads, amuse bouche, decorative buffet platters and such. This also is where some of the charcuterie and salumi making processes have developed. It is there that back in the mid 80's, I started to dabble in the art of prosciutto making. Now there were not a lot of books and developed techniques(that were written for modern cookery) that I could turn to. Sure there was culinary school brief tid-bits of teasers that only made you wonder more and get more confused. I think that either the chef's in culinary school did not really know what they were talking about, or they perhaps did not want to share it. I remember after months of reviewing notes, that they were vague and somewhat misguided. As of late, there have been a few really helpful books by well known chef's and authorities in the field about charcuterie and salumi production so that many a chef can now start to cure their own products. So as it were, I started by making prosciutto. Duck at first, then whole legs of fresh pig. My first encounters were that of something really salty or flat out rotten as they had spoiled. I think Mario's(Batali) dad; Armandino, principal and owner of Salumi Cured Meats in Seattle, said it best pertaining to his son, you end up making mistakes in order to learn what happens to the meat when it is being dry cured so that you can then move forward. I never had a dry curing room, or anything close to it. It was always the walk in refrigerator. Lots of moisture, mold, off flavors and humidity. Didn't always mix. Some though, came out very nice. It kept me going. I tried different cures, different spices, different lengths of curing time. I then ventured into coppas, salamis and soppresatas, landjagers, andouilles and such. It became addictive. I still was using a walk in refrigerator, but I found one that somehow was just right. No mold, just natural good bacterias (white powdery mold on outside), good curing/drying and rich fermented flavor. Then, I had this great brainstorming idea to rebuild the whole walk in. All was lost. Major bummer. The new refrigerator was too effective for my own good. Too cold, too much moisture, too much of everything I did not want. I lost many batches of product before finding a new alternative...a wine cellar. It worked pretty well. It was humidity controlled. It did have a bit chill, but not much. By standards, it was good. The only thing was it did not have the right humidity, as it was designed for the wines. I started to get severe case hardening, where the outer 1/8 inch of the salami or prosciutto was so hard and dry that it virtually sealed off the rest from curing properly, not to mention get so tough that it was hard to chew. Things had been going decently for a while, but I grew anxious for that sense of perfection. I searched for a new home. Alas, I opted for a dry place where to set up shop. A cellar-like room where it is cool and dark. I am controlling humidity with pans of salted water, although physically building a humidity and temperature controlled room is ultimately the best. Again, Armandino will most surely vouch for that. Perhaps in the future as the next phase. The verdict is still out on the process, but I am becoming quite pleased with the results. I think a fan on an electric timer that can replicate the natural air of Spain or Italy's age-old reputation is in order. Anyway, my whole point is that things have come a long way, both for me and for the industry and world of chef's looking to produce artisan style products. As soon as I take some more photos of the rest of them, they will be added. Enjoy...


Blogger Michael Walsh said...

prosciutto looks out of this world. The story about your hardship in finding an ideal curing spot sound quite familiar, but makes a successful end product even the more delish.

Last year i was inspired by Lolita's new curing room two block from where i worked. Michael Symon and Matt Harlen where curing up to 300 pounds at a time there. well, i got my three duck breasts, cured them, and hung them in the basement of the restaurant. sucess, i used them for amuse. I liked them alot, but by no means am i ready or willing to take on a pig leg.


10:44:00 AM  
Blogger cuisinier said...

thanks michael, it it is tasty. And yes, the long struggle means much more when it comes to fruition. Duck is how I started as well. Keep at it. Bill

1:12:00 PM  

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