Charcuterie For Dummies book cover

Charcuterie For Dummies

By: Mark LaFay Published: 07-02-2020

Even if youve never cooked a slab of bacon in your life, you can prepare sausage and cured meats at home! In Charcuterie for Dummies, youll learn everything you could possibly need to get started, from choosing the right gear and finding quality raw ingredients, all the way through taking your parties to the next level with epic charcuterie boards. Salami, bacon, prosciutto, and good-old-fashioned sausage are all on the menu with Charcuterie for Dummies. Author and meat master Mark LaFay will help you keep things safe and sanitary, equip you with some seriously awesome recipes, and teach you a thing or two about which beers and wines to serve up with your meat.

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Charcuterie For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 03-21-2022

Are you passionate about making food? Do you like to see how things are made? Are you interested in becoming a master meat artisan in your home kitchen? Or are you just a serious lover of charcuterie but want to stick to eating it as best as you can? If so, then this Cheat Sheet is for you. Following, are some quick tips that will help set you up for success, whether you’re making the meats or simply eating them!

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10 Charcuterie Meats You Must Try

Article / Updated 12-13-2021

This list of meats includes ten that are really good and should be tried at some point either on their own or as part of a charcuterie board presentation. Everything in this list is delicious, and if you are able to, you should track some of them down to try for yourself. Keep in mind that this list is in no particular order. La Quercia Acorn Edition Prosciutto Iowa has a meat-producing gem that may sneak under the radar for many people. The company is called La Quercia. The word itself is Italian for “The Oak,” and the inspiration for the name came from the time that founders Herb and Kathy Eckhouse spent living in Italy. During their time abroad, they got to see the love and care that went into the production of Prosciutto di Parma, and how that attention to detail could produce something as delicious and sublime as that famed Italian ham. When they came back to the U.S., they wanted to start La Quercia to focus on making American hams in the tradition of Parma. La Quercia is a cool company for a few reasons: They’ve spent a lot of time focusing on environmental sustainability. They also work with farmers in Iowa that raise their pigs to a very particular specification. This is to ensure that the ingredients they use to make their award-winning hams are of the utmost quality. It is also to ensure that they are supporting farmers that incorporate sustainability into their practices! Eating the Acorn Edition Prosciutto (shown in the following figure) is a mind-boggling experience. These hams come from a Tamworth pig, which is a heritage breed pig. These pigs are pasture-raised on a farm. What makes them truly special is that they spend time foraging an Ozark Mountain hillside, where acorns and hickory nuts make up an estimated 65 to 70 percent of their diet. This nutty diet imparts a very nutty characteristic into the flavor of these hams. Once they are dispatched, the hams are salted and slowly dried over 30 to 36 months. The long drying time allows for some very complex and delicious flavors to develop in the flesh of this legendary ham. If you can find some, try it! Smoking Goose Delaware Fireball Over ten years ago, Chris Eley and his wife, Mollie, opened up a craft butcher shop in Indianapolis, Indiana. They provided pasture-raised proteins, epic sandwiches, miscellaneous gourmet ingredients and products, and a carefully curated selection of beers and wines. From this space, Chris started producing several types of dry-cured, whole-muscle meats as well as dry-cured, fermented sausages. The success of their products grew to the point where they launched a USDA-inspected, wholesale charcuterie company called Smoking Goose. In those early days, many of the products made at Goose the Market were only available on a limited basis because of the space they needed to keep up with growing demand. That meant that if you found something you loved, you needed to buy it on release. That, for me, was the Delaware Fireball. The Delaware Fireball is a pork salami formed in the shape of a ball and wrapped in caul fat. Essentially, it is a “crepinette” of salami. The salami is seasoned with chilis and hot pepper powders, cold smoked, and then fermented and dried. The Delaware Fireball is a delightful salami with enough spice to warm you up but not blow you out. Mousse de Foie Gras de Canard Years ago, my wife and I made a quick weekend getaway to Montreal. It was sort of a whirlwind trip because we got stranded in Chicago overnight due to a flight cancellation. When we got to Montreal, we proceeded to cover as much ground as possible. I’ve always enjoyed visiting the central markets located in many of Canada’s large cities. We stopped by the Atwater Market, which is located down by the river and near the old town of Montreal. In the upstairs, there is a small shop that specializes in terrines and pâtés. The shop was something to see, and I wish I had taken more photos when we were there (The following figure gives you a general idea of their variety of products.) I’m a big fan of foie gras. It’s a somewhat controversial product because of how it is produced. If you are unfamiliar, here’s the gist: Foie gras is the liver of a goose or duck that is extremely fatty. The liver gets this way by over-feeding the birds. When the birds are dispatched, the liver is saved and there you have it: foie gras. The flavor is out of control: rich, fatty, savory, and velvety. The liver flavor is very, very mild. This shop makes a mousse de foie gras de canard. A mousse is a pâté that is finely puréed and strained so that the texture is extremely smooth and creamy. This particular mousse is made with duck foie gras. The resulting pâté is subtle, rich, and out-of-control good. It goes great on crackers or toast. You can also top it with a savory flavor like cornichon or mustard, or you could go sweet and top it with fig jam. If you are ever in the area, this is worth a visit and a taste. However, you’ll have to do a little searching for it. Grammy Mae’s Summer Sausage When I was 14 years old, my father took me grouse hunting in Canada. We stayed at a little place called the Normandy Lodge just north of Wawa, Ontario. Take a look on the map; it is a pretty isolated area! On the way up, we stopped at a place in Wawa called Young’s General Store. This store is probably what you are imagining it would be: a grocery, hardware store, knick-knack shop, and bait shop, offering something to anyone in the area or who is passing through. Young’s was built in 1971 and has been a staple of the area ever since. When we popped into the shop for some supplies before finishing our journey north, my father noticed that they had a pile of hard summer sausages in canvas bags. This pile was strategically placed in the middle of the store, and I’m pretty sure it was the sole source of the smoke fragrance that filled the shop. These were fermented summer sausages that had been dried hard and smoked aggressively. Handling these canvas-wrapped meat treats would make your hands smell of smoked meat for what seemed like days. I wasn’t a big salami fan as a kid, but holy cow, these were amazing, utterly amazing. They were tangy, salty, and smoky, and I’ve thought about them ever since. My father has been back a couple of times, but Grammy Mae’s sausage has never made the journey home to me; it has always been eaten en route. However, my good friend Tim Funston, upon my direction, paid a visit to the shop and loaded up. He’s now a believer. If you are ever in Canada and you can get your hands on a hank or two of Grammy Mae’s summer sausage, get two. Figatelli from Les Cochons Tout Ronds On a trip to Montreal, my wife and I did some serious food tourism over a 48-hour period. We managed to eat our way through several restaurants, coffee shops, the legendary bagel bakery, and two of the general markets. While we were at the Marché Jean-Talon, we paid a visit to Les Cochons tout ronds, the creative outlet of chef Patrick Mathey. As you can see in the following figure, they had an incredible selection of all sorts of sausages, both fresh and dry-cured, and whole-muscle charcuterie. It was piled high in the cases, and even though our knowledge of the French language was minimal, they were very willing to allow us to sample several different products — and they were all great. We ended up purchasing numerous items to take back to our flat to munch on throughout the duration of our trip. One item, however, that blew me away was the figatelli. If you Google this sausage, you will find two different spellings and some slight variations, depending on the region where it is made, but at its roots, this is a Corsican sausage made with liver, pork, garlic, and spices. It can be made as a fresh sausage or a dry-cured sausage. What we got from Les Cochons tout ronds was the dry-cured version, and it was made from pork meat, liver, and heart. I don’t believe they used pork blood, but I could have missed something in the translation at the time. The salami is dark in color, and when you slice it open, you get a beautiful cross-section of the various bits and pieces that make the salami what it is. The flavor is rich, earthy, and herbaceous. We took home about 4 or 5 different salamis, but this one I couldn’t stop eating. I don’t know what it was, but after the flavor dissipated in my mouth, I was craving another bite. Patrick Mathey has a gift waiting for you in Montreal! 18-Month Prosciutto di Parma with Black Truffles Italy is a magical place, especially if you are in search of incredible meats both fresh and dried. A few years back, my wife and I met up with some friends who were over in Italy for two months on a sabbatical. We managed to tag along for a week when they were staying in the former summer estate of the Medici family. This palatial estate had been split up into multiple units and housed a small culinary school for travellers who wanted to learn authentic methods and techniques. We used this place as a jumping-off point for our explorations throughout Tuscany. In the middle of Florence near the Duomo is the central market. Inside the market are several different vendors. You can find olives, oils, wines, cutlery, fresh and cured meats, fresh produce, fish, bread, and so on. It almost feels like you’ve stepped back in time when you set foot inside. In the southeast corner of the market, there is a stall that specializes in cured hams — all sorts of cured hams, every Italian ham you could imagine. It’s hard to explain how vast the selection is, but they have several different regional hams, and plenty of Parma ham aged for 18, 20, 24, 30 months, you name it! What caught my eye was the 18-month ham with truffles. There are few things in life where I lack total self-control; one of those things is truffles. If you’ve never had truffles, I won’t try to explain them to you. A truffle is a fungus that grows underground, often on the roots of different types of hardwoods trees. In Italy, truffles often grow on the roots of oak trees, and they have to be sniffed out by dogs or pigs in order to be found. They are earthy, musty, and funky, and you either love them or you hate them. I love them; oh, do I love them! This particular ham had every crack and crevice filled with minced black truffles. Each paper-thin slice wreaked of truffles and aged, salted Parma ham. If you love truffles, find this. If you aren’t sure about truffles, find this. If you hate truffles, I feel bad for you. Cinco Jotas Acorn-Fed Ibérico Ham Italy is not the only country known for their hams. In Spain, ham is a way of life. There are numerous types of ham, and methods of production are enshrined in law. To put this in perspective, there are over 2000 producers of Serrano ham, a particular type of Spanish ham. Ibérico ham is a special type of ham that is made from the Ibérico pig. There are several tiers of quality associated with Ibérico ham that have to do with what the pigs are fed, how they are raised, and how long the hams are aged. The top of the top, the crème de la crème, of Ibérico ham is the Ibérico de Bellota. This type of ham comes from Ibérico pigs that freely roam the oak forests along the border of Spain and Portugal, eating only acorns. The hams are then preserved and dried for at least three years before being released. The Ibérico Bellota is then further graded, based on whether or not the pigs are purebred Ibérico or if they are crossed with another breed. Due to the USDA regulations regarding the importation of meats, Spanish ham was not easily found in the U.S. until around 2007. However, of the hams that are available, the Cinco Jotas (5Js) brand is amazing. It is found in high-end restaurants, boutique gourmet Spanish groceries, and you can direct-order it. The last time I had 5J Ibérico ham, it was going for over $145 a pound. The flavor is out-of-control good, and if you can find it, try it! Benton’s Hickory Smoked Bacon I would imagine that if there was pork royalty in the United States, the Bentons would be part of the family. Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams was started in 1947 by the late Albert H. Hicks. He was a dairy farmer who got into the business of curing and selling hams. Over time, his business expanded to produce a small array of products that included his famed Hickory Smoked Country Bacon. There are a few different ways to make bacon. If you need a refresher on this, you might want to read up on bacons. For the most part, the bacon that is widely available in the U.S. is cured and hot smoked. It is sold as potentially hazardous food that needs to be refrigerated until it is cooked. Benton’s Hickory Smoked Country Bacon is very different. The process used to make their bacons is similar to how their country hams are made. First, they season the bellies with a blend of salt, sugar, and black pepper. The bellies are then hung in refrigeration for three weeks to dry out. After that, they are cold-smoked for two to three days with nothing but heavy hickory smoke. The bacon is then sliced, packed, and shipped. It’s a dry-cured bacon, which means that it contains much less water than traditional bacon. It is also not fully or even partially cooked during its production. The resulting product is rich in flavor, smoky, and out-of-this-world good. If you want to redefine bacon, start with Benton’s. Thankfully, they ship. Brooklyn Cured Bresaola Brooklyn Cured is a butcher based in, you guessed it, Brooklyn, New York. They make small-batch sausages, smoked meat, and charcuterie, and they are darn good at it. Brooklyn Cured was started in 2010 by Scott Bridi, who worked in the restaurant industry in New York. One of the more notable places Scott called home for a time was the Gramercy Tavern, a renowned place known for meat craft and an epic rotating menu of delicious bites. Brooklyn Cured makes an assortment of products that are intended to reflect the diversity of cultures found in their Brooklyn neighborhood. I first discovered Brooklyn Cured when I was catering an in-home wine dinner a few years ago. I wanted to bring in several new products, and I came across Brooklyn Cured. Until then, I hadn’t found a bresaola that I could use on a charcuterie board. If you aren’t familiar with bresaola, it’s salted and air-dried beef, more often than not made from beef round or loin. Chapter 4 offers detailed instructions on how to make your own bresaola! I love bresaola. It may be because I grew up on an inferior, air-dried beef product: chipped beef. Creamed chipped beef on toast was a common dinner in our home. My grandfather was in the navy in the Pacific during World War II, and I would imagine this was a common meal when he was home because it was a favorite of my dad’s. But enough about chipped beef. Bresaola is not that. It’s far more flavorful, and the Brooklyn Cured bresaola is a favorite of mine. It’s dusted with dried porcini mushrooms, which gives it an earthiness that is righteous! If you’re in Brooklyn, pick some up, or order it online! Mole Salami If you ever make it to Seattle, you need to pay a visit to Salumi. It’s a salumeria and restaurant in the Pioneer Square neighborhood of downtown Seattle. The restaurant was founded by Armandino Batali, the father of Mario Batali. Needless to say, the place is amazing, and it garnered a lot of attention very quickly because of the names behind it. It was featured on Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations and also on the Travel Channel’s Adam Richman’s Best Sandwich in America. I had the pleasure of visiting the deli in January of 2019. I tried several of their salamis and also took several with me. The one salami that really rocked my world was the Mole Salami. This salami is very unique and out-of-control good. It is seasoned with cocoa, cinnamon, and chili peppers. They started by making Mole Salami in-house, but the popularity of this salami and several other cured meats attracted some outside investment to fund expansion into a production facility and the formal launch of their new brand, CORO. If you ever make it to Seattle, you need to pay a visit to the Salumi Deli and give it a try. The Mole Salami alone is worth the visit!

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Charcuterie: Stuffing and Linking Sausage

Article / Updated 05-28-2020

True to their name, sausage stuffers are specialized pieces of equipment intended primarily for stuffing sausages. They come in all sizes and shapes. When I launched into the sausage-making business, I started off with an 11-pound-capacity manual stuffer. We upgraded to a No. 30–capacity stuffer and used it for a couple of years. The last year we used it exclusively, we made over 3,000 lbs of sausage with it. My left shoulder looked RIPPED! Now we’ve upgraded to an automated machine that helps us stuff and link upwards of 500 pounds of sausage in an hour! The following figure is a picture of our three stuffers. With each upgrade we were able to achieve large increases in productivity. Our Lucky Linker, however, has been a total game changer! If you are using natural casings, before you can stuff a sausage, you need to make sure your casings are hydrated and flushed. Your sausage stuffer is going to require a little prep work before you can stuff your first foot of sausage. If you have a friend to help, this would be a great time for them to join in the process! Sanitation: By now this should sound like a broken record, but make sure that before you get started, you have thoroughly washed your hands, and also cleaned your work area and all stuffing equipment. There are many places where junk can hide in your stuffer. Check all of the seals, welds, threads, and so on, and make sure there is nothing hiding. Temperature control: When working with potentially hazardous food, this will always be a concern. Make sure your sausage mixture is left in the fridge as long as possible. You can even leave it in the freezer to drop the temperature even more prior to stuffing. You can also keep the stuffer cylinder in the freezer to cool its temperature down prior to filling the stuffer. Loading the stuffer: When stuffing sausage, you want to make sure you minimize the air bubbles that get into your sausage. Your first line of defense against getting air bubbles in your links is to make sure the stuffer is loaded properly. As you are adding ground meat into the cylinder, remember to smash it down with your hand. Keep working the grind in this manner until you’ve loaded all of it (or the cylinder is full). Setting up the stuffer: Once your cylinder is filled with grind, place the cylinder into the stuffer assembly and attach the horn to the cylinder with the locking ring. You will want to use the horn that is closest in size to the diameter of the casing you are using. The figure shows a horn being attached to a stuffer. Clamping down the stuffer: When you start cranking the stuffer plunger down, you will find that the stuffer has a tendency to slide all over the place. If you don’t have a partner to help you by holding the stuffer in place, consider getting some clamps to secure the stuffer to your work surface, similar to the setup shown. Stuffing sausage If you’ve ever watched a seasoned sausage maker stuff sausages, it may have looked like a breeze. But what you probably didn’t notice were the many different points of finesse that they learned from years of making sausages. The speed of the stuffer is controlled by the speed with which you crank the plunger down. The fill level of the sausage casing is controlled by the amount of tension applied to the casing on the horn. The greater the tension, the slower the casing will slip off the horn. Conversely, the lower the tension, the faster the casing will slip off the horn. If you are watching a pro, they are coordinating all of this on the fly by managing speed with one hand and applying varying degrees of tension with the other hand. Stuffing sausages is a careful balancing act between speed of fill and tension on the sausage casing as it comes off the horn. Casings can only handle so much pressure before they break. The more you do you this activity, the more you will develop a feel for the process and even be able to sense when your casing has been filled to its absolute limit just before it pops. It’s something at which you cannot be awesome until you’ve logged some hours. You need a little muscle memory, so give yourself a grace period when you get started. The art to stuffing a sausage really lies in the way you handle the casing on the horn. This may sound ridiculous, but you have to get familiar with your casing. You need to get a sense of how hydrated it is, and how much wider it is than your horn. If your casing is properly hydrated and moves freely up and down the horn, then the application of tension to the casing as it is filled with grind will be controlled almost completely by you. If the casing is not as hydrated as it could be, or is a little tight on the horn, then the casing will drag across the horn. The further back you push the casing on the horn toward the base, the more drag will be created on the casing because of the distance it has to travel to get to the end of the horn. To begin stuffing, you first need to load a casing onto the horn. The following figure illustrates how to do this. Once the casing is on the horn, you can either choose to slide a little off the end of the horn and tie a knot, or leave it without a knot. The knot eliminates the problem of grind squirting out the end when you get started. However, you can simply pinch the end of the casing between your fingers to keep that from happening. If you are stuffing an emulsified sausage, then tying the end off will be imperative because the sausage mixture will be quite loose and will run out the end. If you opt for tying the end of the casing, prior to doing so you should crank the stuffer down to get sausage to the end of the horn. If you don’t, you will push nothing but air into your sealed casing and you will need to poke holes to purge the air from the casing. This is another reason for not tying the end. With the casing on the horn, begin slowly cranking the plunger down. Position your other hand on the horn as illustrated in the following figure. Be sure to pay attention to how easily the plunger is pushing the grind down into the horn. You will want to get acclimated to the speed at which it can and will flow into and out of the horn. Let the casing start to fill, and use your right hand to apply tension by gently pressing the casing against the horn. This will make it harder for the pressure of the sausage coming out of the horn to drag the casing along and off the horn. I am right-hand dominant. When I stuff sausage with a manual stuffer, I crank with my left hand and I use my right hand to manage the horn. I refer to my right hand as the ‘brake’ because I use it to slow down the speed at which the casing slips off the horn. No matter how hard you try to eliminate air bubbles when loading the cylinder, you will have air bubbles. When the air hits the casing, it will cause the casing to puff up like a balloon. This air pressure can cause the casing to break. Air bubbles will also cause you to have a poor fill in the casing. Periodically, if you get air bubbles in the casing while it’s on the horn, you should use a sausage pricker to poke a couple of holes in the casing so the air can escape. Slowly crank the plunger down and keep filling until you run out of casing. If you run into issues like the casing slipping off, resulting in loose or poor fills, just stop cranking, and then crank in the opposite direction to relieve the pressure inside the cylinder (which will stop the flow of grind out of the horn). Then slide the casing back onto the horn and start again. The more sausage you make, the better you will get. Just take your time, there is no rush. If you are planning to link your sausage, make sure your fill is tight but not so tight that there is no margin for twisting the casings to make links. As your sausage casing comes off the end of the horn, periodically stop to coil your sausage rope neatly on the work surface. This will ensure that nothing slips off the counter onto the floor. It is pretty difficult to catch 15 feet of sausage as it slides off the countertop. Before you throw your ring of sausage into a tub and put it into the fridge until it’s time to link, you will want to work out any air bubbles that may be in the sausage. Using your sausage pricker, prick your sausage rope from end to end. As you link, this will give the air a place to go and will allow the grind to compress as you twist links. Linking sausage If you’re ready to link, that means you’ve stuffed your sausage and hopefully you’ve got a tub filled with ropes of sausage! Linking sausage is a little more straightforward than stuffing, but there is still quite a bit of finesse involved. If you’ve filled your casings perfectly, then the task of linking will be pretty straightforward. Probably a little more realistically, this is going to be a process of cleaning up your stuffing job. Have you ever seen a balloon animal being made? A long, skinny balloon is filled with air and then twisted in all different directions until it is shaped into an animal form or some other object. Have you ever noticed how the balloon is handled by the person making the balloon animal? They tend to use their whole hand to grip, twist, and fashion the balloon. The reason for this is that it spreads pressure out over a greater surface area and reduces the chances that the balloon will pop. This is the same sort of mindset that you need to have when linking sausage. Your sausage rope is under pressure. As you twist the rope to form links, you are reducing the available space inside the casing, which further compresses the contents. With each twist of the casing, you are increasing pressure. So you need to approach linking with the mindset of “how do I not blow up my balloon?” Just like stuffing, the more you link, the more sense you will get for the process (this is called muscle memory), so you just need to get started. To begin, empty your rope onto the countertop and form it into a coil. Pick up the end of the rope and pinch the outside with one hand. Then, with the other hand, using the space in between your index finger and your thumb, gently compress the link to create a space that you can pinch. The following figure illustrates this technique. Gently spin the sausage link forward (clockwise). Give it a solid five or six spins. Repeat Steps 1 and 2. When you are ready to spin your link, you want to spin in the opposite direction of the last link. In this case, you will spin backwards (counter-clockwise). Twisting links compresses your sausage fill. If your links are not rigid after twisting, try spinning them a few more times to compress them further. You want your links to be tightly filled but not bursting. If you find that your sausage ropes have sections that are so full that they will likely burst, then try spreading the fill out through the casing by gently pushing the fill down the rope to more evenly distribute it. You want to use your whole hand to distribute the pressure out over as much surface area as possible. Grip the sausage rope with your whole hand and gently work the fill down the rope to distribute the fill. You want to start by creating room in a part of the rope that has a light fill and then slowly work your way back toward the section of sausage rope that is under a great deal of pressure. Now that your sausage is linked, find a place to hang the ropes of sausage links in your refrigerator so they can “bloom.” This is a process of drying the casings and letting the flavors permeate further through the grind. If you can’t hang them, leave them in your tub, uncovered, in the fridge overnight before cooking them. You’ll appreciate the final product more.

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Charcuterie: A Word about Sausage Casings

Article / Updated 05-28-2020

In the wild world of sausage, you have two options for finishing your product. You can either leave your sausage mixture loose (an option really reserved for ground, not emulsified sausages), or you can stuff your sausage into a casing. Casings are the tubes that form and hold your sausage mixture together. They come in a lot of different shapes, sizes, and materials, and they all have different applications. Following is a list of the major categories of casings: Natural casing. This sounds as awesome as you may be imagining. Natural (gut) casing is derived from the intestines of pigs, sheep, or cows. Each species has attributes that make them desirable for different applications. Hog casing. These casings are great for fresh and smoked sausages because of their durability and size. They are somewhat durable and not as prone to tearing as sheep or collagen casings. They aren’t too thick, which means they aren’t tough to chew through. Hog casings range in size from 28 to 42 mm in diameter. Sheep casing. Smaller critters have smaller guts, and sheep are no exception. Casings made from the intestines of sheep are smaller in diameter, and much more fragile than hog casings. They are an ideal size for breakfast sausage links. Sheep casings can range in size from 19 to 26 mm in diameter. Beef middles casing. Beef middles are the thick sections of a cow’s intestine. They are extremely durable and are generally used for making salamis. Beef middles aren’t edible and are usually peeled off prior to eating. Beef middles range in size from 2 to 2.5 inches in diameter. Beef bung casing. Beef bung is the appendix of a cow. Large-format salamis are cased in beef bungs, and are sealed off on one side. These casings are extremely durable but not all that edible. Beef bungs range in size from 4.5 to 5 inches in diameter and are approximately 18 inches in length. The following figure shows several different types of casings next to each other to give you context for the differences. Fibrous casing. Cellulose-based casings are strengthened with natural plant fibers. This gives these casings extra strength to ensure very tight fills. Fibrous casings breathe, which means that when you smoke them, the smoke penetrates the meat to impart a smoky flavor. Fibrous casings are not edible. Fully cooked summer sausage typically uses these casings. This figure shows an example of a fibrous casing. Cellulose casing. Cellulose casings are similar to fibrous casings, but they lack the additional plant fibers that give fibrous casings the additional strength needed for larger-diameter sausages. Cellulose casings are generally used for hot dogs and frankfurters. They are peeled off after cooking, which makes the sausages “case-less.” Collagen casing. Collagen casings are derived from animals, primarily cows. The materials are extracted from the hide of a cow, as well as its bones and tendons. A collagen casing is edible and permeable. This style of casing is growing in popularity because it is easier to use than gut (natural) casings. At Old Major Market, we use collagen casings for all of our breakfast links. The following figure shows a collagen casing. Where to buy sausage casings There are several options for buying sausage casings on the internet! If you have a local butcher, they may have some sausage casings that you can buy, but your best bet is to purchase your casings online. If you don’t want to flip back, here’s a quick list in my order of preference: Sausage Maker Butcher & Packer Walton's Fibrous, cellulose, collagen, and even beef middles and bungs don’t come with many, potentially confusing, options. You can shop based on the size, color, and quantity of the casings. Sheep and hog casings tend to have quite a few options that can affect both the cost of your sausage and the quality of the end result. Here are some things to consider when shopping for sheep and hog casings: Pre-tubed or not. In order to stuff a sausage casing, you will need to place the casing over the horn of your stuffer. A tubed casing is simply a casing that has a hollow plastic sheath running through it. This makes it very quick and easy to get an entire casing on the horn of your stuffer. If the casing is not pre-tubed, the job of putting the casing on the horn will take a little bit longer. Whiskers. “Whiskers” are the capillaries that provide blood flow to the intestines. When the intestines are removed with a knife, these capillaries may not be completely removed. What is left over looks like a whisker. Whiskers generally disappear during cooking, but if you don’t like their appearance, you can purchase a whisker-free product that is “shaved.” Another option is to purchase an inverted casing so that the whiskers are on the inside and not visible. Natural casings can be packed in several different ways. The two most common types of packages that you will run into are listed here: Dry salted. These casings are sold in bags or plastic tubs and are packed in a large quantity of dry salt. They are usually cheaper than casings packed in salt water, but generally require extra time to prep for use. Wet brine. These casings are packed in bags or buckets of extremely salty water. They are a little more expensive than dry-salted casings, but they require less prep time prior to usage. Care and prep of casings Natural casings, regardless of how they are packed, should be kept refrigerated. This will ensure their maximum lifespan. All other casings should be kept sealed in a bag, and stored in a dark, cool, dry place. Collagen casings are extremely susceptible to changes in humidity. They are usually packaged in sealed plastic or Mylar bags with desiccant packets to ensure there is little to no humidity in the packaging. When you start gearing up to stuff sausages, some prep work will be involved to get your casings ready to use. Cellulose and collagen casings do not need to be soaked in water prior to use; in fact, soaking collagen casings in water will ruin them. Fibrous casings will benefit from a brief soak in warm water. Natural (gut) casings, however, require the most TLC when being prepped for use. For dry-salted casings, follow these steps to get them ready: The packaging for your casings should tell you approximately how many pounds you can stuff with the casings contained within. Be sure to hydrate the appropriate amount of casings for the job at hand! Make sure you hydrate more casings than you need. You will probably not fill them perfectly, and you will likely break several as you learn how to stuff sausages. There is nothing worse than running out of casings in the middle of stuffing sausages! Rinse salt from the casings with fresh water. I like to put the casings in a bowl and vigorously agitate the casings in the water with my fingers. Soften the casings by soaking them in fresh water at room temperature (approximately 70 degrees Fahrenheit) for 45 minutes to one hour. Gently massage the casings to ensure there are no dry spots. Soaking overnight in the refrigerator is acceptable as well. Although this can make your casings slightly more fragile, I have never had a problem. Flush the casings by running fresh water into them and allowing it to run through them. Just prior to stuffing, transfer the casings into a clean bucket of 80-degree-Fahrenheit fresh water. This will loosen them up further and allow them to slide on and off the stuffing horn with greater ease. If you have casings that are packed in a wet brine, you can get away with just performing Steps 1 and 4. When you are finished stuffing, if there are any casings left, save them by packing them in a bag or airtight container, and cover them with an excessive amount of salt. The salt will make the environment toxic to bacteria and will ensure safe storage in the fridge until you are ready to make sausage again!

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Charcuterie: Fresh-Cured Bacons

Article / Updated 05-28-2020

To put it simply, fresh bacon is pork belly that is rubbed down with a mixture of salt, sugar, and sodium nitrite (pink salt). The pork belly is then refrigerated for one to two weeks, after which it is hot smoked until its internal temperature is 145 degrees Fahrenheit. The mixture of salt, sugar, and pink salt is the “cure,” and the bacon is considered to be “fresh” because it must be stored at refrigeration and has a finite shelf life. Curing is a slow process whereby the salts and sugars slowly work their way through the cells of the protein through a process called osmosis. Curing can take a few days to several weeks, depending on the size and thickness of the cut of meat. The charcuterie recipes in this article all utilize a process known as equilibrium curing, or EQ curing. EQ curing is a precise way of measuring salt, sugar, and nitrite by percentage of mass of the protein being cured; this method allows you to completely control the amount of salt in your products. When a cut of meat is curing, it can stay in refrigeration for some time because the salt and nitrite dramatically slow the replication rate of spoilage bacteria. Hot smoking serves multiple purposes: Flavoring the meat with smoke. Different woods impart different flavors. Popular woods for smoking include hickory, cherry, pecan, maple, apple, alder, and oak. Killing off all bacteria by raising the internal temperature to a target temperature for a prescribed amount of time. Partial drying by rapidly evaporating water during the cooking process. Enhancing the texture through cooking. When hot smoking bacon, you are fully cooking it. Could you eat your own bacon without cooking it in the pan to crisp it up? Sure! But I wouldn’t suggest trying that with anyone else’s bacon. Smoked Belly Bacon Prep Time: 15 minutes Curing Time: 7 days Yield: 4 lbs. Ingredients 34 grams (1.5%) sea salt 17 grams (.75%) white sugar 6 grams (.25%) pink salt #1 5 lbs. pork belly (skin off) 1 food-safe plastic bag 1 black Sharpie marker Combine the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl to make the EQ cure mixture. Place the pork belly in the plastic bag. With the bag open, ensure the belly is flat on your work surface, protein side up. Sprinkle approximately 70 percent of the EQ cure mixture on the protein side of the pork belly. Rub the EQ cure mixture into the pork belly, being sure to evenly coat the entire protein side. Leave the pork belly in the bag, and flip it over so that it is fat side up. Sprinkle the remaining EQ cure mixture over the fat side of the pork belly. Rub the EQ cure mixture into the pork belly, being sure to evenly coat the entire fat side. Wrap the pork belly in the bag, being sure to get as much air out as possible. Lay the wrapped pork belly in your refrigerator, making sure that it is lying flat. Wait at least 7 days. Remove the pork belly from the bag and rinse it under cold water. Pat the pork belly dry with single-use paper towels. Let the pork belly rest on a cooling rack in the fridge overnight. This will allow the pork belly to slightly dry out and form a pellicle. Place the pork belly in a smoker at 180–225 degrees Fahrenheit. Apply constant smoke to the pork belly for the duration of the cooking process. After 2 hours, check the internal temperature of the pork belly by inserting a digital temperature probe. Check the temperature every 45–60 minutes until the temperature in the middle of the pork belly reaches 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the pork belly has reached an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit, remove it and place it on a cooling rack in a cool area in your kitchen. Once the pork belly has cooled below 100 degrees Fahrenheit, place it on a cooling rack in your refrigerator and cool it overnight. Once the pork belly has cooled below 41 degrees Fahrenheit, slice it. I prefer to do this on a meat slicer for uniformity; however, if you do not have one, you can use a knife and cutting board. If your protein has a different weight than the prescribed weight in the recipe, update the recipe by using the percentages provided. Multiply the mass of your protein (in grams) by the percent of the ingredient. This will provide the mass of the ingredient in grams. A pellicle is a slightly dry rind on the outside of your meat. Smoke will not stick to water, so it is important to dry your pork belly out before smoking. However, you can skip this step if you are in a hurry; the pork belly will dry in the smoker. Note that the end product will not be as smoky as it would if you let it dry a little prior to smoking. Vary it! Try different woods to get different smoke flavors. Apple is a great mild flavor. Cooling hot meat quickly is important. Be sure to use cooling racks, and don’t try to cool it in sealed containers. Use a fan if you want to speed up the cooling process. The USDA recommends that meat containing nitrites be cooled from 130°F to 80°F in 5 hours or less and from 80° to 45°F in 10 hours or less. Maple Bacon Prep Time: 15 minutes Curing Time: 7 days Yield: 4 lbs. Ingredients 34 grams (1.5%) sea salt 17 grams (.75%) white sugar 68 grams (3%) brown sugar 6 grams (.25%) pink salt #1 5 lbs. pork belly (skin off) 1 food-safe plastic bag 1 black Sharpie marker Combine the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl to make the EQ cure mixture (with added brown sugar). Place the pork belly in the plastic bag. With the bag open, ensure the pork belly is flat on your work surface, protein side up. Sprinkle approximately 70 percent of the EQ cure mixture on the protein side of the pork belly. Rub the EQ cure mixture into the pork belly, being sure to evenly coat the entire protein side. Leave the pork belly in the bag and flip it over so that it is fat side up. Sprinkle the remaining EQ cure mixture over the fat side of the pork belly. Rub the EQ cure mixture into the pork belly, being sure to evenly coat the entire fat side. Wrap the pork belly in the bag, being sure to get as much air out as possible. Lay the wrapped pork belly in your refrigerator, making sure that it is lying flat. Wait at least 7 days. Remove the pork belly from the bag and rinse it under cold water. Pat the pork belly dry with single-use paper towels. Let the pork belly rest on a cooling rack in the fridge overnight. This will allow the pork belly to slightly dry out and form a pellicle. Place the pork belly in a smoker at 180–225 degrees Fahrenheit. Apply constant maple smoke to the pork belly for the duration of the cooking process. After 2 hours, check the internal temperature of the pork belly by inserting a digital temperature probe. Check the temperature every 45–60 minutes until the temperature in the middle of the pork belly reaches 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the pork belly has reached an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit, remove it and place it on a cooling rack in a cool area in your kitchen. Once the pork belly has cooled below 100 degrees Fahrenheit, place it on a cooling rack in your refrigerator and cool it overnight. Once the pork belly has cooled below 41 degrees Fahrenheit, slice it. I prefer to do this on a meat slicer for uniformity; however, if you do not have one, you can use a knife and cutting board. Smoke using a mixture of cherry and hickory. Using your Sharpie, write on the bag the date the pork belly went into your fridge to cure and the date it can be removed to smoke. Jowl Bacon Prep Time: 15 minutes Curing Time: 7 days Yield: 4 lbs. Ingredients 7 grams (1.5%) sea salt 4 grams (.75%) white sugar 1 gram (.25%) pink salt #1 18 grams (4%) coarse ground black pepper 18 grams (4%) coarse ground coriander 1 lb. pork jowl (skin off) 1 food-safe plastic bag 1 black Sharpie marker Combine the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl to make the EQ cure mixture (with added spices). Place the pork jowl in the plastic bag. With the bag open, ensure the pork jowl is flat on your work surface, protein side up. Sprinkle approximately 70 percent of the EQ cure mixture on the protein side of the pork jowl. Rub the EQ cure mixture into the pork jowl, being sure to evenly coat the entire protein side. Leave the pork jowl in the bag and flip it over so that is fat side up. Sprinkle the remaining EQ cure mixture over the fat side of the pork jowl. Rub the EQ cure mixture into the pork jowl, being sure to evenly coat the entire fat side. Wrap the pork jowl in the bag, being sure to get as much air out as possible. Lay the wrapped pork jowl in your refrigerator, making sure that it is lying flat. Wait at least 7 days. Remove the pork jowl from the bag. Don’t rinse it. Let the pork jowl rest on a cooling rack in the fridge overnight. This will allow the pork jowl to slightly dry out and form a pellicle. Place the pork jowl in a smoker at 180–225 degrees Fahrenheit. Apply constant smoke to the pork jowl for the duration of the cooking process. After 2 hours, check the internal temperature of the pork jowl by inserting a digital temperature probe in the thickest part. Check the temperature every 45–60 minutes until the temperature reaches 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the pork jowl has reached an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit, remove it and place it on a cooling rack in a cool area in your kitchen. Once the pork jowl has cooled below 100 degrees Fahrenheit, place it on a cooling rack in your refrigerator and cool it overnight. Once the pork jowl has cooled below 41 degrees Fahrenheit, slice it. I prefer to do this on a meat slicer for uniformity; however, if you do not have one, you can use a knife and cutting board. Smoked Rasher Bacon Prep Time: 15 minutes Curing Time: 7 days Yield: 4 lbs. Ingredients 34 grams (1.5%) sea salt 17 grams (.75%) white sugar 6 grams (.25%) pink salt #1 5 lbs. pork loin with 2–3 inches of the pork side still attached 1 food-safe plastic bag 1 black Sharpie marker Combine the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl to make the EQ cure mixture. Place the pork loin in the plastic bag. With the bag open, ensure the pork loin is flat on your work surface, protein side up. Sprinkle approximately 50 percent of the EQ cure mixture on the protein side of the pork loin. Rub the EQ cure mixture into the pork loin, being sure to evenly coat the entire protein side. Leave the pork loin in the bag and flip it over so that it is fat side up. Sprinkle the remaining EQ cure mixture over the fat side of the pork loin. Rub the EQ cure mixture into the pork loin, being sure to evenly coat the entire fat side. Wrap the pork loin in the bag, being sure to get as much air out as possible. Lay the wrapped pork loin in your refrigerator, making sure that it is lying flat. Wait at least 10 days. Remove the pork loin from the bag and rinse it under cold water. Pat the pork loin dry with single-use paper towels. Let the pork loin rest on a cooling rack in the fridge overnight. This will allow the pork loin to slightly dry out and form a pellicle. Place the pork loin in a smoker at 180–225 degrees Fahrenheit. Apply constant smoke to it for the duration of the cooking process. After 2 hours, check the internal temperature of the pork loin by inserting a digital temperature probe into the middle of the thickest part. Check the temperature every 45–60 minutes until the temperature reaches 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the pork loin has reached an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit, remove it and place it on a cooling rack in a cool area in your kitchen. Once the pork loin has cooled below 100 degrees Fahrenheit, place it on a cooling rack in your refrigerator and cool it overnight. Once the pork loin has cooled below 41 degrees Fahrenheit, slice it. I prefer to do this on a meat slicer for uniformity; however, if you do not have one, you can use a knife and cutting board.

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Charcuterie: Dry-Cured Meats

Article / Updated 05-28-2020

The Old-World technique of dry curing meats was once used out of necessity to preserve the various parts of an animal that couldn’t be consumed before they spoiled. However, today dry curing is done because this technique produces absolutely wonderful meats with incredible flavors and textures. If you’ve never had guanciale that has been dry cured and aged for six months, you haven’t lived! The fat melts in your mouth like some sort of out-of-this-world savory pork candy! Dry curing takes a great deal of time and patience. It also requires some specialized equipment so that you can control environmental variables that will impact the quality and safety of your product. Dry-curing chambers are critical for making dry-cured meats. Minding mold When I was growing up, if there was mold on some cheese in the fridge, my dad would tell us to cut it off and keep eating. In a way it seemed gross, but he was right; the mold on the cheese was only on the surface, and after it was removed, the cheese was fine to eat. Mold is an environmental variable that, if not managed, can become a real pain in the butt. But not all mold is bad. Did you know that the antibiotic called penicillin comes from a particular type of mold? Mold from the Penicillium family is often found growing on dry-cured meats and aged cheeses. In fact, salamis (see the following figure) can, and often should, be inoculated with these molds as a protection against bad molds. As a general rule, white molds that are dusty and not puffy or fuzzy are considered safe. Any other color of mold is bad news and should be cleaned off with distilled vinegar as soon as it is noticed. When you work with meat, you will encounter mold. Don’t worry, though; there are several ways to protect yourself against mold: Use proper hygiene and sanitation when prepping your products. Sanitize your dry-curing chamber by wiping all surfaces down with vinegar and single-use towels. After washing your hands, put on single-use food handler gloves. Never touch the product with bare hands while it is drying. Minimize opening your dry-curing chamber once it is loaded with product. If you are unsure about the mold on your meat products, clean it off with vinegar and single-use towels. Before you handle meat, wash your hands, clean and sanitize your work area, and put on single-use food handler gloves. Drying to preserve Drying meat reduces the amount of water in protein tissue. This is done to preserve or extend the life of the protein. All bacteria require water to survive and replicate. Removing water is necessary to eliminate these bacteria, which can spoil your products and make you sick. You can also control water content by salting. The recipes and procedures for dry curing meats in this book use a combination of salt and drying to control water activity. Controlling temperature and humidity is of paramount importance when dry curing. Your drying temperature should be between 50 degrees and 55 degrees Fahrenheit; don’t deviate from this. Your environment should be dry as well, but not too dry. If your environment is too dry, your products will dry too rapidly, causing hardening of the outsides and slowing the drying of the insides. If your environment is too humid, your products will take too long to dry, or may not dry at all. Drying at 70 to 75 percent relative humidity is an ideal range. Dry-curing chambers have all of these controls built in and automatically managed. If you aren’t using a dry-curing chamber, then you can monitor the humidity with a small digital hydrometer (humidity meter), and the temperature with a digital thermometer, both of which you can purchase on Amazon.com. Water activity can be approximated by calculating percent weight loss using this formula: 1 – (finished weight / starting weight) = percent weight loss As a general rule, you want to achieve a minimum of 30 percent weight loss during drying. The more weight the meat loses, the firmer the final product becomes. Fatty products like guanciale may not lose 30 percent because there is less available water in fat. Each recipe will provide a target percent weight loss. However, if you are still concerned with the level of drying, you can calculate your water activity with an activity meter. Pathogenic bacterial growth is not supported at water activity (aw) of .85 or less, so this is a desirable minimum to attain for safety. Tying the knot I would imagine that sailors make the best charcutiers because of the many knots they know how to tie. Your meats will be hung in the dry-curing chamber so that they are not in contact with any products or surfaces for the duration of the drying process. This is to ensure proper airflow for drying and to reduce potential spoilage during drying. There are several different ways to tie up your products so they can be hung, and in some cases to form the cuts so they take on a specific shape while drying. The only knot you will need to know for the recipes in the next few sections is similar to a square knot. Follow these steps (you can also refer to the following figure): Draw the string so that it is under the coppa. Bring the string up on both sides of the coppa. Cross the string over itself to make an “x”. Wrap one end over the other end three times. Carefully pull each end of the string to cinch down the string. One last time, bring the ends of the string together to form an “x”. Wrap one end over the other side one time, and pull it tight to complete the knot. This knot is very useful for making charcuterie because it tends not to slip when you tie it off. There are several other ways to tie up your products. Documenting details When you are making dry-cured meats, a lot of time will pass from when you start to when you finish. Make sure you don’t forget any critical details by documenting everything as you go. A tried-and-true method for doing this is with small hang tags. Here is a list of what you should document on your product hang tags: Name of the product Date the product went into the dry-curing chamber Weight of the product in grams when it went into the dry-curing chamber Recipe (just record the ingredients and their percentages) Date the product came out of the dry-curing chamber to be weighed [Weight of the product when it was weighed] + [percent of weight loss] Place the hang tag on the hook or strings used to hang the product in your dry-curing chamber. This will make your life much easier as you check in on your sleeping meat treats throughout the year! Pancetta Tesa (Flat Pancetta) Prep Time: 30 minutes Cure Time: 14 days Dry Time: approximately 60–120 days Target Weight Loss: 35 percent Ingredients (3%) sea salt (.25%) pink salt #1 (.5%) coarse ground juniper berry (.5%) red pepper flake (.5%) coarse ground coriander (.25%) dry rosemary (1%) crushed fresh garlic clove (.13%) crumbled bay leaf Pork belly, skin off 1 food-safe plastic bag Weigh your pork belly and convert the weight into grams. Calculate the ingredient weights by multiplying the weight of the pork belly by the percent provided for each ingredient. Combine the ingredients in a mixing bowl. Place the pork belly in a food-safe plastic bag, protein side up. Apply approximately 50 percent of the seasoning mixture to the protein side and rub it into the tissue, being sure to cover the entire surface. Leave the pork belly in the bag, and flip it over so that it is fat side up. Apply the remaining seasoning mixture to the fat side, being sure to cover the entire surface. Wrap the pork belly in the bag, being sure to remove as much as air as possible. Lay the pork belly flat in your refrigerator and leave it to cure for 14 days. Remove the pork belly from the refrigerator and run a meat “S” hook through one corner of the pork belly. Hang the pork belly in your dry-curing chamber to dry at a temperature between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and a humidity between 60 and 65 percent. After 60 days, remove the hanging pork belly from the dry-curing chamber. Weigh it and calculate the weight loss percent using the formula provided earlier in the section, “Drying to preserve.” If the target weight loss hasn’t been reached, let the pancetta continue drying in the dry-curing chamber. Check again in two weeks. Once the pancetta has reached the target weight loss, cut it into small chunks and vacuum pack each piece individually. I suggest you store them in the fridge, as this will ensure higher flavor quality much longer. If you don’t have a dry-curing chamber, you can always try hanging the pancetta in a dark, cool spot in your basement. Curing your pancetta in a vacuum-sealed bag will speed the process and reduce premature oxidation. Guanciale Prep Time: 30 minutes Cure Time: 14 days Dry Time: approximately 60–120 days Target Weight Loss: 30 percent Ingredients (3%) sea salt (.25%) pink salt #1 (1%) coarse ground black pepper (.5%) coarse ground juniper berry (.5%) red pepper flake (.5%) coarse ground coriander (1%) crushed fresh garlic clove Pork jowl, skin off 1 food-safe plastic bag Weigh your pork jowl and convert the weight into grams. Calculate the ingredient weights by multiplying the weight of the pork jowl by the percentage provided for each ingredient. Combine the ingredients in a mixing bowl. Place the pork jowl in a food-safe plastic bag, protein side up. Apply approximately 50 percent of the seasoning mixture to the protein side and rub it into the tissue, being sure to cover the entire surface. Leave the pork jowl in the bag, and flip it so that it is fat side up. Apply the remaining seasoning mixture to the fat side, being sure to cover the entire surface. Wrap the pork jowl in the bag, being sure to remove as much as air as possible. Lay the pork jowl flat in your refrigerator and leave it to cure for 14 days. Remove the pork jowl from the refrigerator and run a meat “S” hook through the thin end of the pork jowl. Hang the pork jowl in your dry-curing chamber to dry at a temperature between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit and a humidity between 60 and 65 percent. After 60 days, remove the hanging pork jowl from the dry-curing chamber. Weigh it and calculate the weight loss percent using the formula provided earlier in the section, “Drying to preserve.” If the target percent weight loss hasn’t been reached, let the guanciale continue drying in the dry-curing chamber. Check again in two weeks. Once the guanciale has reached the target weight loss, vacuum pack it whole and store it in the fridge until you are ready to use it. If you don’t have a vacuum sealer, wrap it in plastic wrap and store it in a Ziploc bag. If you don’t have a dry-curing chamber, you can always try hanging the guanciale in a dark, cool spot in your basement. Curing your guanciale in a vacuum-sealed bag will speed the process and reduce premature oxidation. Due to the fat content of pork jowls, the drying process can be much slower and you may not hit 30 percent weight loss. If after 90 days you have not reached 30 percent weight loss, the jowl may not loose any more. Take it down and give it a slice. Coppa Prep Time: 30 minutes Cure Time: 14 days Dry Time: approximately 60–120 days Target Weight Loss: 35 percent Ingredients (3%) sea salt (.25%) pink salt #1 (.5%) coarse ground black pepper (.25%) coarse ground juniper berry (.25%) crumbled whole hop cones (.4%) coarse ground coriander (.125%) crumbled bay leaf Pork coppa (also known as pork collar, or money muscle) 1 food-safe plastic bag Weigh the pork and convert the weight into grams. Calculate the ingredient weights by multiplying the weight of the pork by the percent provided for each ingredient. Combine the ingredients in a mixing bowl. Place the pork in a food-safe plastic bag; if you have a vacuum sealer, use a vacuum bag. Evenly apply the seasoning mixture to each side of the pork. With the pork in the bag, remove as much as air as possible, or vacuum seal it if you are using a vacuum bag. Cure the pork in the refrigerator for 14 days. Remove the cured pork from the refrigerator and tie it to compress and form the coppa. Tie it using the basic knot described earlier in the section, “Tying the knot.” Tie your first knot 1 inch from the end of the coppa. Then tie additional knots every inch. Make sure that you cinch the knots tight to compress the coppa. When you tie your last knot, do not trim the string; instead, tie it off to form a loop to hang it with. Hang the coppa in your dry-curing chamber to dry at a temperature between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit and a humidity between 60 and 65 percent. After 30 days, remove the hanging coppa from the dry-curing chamber. Weigh it and calculate the weight loss percent using the formula provided earlier in the section, “Drying to preserve.” If the target percent weight loss hasn’t been reached, let the coppa continue drying in the dry-curing chamber. Check again in two weeks. Once the coppa has reached the target weight loss, vacuum pack it whole and store it in the fridge for 30 to 60 days. This will allow any available moisture to even out and soften the outside of the coppa, which will likely have hardened during drying. If you don’t have a vacuum sealer, tightly wrap it in plastic wrap and store it in a Ziploc bag. Slice the coppa as you eat it. Do not slice it for storage, as it will oxidize and taste like bland pork. If you don’t have a dry-curing chamber, you can always try hanging the coppa in a dark, cool spot in your basement. Vary it! Try different spices in different quantities to achieve a variety of results. Bresaola Prep Time: 30 minutes Cure Time: 14 days Dry Time: approximately 60–120 days Target Weight Loss: 35–40 percent Ingredients (3%) sea salt (.25%) pink salt #1 (.5%) coarse ground black pepper Beef eye round (trimmed to be no more than 3–4 inches thick) 1 food-safe plastic bag Weigh the beef and convert the weight into grams. Calculate the ingredient weights by multiplying the weight of the beef by the percent provided for each ingredient. Combine the ingredients in a mixing bowl. Place the beef in a food-safe plastic bag; if you have a vacuum sealer, use a vacuum bag. Evenly apply the seasoning mixture to each side of the beef. Wrap the beef in the plastic bag, being sure to remove as much as air as possible; if you have a vacuum sealer, use a vacuum bag. Cure the beef in the refrigerator for 14 days. Remove the cured beef from the refrigerator and tie it to compress and form the bresaola. Tie it using the basic knot described earlier in the section, “Tying the knot.” Tie your first knot 1 inch from the end of the bresaola. Then tie additional knots every inch. Make sure that you cinch the knots tight to compress the bresaola. When you tie your last knot, do not trim the string; instead, tie it off to form a loop to hang it with. Hang the bresaola in your dry-curing chamber to dry at a temperature between 50 degrees and 60 degrees Fahrenheit and a humidity between 60 and 65 percent. After 30 days, remove the hanging bresaola from the dry-curing chamber. Weigh it and calculate the weight loss percent using the formula provided earlier in the section, “Drying to preserve.” If the target percent weight loss hasn’t been reached, let the bresaola continue drying in the dry-curing chamber. Check again in two weeks. Once the bresaola has reached the target weight loss, vacuum pack it whole and store it in the fridge for 30 to 60 days. This will allow any available moisture to even out and soften the outside of the bresaola, which will likely have hardened during drying. If you don’t have a vacuum sealer, tightly wrap it in plastic wrap and store it in a Ziploc bag. Slice the bresaola as you eat it. Do not slice it for storage, as it will oxidize and taste like bland meat. If you don’t have a dry-curing chamber, you can always try hanging the bresaola in a dark, cool spot in your basement. Vary it! Try different spices in different quantities to achieve a variety of results.

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Charcuterie: Working with Wild Game

Article / Updated 05-28-2020

What originally got me interested in meat processing, sausage making, charcuterie, and the like was hunting. I started hunting squirrels with my father when I was 12 years old, and I shot my first deer when I was 14. As an adult in my late twenties, I found my interest starting to turn into more of a passion. I love putting venison in the freezer. There is something about hunting, harvesting, and processing wild game that truly speaks to my primal core. But when it came to sharing wild venison with friends, sometimes I would get pushback because the venison tasted “gamey.” I had personally never had an aversion to venison because I grew up eating it, but I can understand how someone might taste venison, especially venison that wasn’t harvested appropriately, and think it tasted different from beef, which can often taste quite bland. The figure is a picture of me with a white tail deer taken in Illinois several years ago. Venison and other wild game can acquire strong flavors that may be off-putting to others if the critter isn’t harvested correctly. Following are several hunting tips to ensure your meat has the best flavor: Quick and clean kill. Regardless of what you are hunting with, you want to have a one-shot kill through a vital region. This means head, heart, or lungs. The optimal would be a heart or head shot because the animal can expire almost instantly. Quick kills are the most humane, and a quick kill reduces the chances the animal will pump a large amount of adrenaline and hormones into its blood before it dies. These two things can have a dramatic impact on the flavor of their meat. Gender. This topic is considered very subjective by some. To me, however, personal experience has proven that if you are hunting for meat in the freezer, does (females) are a better option than bucks (males). This is because does are more tender and the testosterone in bucks can impart stronger flavors in their meat. Dressing. When any animal is dispatched, the clock starts ticking to get the carcass cold. The sooner you do so, the faster you will slow down the decaying process. Deer and other wild game are no different. Field dress your animal immediately, and get the hide off as soon as you can. Equally as important to how you handle your animal in the field is how you handle it in the kitchen. Clean your meat, and remove all foreign material like shot, bullet shrapnel, hair, and any undesirable matter that may be present. If you aren’t planning to further process your wild game into sausage or charcuterie, then you also need to package it well and freeze it until you are ready to use it. Vacuum sealing your meat scraps is the best way to ensure maximum quality.

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How to Select Your Charcuterie Spices

Article / Updated 05-28-2020

Spices are the spice of life. You can find a lot of localized flavors in the charcuterie of an area, which can make this craft very fun for those who are adventurous. The rule of thumb, quality in equals quality out, applies very much to spices and other auxiliary ingredients for your recipes. Following are some tips for finding and using the best ingredients: Spices and ingredients produced locally to your recipe are a great starting point. For example, if you are producing a recipe that calls for Calabrian chiles, don’t settle for red pepper; look specifically for Calabrian chiles. Purchase whole-seed spices. Even if your recipe calls for ground spices, purchase the whole seed and invest in a spice grinder. You will get a much fresher representation of the spice. A little heat goes a long way. Warming a spice before you use it will wake up the oils and other flavor chemicals in the spice. If your recipe calls for a toasted spice, toast it. Don’t skip the extra step because you’re feeling a little lazy. You can easily find most spices on Amazon.com; a quick Google search will also reveal several good options. While purchasing spices at the grocery store isn’t the worst option, it isn’t the best either. The spices at the grocery store could be months, if not years, old. Plus, due to the volume, buying them will be far more expensive than buying in bulk. Storing your spices in an airtight container is the best way to preserve their flavor for extended periods of time. Salt of the earth Salt is one seasoning that tends not to get much love from the general public. In fact, salt is usually regarded as a naughty spice because of its overuse in processed foods. Like all things, salt can also be toxic; for example, it was used in warfare as a way to destroy vast expanses of farmland. However, salt is also critical for bringing out flavor in our dishes. It has preserving and medicinal powers, and our bodies require salt to maintain homeostasis. In ancient cultures, it was used as currency, and medieval European villages were built around salt mines like the one shown. Even today, salt is a very important addition to any kitchen. In charcuterie it is critical for producing flavorful and safe products. Aside from the flavoring benefits of salt, it is critical for slowing the rate of spoilage in meat. One way that salt does this is by drawing water out of protein tissue. Bacteria need moisture to survive, and so reducing the amount of water available to bacteria is of paramount importance. Several types of salt are available for use in the kitchen: Iodized salt. Also referred to as “table salt,” iodized salt is a fine-grain particle of salt that is blended with trace amounts of iodine. Iodine deficiency was at one time a common cause of defects in children in their developmental stages. Iodizing salt reduced this global problem. However, iodized salt is not ideal for charcuterie because the iodine can have a negative impact on the flavor of your products. Kosher salt. Kosher salt is a large, flaked salt that is not iodized. Its shape and size are ideal for many volume-based recipes because you have less mass per volume measure. Kosher salt is a suitable option for charcuterie. Sea salt. Salt that is extracted from ocean water is called sea salt. There are many ways to gather sea salt. One common method is through evaporation using large, open-air beds of water in fields (see figure). Many higher-end French salts like Fleur de Sel are made in this manner. Sea salt can also be gathered by rapidly evaporating ocean water using heat. Sea salt is preferred because of its flavor and because it is the most natural form of salt. Many regional recipes may actually call for sea salt from the area due to its flavoring properties. All the recipes in this book call for sea salt. Sodium nitrite / nitrate Sodium nitrite is a potty word for most health-conscious folks, and this is due in part to the conflicting research on the health benefits and detriments of nitrates and nitrites. If you want to find research to support a stance that nitrates and nitrites are bad for you, that’s pretty easy. Conversely, you can also find research in support of nitrates and nitrites. I won’t get into the weeds on this topic, but instead will simply take the position that, as with all things, moderation is key. So what are these nitrates and nitrites? Well, simply put, sodium nitrite is an inorganic compound that is found naturally in several root vegetables and dark-green leafy vegetables. It can also be found in the soil, and in some parts of the globe there are large concentrations of the chemical where it can actually be mined. Sodium nitrite’s contribution to meat preparation is two-fold: Sodium nitrite reacts with meat myoglobin to preserve the red or pink color in the meat after cooking. The greatest value of sodium nitrite is that it inhibits the growth of botulism in meat. Botulism loves warm, anaerobic environments (little to no oxygen). One such environment is inside sausages and another is inside a smoker. Refrigerator temperatures can slow or stall the growth of botulism, so nitrates aren’t a necessity in fresh sausages. They are, however, a must when producing salami that is fermented at 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit and then stored at or just below 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Nitrites are also a must for any meats that are smoked. When you are making salami, you will use sodium nitrate because over time, it slowly breaks down into sodium nitrite; this slow breakdown controls the release of the nitrite over time. This is a beneficial quality for making dry-cured ground charcuterie. When shopping for sodium nitrite, its common name is pink salt #1 (shown in the following figure). Sodium nitrate is known as pink salt #2. Both salts are pink as a safety precaution so that they aren’t mistaken for table salt. Pink salts #1 and #2 should not be mistaken for Himalayan pink salt, which is a fancy mineral salt and does not contain the required concentrations of sodium nitrite or nitrate. Pink salts #1 and #2 are diluted forms of sodium nitrite and nitrate, respectively. They are typically diluted down to 6.25-percent concentration. The USDA requires that sodium nitrite / nitrate not exceed concentrations of 200 parts per million. To keep things simple and safe, all of the recipes in the later chapters of this book will be based on weights, so you will not have to learn how to calculate nitrite or nitrate concentrations. Celery juice powders Have you ever noticed bacon, sausage, or salami that touts being “nitrate free”? This labeling isn’t being 100-percent truthful. Here is the quick and dirty on this topic. Some vegetables contain high quantities of nitrites and nitrates, like beets, kale, celery, and mustard greens. If you want to produce a “nitrate-free” bacon or salami, one way is by using celery juice powder, which is a concentrated extraction of celery root. This extract powder contains nitrates in concentrations adequate for making bacon and salami. The USDA, however, requires that producers put “nitrate free” on the packaging. This is because nitrates weren’t added; instead, celery juice powder, which contains the nitrates, was added. I don’t like vegetable juice powders in the place of proper sodium nitrite because the labeling is deceptive and because celery juice powder gives off a flavor that can be easily detected.

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Charcuterie Protein from a Farmer or Butcher

Article / Updated 05-28-2020

If you want to get connected to your food, there is no better way than to purchase directly from a farm. There are many options today for doing this, whether through a CSA (community-supported agriculture) program, online grocery delivery services like MarketWagon.com, or your local farmers market. One of the many benefits to purchasing protein for your charcuterie directly from a farmer is that you can get all sorts of information on how the animals were raised, including the following: You can find out where the animals were raised, whether the critters lived inside or outside, if they had space to move and root around or were confined, and so on. You can learn about their diet. For example, did they get to forage for food or were they on a more controlled diet of different grains? You can also learn what kinds of grain they were raised on, whether or not they contained soy, corn, and so on, and whether the grain was GMO (genetically modified) or not. You can determine whether or not the critters were on some sort of antibiotic or hormone regimen. If the farm doesn’t have an on-site processing plant, you can likely connect to the plant to learn how they process the animals and care for meat every step of the way. I am of the opinion that knowing who is raising your food is better than just blindly purchasing something in a grocery store, even if it is labeled “free range” or “organic.” In addition to knowing more about where and how the animals were raised, buying from a local farm keeps your dollars local, which helps the local farm employ neighbors, contributes toward local infrastructure, and so much more! Check out your local farmer’s market to connect with local farmers. Farmers markets often run year-round just like the winter market pictured here. Another great benefit to supporting your local farmer is that it is better for the environment. You may have heard in the news about the issues in Brazil regarding the destruction of the rainforest. When you buy Brazilian beef, you are buying beef that is produced on rainforest wasteland, processed, and then boxed. The box is placed into a refrigerated diesel truck to be taken to a shipyard, where it is transferred to a refrigerated container on a diesel ocean freighter. The beef is then shipped several thousand miles up to an American port, where it is transferred from the boat to a holding area, where it is then transferred to a diesel truck to be shipped to a regional hub, where it is stored in refrigeration. The beef is then either further processed and re-packed, or just transferred to another diesel truck that then takes it to its destination. Once it arrives, it is then removed from its packaging, processed further, and put on the shelf. Buying from your local farmer is much different. If your farmer does processing on site, the animal is walked to the processing plant, where it is dispatched, processed, packaged, and stored. The farmer loads up a refrigerated diesel truck and delivers to CSA, restaurants, and the farmers market where it is purchased. Seems much simpler, doesn’t it? Meat the Butcher A long time ago, before the proliferation of supermarkets, the butcher shop was more than just a department in a store. A butcher shop was a brick-and-mortar location where you went to get all things meat! Butcher shops were generational family businesses, and with them came nuances that reflected the flavor and passion of the family. In Indianapolis, the oldest butcher shop is a German-owned business called Claus’ German Sausage and Meats. If you’re ever in town, it’s worth a visit to sample the different authentic German recipes they still make and specialize in to this day! In recent years there has been some renewal, a renaissance of sorts, within the field of craft butchery. A younger, energized generation of chefs, butchers, and culinary enthusiasts have started delving into whole animal butchery and opening a new (old) type of butcher shop, different from what you might find at the supermarket. These “artisanal” butcher shops and the creative people behind them have been instrumental in bridging the gap between the consumer and the small family farmer. This new breed of butcher shop generally works closely with local farms to source heritage animal breeds, such as the one in the following figure. These are breeds from long ago, before animals were hybridized beyond recognition of their genealogical origins. Different breeds have different qualities that make them desirable, including fat concentration and body placement, marbling within the muscles, consistency of protein and fat, and protein color. Chefs and butchers are also working with farmers to encourage different sorts of additions to the animals’ diet, which also have a direct impact on the flavor of the meat. It’s amazing how many wonderful things the farmer can do to impart quality to the meat! A good butcher will be able to help you make proper meat selections for whatever your project may be. However, it is helpful to understand a little bit about the anatomy of pigs and cows because regional nuance can cause some confusion. For example, much of the whole-muscle charcuterie that I discuss in later chapters is based on cuts that are pretty typical for Italian butchers, but not as typical for American butchers. One of the biggest issues I ran into when I first started tinkering in charcuterie was getting a coppa cut. Coppa is a muscle group that runs from the top of the shoulder (Boston butt) and into the neck. This muscle group is typically called a collar. American barbecue aficionados know it as “the money muscle.” Familiarizing yourself with these nuances will be very helpful as you try to communicate the cuts you are looking for to your butcher. There’s nothing worse than special ordering a cut, only to receive the wrong one and be stuck with it!

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Charcuterie: Grinding Sausages!

Article / Updated 05-28-2020

Meat grinders are machines designed specifically to break pieces of meat and fat into smaller pieces by forcing them through a metal plate with several small holes. Sausage in its most basic iteration is simply ground meat with seasoning; in USDA terms, it’s a non-intact meat product. You can choose from several different types of meat grinders. Several factors come into play when grinding sausage, and you will need to take them into consideration to ensure the best results. Sanitation: You want to make sure you don’t make yourself or anyone else sick. To reduce the chances of this happening, before you get started, you should thoroughly wash your hands, and clean your work area and all equipment that you will be using to grind your sausage. Chapter 1 contains a great deal of information on proper hygiene and sanitation; take a gander if you haven’t already! Temperature control: Your meat mixture needs to be kept as cold as possible (without freezing). This is to control the growth of bacteria and to ensure that the fats in your meat mixture don’t begin to smear. Smearing won’t hurt you, but the meat doesn’t look as pretty at the end of the process. To drop the temperature of the meat, try putting it into the freezer for 10 to 20 minutes before grinding. Proper seasoning: Nothing is worse than swollen hands and fingers after a night of eating salty foods — or maybe even worse, singing Johnny Cash the morning after a run-in with an overly spicy meal! Protein-to-fat ratio: I love full-flavored food just as much as the next guy, but nobody wants a sausage that is 50 percent fat — even folks on the keto diet. Meat preparations Before you can grind your meat, you need to prepare it. You will first need to determine your protein-to-fat ratio. Typical sausages are 70 percent lean, meaning that the total weight of the sausage is 70 percent protein and 30 percent fat. You can have a sausage that is 60 percent lean, but it will definitely be a fatty sausage. I suggest that you start by making your sausages 80 percent lean for a couple of reasons: Leaner sausages render less fat when cooked. Rendering is a technical way to say “melting.” When you render fat, you lose mass. Naturally, a sausage that renders less fat will be more substantial in size when it is cooked. Fat provides flavor and retains flavorings. Fat also provides that juicy texture — that is, when you cook your sausage right. To calculate an 80-percent-protein to 20-percent-fat ratio, you will multiply the total weight of your batch by the percent of protein and fat, respectively. For example, 10 lbs. of sausage at a ratio of 80/20 = (.8 * 10 lbs.) = 8 lbs. protein (.2 * 10 lbs.) = 2 lbs. fat Once you have calculated the amount of protein and fat that you want, you need to portion them out separately to ensure you have the correct ratio. For ultimate precision, you will need to trim fat from your protein using a knife. However, many recipes will allow you to substitute pork belly for fat because of its high fat content. Before you grind, you will need to break down your protein and fat into pieces small enough to fit into your grinder. This is a good time to separate the fat from the protein for your recipe. The following figure illustrates a reasonably sized chunk of meat in relation to the size of the grinder hopper opening. Grinding is a very intense mechanical process that generates a lot of heat through friction. As a result, it’s important to break your meat down into smaller pieces to reduce the amount each piece is worked by the grinder; this will reduce the amount of heat-producing friction during grinding. Spices are the spice of life When measuring spices and ingredients for your sausage recipes, you can opt to use volume measures (cups, tablespoons, teaspoons, and so on) or weights (pounds, ounces, and grams). The most precise recipes will rely on weights that are relative to the weight of your protein and fat. Volumes can be deceiving because of the size and shape of the ingredients. For example, kosher salt is less dense than sea salt, and so a tablespoon of kosher salt is much less salt than a tablespoon of sea salt. However, 10 grams of kosher salt is the same amount of salt as 10 grams of sea salt. For precision, all of the measures are in grams, and calculated by percent of protein and fat mass. Using recipes that rely on weight measures will make it easier to modify those recipes by increasing or decreasing the weights. There are several schools of thought on when ingredients should be added to your protein and fat. I suggest that you add dry ingredients prior to grinding. This is because as the mixture is ground, it is also mixing, and this helps ensure that you have a more even distribution of ingredients throughout the meat mixture. For this reason, all ingredients will need to be measured before you can start grinding. The figure shows meat and ingredients prior to grinding. Wet ingredients are always incorporated after the meat mixture is ground. Water, vinegar, wine, fruit juices, and so on will blend into a ground meat mixture and not wash off. Time to grind You’re going to get tired of hearing this, but I’ll say it anyway: Temperature control is of the utmost importance! Meat grinding produces heat through friction, but cold meat is safer and less likely to smear when grinding. An additional step that you can take to avoid temperature increases is to place your grinder hopper (with the worm, knife, plate, and locking ring installed) in the freezer prior to grinding. After the assembly is freezing cold, you can connect it to the grinder once you’re ready to start grinding. The size of the holes in the plate on your grinder will determine how coarse or fine your grind is. The following figure shows a comparison of different plates. If you intend to have a fine grind, you will want to start with a plate that has larger-diameter holes and then re-grind with a plate that has smaller-diameter holes. This approach will get you a fine grind with less friction along the way. Your recipe will dictate the grind and size of plates that you use. A word about safety: Grinders are powerful machines that can cause severe bodily harm when not used appropriately. Your electric grinder should have a meat tray, a guard of some sort around and over the hopper opening (see A), and a stuffing tool (see B). Never stick your hand or fingers into the hopper. It is very easy for your fingers to get drawn down inside, and finger sausage is gross and very painful to make. Make sure you never use your fingers to stuff a meat mixture into the grinder. Instead, use the stuffing tool, and rely on the guard for extra safety. Just prior to grinding, combine your dry ingredients with your meat and fat mixture. Thoroughly mix them until all the dry ingredients are adhering to the mixture. Then power on your grinder and start carefully running the mixture through the grinder. After your mixture has been ground, hand-mix it for a minute or two. Proteins contain a compound called myocin that will help bind your ground mixture. Mixing by hand for a couple of minutes will help activate it. When you are finished mixing by hand, cover the mixture with some plastic wrap and refrigerate it overnight.

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