For the last several years we have been making country cured hams. Part of our interest derived from the Rooster’s family having been hog farmers in middle Tennessee in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Stories from Grandma Rooster have long been part of the family lore. Stories about the festivities and hard work around Hog Killin’ Day and the start of curing and smoking hams. Remnants of the Tennessee farm are still owned by the family today. The notion of curing hams in recent years was catalyzed by an article entitled “The Wonders of Ham” in the December 2009 issue of Saveur magazine. For a few years we followed the instructions offered by the Missouri Extension Service, with the results described in an earlier post for Nobska country cured hams.
In a progression of experimental interests, the idea of making prosciutto crudo developed. There are, no doubt, as many different ways of making prosciutto as there are people who make it. To get started we discovered some helpful sources on YouTube. One was a series by Melody Kettle in her Hot from the Kettle video series featuring Lou Palma and his method for curing prosciutto. It is a four part series starting with a drive down Highway 3 to visit Nicolosi Fine Foods in Union City, NJ where they picked up Berkshire hams as the first step on the process. Lou does his curing in his garage in Montclair, NJ, and the series shows each step. In order, the videos are:
Lou cures his hams in plastic bags, which, with the salt, forms a brine. Strictly speaking, these are not dry-cured hams, but the result is still a prosciutto that looks and is (apparently) delicious. Another of Lou’s techniques is to press the hams in a mechanical press during the cure to help flatten them. Others stack their hams three or four high to provide the pressure for flattening (rotating the top to bottom ham when resalting). Some folks simply allow the ham to lay flat and cure under its own weight. (This is in contrast to the country cured hams, which are hung shank down so that the meat forms a round, bowling-ball shape over time. Makes for a large baking ham to carve at the table!)
There are, of course, large scale producers of prosciutto, which will be the subject of another post. For the moment, we will focus on the small scale work at Nobska Farms.
On the farm, we followed a process similar to our prior curing of country hams, but this time, allowed the hams to lay flat rather than hang. We did not press or stack the hams; they did flatten considerably under their own weight in contrast to their plump country cured cousins. Three weeks for the first salting; three weeks for the second salting (with periodic checks to make sure they were covered at all times); after that, the hams were hung to air dry for a couple of weeks after removing all surface salt. Couldn’t resist combining a little country cured cool smoking with the Italian prosciutto, so for three days the hams were put into the smoker with apple wood in the fire. Smoke temperature was controlled to about 75°, which provides good flavoring without doing any cooking. (Got to do this on cool/cold days; hard to get such cool smoke otherwise.)
After smoking, sugna was applied and we are now just patiently waiting, oh, 20+ months, for the final product. Worth the wait, but have to keep more in the pipeline.