The Big Day: Cutting Into the Prosciutto

Well……on a scale of one to “pretty damned amazing”, Herschel the prosciutto rates very high toward the top of the scale.

Yesterday, after twenty one months of watching this pig leg age, dry, mature, and hang from the ceiling of my basement, it was finally time to cut into this meaty jewel, give it a taste, and share a long-awaited feast with friends.

Below is a shot of the final product. I’m still amazed that salt and a lot of time can transform raw pork into something this pretty. The color, the texture, the sweet and nutty smell. I don’t know exactly what went on below the skin during the last 2 years, but it was a very good thing.

If you recall from the first post of this blog (October 2009), the pig leg, sourced from Sea Breeze farm on Vashon Island, Washington started as a fresh 22 lb drumstick. The pig had been slaughtered just days before I retrieved it from the Ballard Farmers Market,  put it in my bike trailer, and peddled it home behind my bicycle. Below is a “before” pic.

Below, just 21 months later, the leg had lost more than 40% of its original weight. Before cutting into it, I was concerned that it may be too dry. The skin and outer surfaces were extremely hard. But there was always some give when squeezing the thick center part of the muscle. It was not always easy wondering if the meat inside this package was doing all the stuff it was supposed to be doing. Aging, mellowing, and softening of the inside leg meat seemed a bit far fetched when visually inspecting the leg during the past few months.

Sure enough, the outer edge of the leg was extremely hard and dry. But despite the jerky-like texture, the flavor was stunning. Some sort of  magic had definitely taken place here, because there was a rich nutty taste permeating this DRY and tough section. But……..as I continued slicing and cutting into the thicker part of the  the leg…….

…….the meat became softer, more moist, and finally a rich ruby red color. I took the large piece below and ran it through my electric meat slicer, shaving paper-thin sheets of ham from this area of the leg.

Results…..this prosciutto melted on my tongue. There was no toughness about the meat. The salt level was perfect.  This thing had simply turned into the most complex and elegant piece of food I have ever made. I’ve been lucky enough to eat a lot of prosciutto in Europe and in the States, and I think the friends that joined me on Sunday were treated to a very special leg. This was amazing!   We ate it wrapped around sweet cantaloupe, alongside rustic bread, and there was a lot consumed directly from fingers to mouth without any extra flavors to confuse the matter. No matter what you did with this prosciutto, it was good slow food, and it made people smile. And that made me happy.

But, how can you host a party and pretend to feed 30 friends with a single prosciutto? That’s where the fresh Link Lab Artisan Meats sausage entered the picture. We all enjoyed Boerewors and Hot Italian Sausage links.

And after we ate, there was music. Lots of music.

(photo by Karla Thomas)

As soon as the temperatures start to turn cool again, I can’t wait to start the process again and age another prosciutto. Actually, this time, I plan to find a couple or three legs from different pig breeds and let them all age simultaneously. There’s a great chance I’ll keep notes on this oinkmoo blog, but if not, check back with me in 2013, and I’ll let everyone know how it went.

Now….back to work. Link Lab Artisan Meats, LLC is 6 months old. The Seattle food community has been really supportive of my efforts, and I’m looking forward to continuing to make great sausage, support great farmers, and hopefully share some fun stories about meat. Thanks again to everyone for all of your interest, enthusiasm, and support during these past two years! —-David

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5 Responses to The Big Day: Cutting Into the Prosciutto

  1. jered says:

    Great job, that looks awesome!

  2. Evan says:

    Congratulations, that’s pretty exciting! Great to have it turn out right the first time.

    My partner and I run a small farm in California, and we were thinking of doing something similar to what you’re doing (although we’d be raising some of our own animals).

    Mostly I was wondering how much it ended up costing you to modify your basement into a USDA facility, as sort of a rough ballpark figure, if you don’t mind me asking. Our basement here is at present a half-furnished woodworking shop left here by the previous owner, and we talk on and off about making it somewhere where we could can tomato sauce and jellies and possibly do some charcuterie.

  3. janelle says:

    “like” I hope to hang some legs in my basement someday soon;).

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