A Coat of Lard

March 14, 2010

Despite all of my stories about various meat projects, this is a blog about “Herschel”, a pig leg that will be my first prosciutto when it grows up.

This week was a milestone. We moved from the “drying” stage to the “aging” stage in the development of the ham. After 30 days of refrigerated salting, and 90 days of drying (where more than 35% of the original “green weight” was lost), Herschel is now settling in for the lengthy 12-month aging stage. The salt percentage, water activity, and acidity of this leg are all at a point where it would be safe to eat the meat today. And frankly, it would probably be really awesome. But the aging step is supposed to allow time for the meat to mellow and soften and get exposed to the magic that makes prosciutto so mind-blowingly tasty.

On this 120th day of production, I mixed up a bowl of rendered lard, black pepper, and semolina flour, and spread it over the lean exposed muscle. In theory, this should help contain the remaining moisture from escaping the leg muscle over the next year.

Below is the leg before applying any lard.

And here’s a shot of the freshly larded lean muscle areas. I mixed semolina with  black pepper and lard in hopes of preventing the fat from dripping. The temperature in the curing room should be cool enough to keep the fat solid. But the semolina will give the layer of lard an extra  bit of structure and resistance to melting.  It is still greasy lard….just with a bit of fortification for the upcoming 12 month journey (of hanging in a closet).

Finally, Herschel and a fresh coat of lard are hung in the curing room.

I’m willing to wait for a full year before cutting into this. There is plenty of other curing to do and meat-science to learn while we wait.

Prosciutto Status:

  • 30 of 30 salting days complete
  • 90 of 90 drying days complete
  • 2 of 365 aging days complete

Hazelnut Pig

March 9, 2010

I bought some pork the other day.

Some will say that I bought a lot of pork. Some (family members hoping to share the refrigerator) will even say that I bought too much. But this is a beautiful pig. Even if its only half a pig.

All together, this was a 8-9 month old, Washington-raised pig, who ate a diet of 40% hazelnuts  for the final 3-4 months of its life.  134 lbs of hazelnut fed pork….shipped from a fine Portland butcher (Tails & Trotters)…and posing  gracefully on (and beyond) my kitchen counter.

After laying the entire purchase out on bags of ice, I needed to take inventory of the amount of  butcher-work I was up against. It was a good chance to shoot a couple of photos too. Then, I packed the three primal pieces of this half-pig into the refrigerator and waited for nighttime, when the outdoor temperatures dropped to a cool work-climate for cutting this beast into manageable size pieces.

Around 11pm that evening, after the family had gone to sleep, I set up a work table in the front driveway below two very bright flood lights, and got to work. A few neighbors walking their dogs saw only my backside as they passed by my work-station. Thankfully, everyone’s dogs were leashed and no neighbors came snooping around, or I would have spun around donning a bloody apron, a boning knife, and a Kevlar glove to confront whoever might approach. “Sorry officer everything’s normal. I was just….”

Starting with the mid-section, I removed the leaf lard, removed each rib individually, removed the spine, sliced a beautiful rectangular slab of belly (there’s going to be lots of bacon. Get the maple donuts ready!), and then cut up a bunch of boneless loin chops and large sections (2-3lbs in most cases) of this beautiful muscle for cured loin. All the bones will be roasted and boiled into gelatinous stock. Even the skin can be used in a lot of great recipes. There is very little wasted pig. As far as I’m concerned, the whole animal can be and must be used.

I dismantled the shoulder (front third) into 4 large roasts, and a few good-sized solid muscle pieces which will be cured and dried. I’m not a great butcher (yet), so I ended up with quite a bit of smaller pieces of meat that will be used for stew or ground into sausage. Traditionally, the lean shoulder meat just in front of the loin is used for Coppa….and I have a lot of it now. Get ready!

As for the back third, I struggled for a long time deciding what to do. Should I de-bone the muscle for sausage etc? Or hang a 2nd prosciutto? Herschel, my 1st prosciutto is only 4 months old, with a long way to go (12 months of aging still) before I intend to eat it. Is it risky to hang another 24lb of pig leg in the basement, not knowing if the first leg will turn out the way I’m hoping it will?

I stared at the leg with a knife in my hand, and considered de-boning it……for about a minute. Then I decided that Herschel needs a roommate. That was easy. The new leg is now salted, refrigerated, and sandwiched between 2 boards and a 25lb weight.

Here we go again. In 30 days, I’ll rinse, and hang “Hazel” (hazelnut fed pig, remember) next to Herschel in the drying room and have a really weak premise for a buddy film.