Now is the perfect time to start making fermented and air-dried meat, as the weather gets cooler.
We may not have as rich a history in fermented meats and charcuterie as France, Spain, Germany, Italy or Poland (although a decent Wiltshire cured ham can rival the best Jamón pata Negra, and a well-made Cumberland sausage beats any Fränkische Bratwurst) but we do have a pretty good climate for making air-dried hams; cool, humid, and windy.
I’ve started curing a few bit of meat, and although they won’t be ready for a few months yet, they are looking promising. As with anything you’re going to eat, the best quality ingredients are of up most importance if the product is to taste good. I took a whole leg of pork from my butcher. It was from a free-range Middle White pig who had lived content in Oxfordshire. A happy pig I was told.
I skinned and boned the leg, and then seamed out each muscle, a process which involves carefully separating each individual muscle in order to end up with a number of intact muscles. Each muscle in the leg is separated by connective tissue and sliverskin which must be removed before cooking or processing into any form of charcuterie. Seam butchery tends to be seen more on the continent than in UK butcheries, but is becoming increasingly popular, especially for cuts of meat like rump, where traditionally the steak is cut to include 4 or 5 different muscles – it is easy for the butcher to cut, and gives you a big steak, but the grain of each muscle runs in different directions and cooks differently…so on eating a rump steak, one part will be tough, the next bite will be tender, some bits will be rare and others overcooked. If the rump is seamed, each muscle can be cut to give smaller, but higher quality steaks which respond to the appropriate cooking method much better.
Once I had the different muscles from the leg separated and trimmed (5 decent sized muscles), I made up 2 dry cures for the meat: one fairy traditional cure, and another with a Spanish influence.
Traditional cure: Spanish cure:
70% vacuum dried salt 60% vacuum dried salt
30% unrefined cane sugar 35% unrefined cane sugar
Juniper berries 5% Sweet paprika
Dried Bay leaves Crushed garlic
Crushed pepper corns Fennel seeds
The Spanish cure was a bit of an experiment, so I used this for the two smaller muscles.
I rubbed handfuls of the cure onto the surface of the meat so that there was a good layer adhering but so that the meat was buried in cure as the largest muscle was no more than 2 kg.
|Spanish style cure|
After 3 hours, the cure was beginning to penetrate and draw out moisture from the meat: the beginning of the drying process.
I then left the meat at 20ᵒC for a week to begin the fermentation process in the meat – raising the acidity level.
|The hams hanging up outside|
My little hams then got tied up and taken outside to hang in the breeze. They will be continuing their fermentation and as the acid levels reach their peak, and the moisture levels drop, lactic acid producing bacteria will release enzymes which will breakdown the proteins in the meat to free amino acids – which is what makes ham delicious!
They may not turn out to be as delicate and refined as a Jamón pata Negra or sweet as a Prosciutto di San Daniele, but by hanging the hams outside in the garden, their flavours will certainly express the local terrior.