Science & Osmosis
The journey of 1000 miles begins with one small step...
When I grow up I just want to be an old Italian man. This, I am slowly beginning to realise, will be challenging on a few counts. I don’t really care about soccer or cycling. I don’t own any nifty hats. I suck at bocce. Oh, and I’m not Italian nor a man.
This last one may very well prove to be an insurmountable obstacle, but I refuse to go down without a fight. That’s why, in an effort to be the very best Paolo I can be, I took over a small corner in our coolroom, staged a hostile takeover of a full shelf in the storeroom, and started curing my own salumi.
Sure, it’s entirely possible that I’ll be an Australian woman until the day I die, but I’ll be damned if anything’s going to stop me from living out my golden years with an espresso brewing, a blood-stained apron around my neck, a cacciatore in one hand and a prosciutto in the other.
With the full backing of not just our Small Goods Licensing & Trade Certificate, but also a Small Goods TAFE Trainer and a variety of checks & advice from our local Council Health Department with regards to regulations, water activity, pH & humidity levels - I started off small (as you do) with a variety of dry cured bacons, which lets you “dip your toes” into the salty curing without diving all the way in.
It wasn’t long before my excitement and a bit of encouragement helped me to spread my wings and venture into long slow cured Bresaola, Coppa, Basturma, Lamb Prosciutto, Capocollo, Lonzino and Pancetta, Fiocco, Culatello, Rumpetto, Fenalär and now Prosciutto. We had already been making slow cured traditional Italian Salami Picante, Pepperoni, Cacciatore, Cabanossi, French Saucisson Sec, German Bratwurst and South African Dröewors for some time - but what’s the point of stopping there? Why not create more?
Any pig breed does not equal greatness - but you obviously want the best you can get and buying local is always the best place to start… so we prefer to use locally grown & award winning Esperance Berkshire Pork, slower growing and a higher pH which creates a much nicer tasting cured meat. Next you need to choose your cut - whether it be the loin, the belly or the collar butt. Prosciutto is one of those long term products, where plenty of time can mean things can go badly wrong, but if done right, can be the most exquisite piece of meat you'll ever try.
Salt. And not just any salt - SEA SALT. You need it. A decent amount too because during the curing process you are quite literally cooking the meat with the salt. Iodised salt doesn’t work with slow cured meats - don’t even go there.
Humidity is super important - optimum is between 65% - 80% as is temperature 10°C - 18°C are preferable, but a holding temperature in most fridges are between 2°C - 4°C and that just means a slightly longer drying time.
Spices - these are the key ingredients for that flavour, that ZING! Juniper Berries, Chilli, Marjoram, Bay Leaves, Black Pepper, Paprika, Garlic, Nutmeg, Allspice - the sky is the limit!
Curing times vary with each cut - and this can be anywhere from 7 days up to 30 days. A vacuum sealer is very helpful to keep the cure on the meat and drawing out all that un-needed liquid. This is called Osmosis and a vital step in creating your masterpiece.
Butchers twine or Butchers spring netting are also vital to the process.
And now we wait - you want to hit a target weight loss of around 40% - 48%….. the ambient temperature has a lot to do with times, but be patient and don’t check it every hour - it will be so worth it in the end and then you can show off your prowess to your friends with a beautiful charcuterie board. Don't forget to finalise your end product with anywhere between 2 - 12 months of equalising (vacuum sealing in fridge) to allow full maturation and flavour of your chosen product. Weight loss alone is not enough - you need time to let the full flavour develop.