Taking the Cure

When I learned that Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn, the authors of Charcuterie, were planning a follow-up book, I knew I’d be buying a copy for two reasons:

  1. I wanted to see which subset of charcuterie they would be treating in more depth.
  2. I had to make sure that they provided more information about safe handling and storage temperatures for cured meats.

The first point would apply to any fan of the first book, but the second was a particular axe I had to grind with the authors. My second attempt at making salami, part of last year’s Charcutepalooza competition, resulted in an end product that was unsafe for consumption. I had taken the book’s recommended incubation temperature  – “ideally 65 degrees” – literally, assuming that I could make something at a less than ideal temperature.

When my copy of Salumi: The Craft of Italian Dry Curing arrived, I immediately turned to the Dry Curing: The Basics chapter and found this passage in The Environment: Creating a Place to Dry Cure Meat:

You need to create conditions that will allow the meat and sausage to dry properly, but there is no set way to do this. The ambient humidity should be between 60 and 70 percent; the temperature should remain between 55 and 65 degrees F./12 and 18 degrees C; and the air must circulate. f you create these conditions, you should be able to dry cure successfully.

I had already solved my environmental problems, but I was happy to see the necessary conditions expressed concretely.

With that pressing issue out of the way, I turned my attention to the rest of the book, which, unsurprisingly, is devoted to Italian dry curing. Ruhlman and Polcyn divide the world of salumi into “the big eight:” guanciale (jowl), coppa (neck), spalla (shoulder), lardo (back fat), lonza (loin), pancetta (bely), prosciutto (back leg), and salami (ground or cut pork). I’ve made more than a few of those, but the book provides clear explanations and methods for some of the more advanced cuts.

I have two hind legs from a piglet that I will salt and cure as a test for a larger prosciutto, but many of the remaining cuts require a hog that has been butchered in the Italian style, which yields different muscles and different proportions of more familiar cuts. Emboldened by my recent experience with hog butchering, I have already consulted with a local farm about the possibility of acquiring an entire half hog that I can portion myself. If all goes well, I’ll have more to report on here, but I’m confident that Salumi will be an excellent guide.

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4 Responses to Taking the Cure

  1. iliana says:

    Needless to say, I want this book. Also, I’m looking forward to actually catching up here at the blog –you butchered a hog?! Clearly I’m out of the loop. The meat on the cover looks so good.

    • David says:

      I have not butchered a full-sized hog, but I’ve disassembled a piglet. I’ve taken a class on hog butchery, but it wasn’t very hands-on. Nonetheless, I’m confident of my skills.

  2. Ryan says:

    It’s an excellent book overall. The whitebread review on my site withstanding, I’m really happy with how far they went to research the proper curing methods.

    • David says:

      I made sure not to overlap your review.

      I’m pretty sure the level of detail presented in the safe handling sections was driven in part by other Charcutepalooza failures less public than my own.

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