The Cure of Cured Meat

This is going to be a word-heavy post, so I’m going to give you the money-shot right up front.  BAM!  I finally made bresaola!

Yes, friends, this was Attempt #3.  I tried for the first time during last year’s Charcutepalooza – and failed with spectacle.  The humidity in the little wine fridge I used as a curing chamber was too low, and my casing hardened; when I cut my cure open after four weeks, it was raw inside.  And it had a weird oil slick sheen – not too appetizing.  On my second try, I used a recipe from The Meat Book which eschewed casing in favor of cheesecloth.  I thought this might solve the lack-of-humidity issues, but I just wound up with insane mold growth in about 3 different colors.  And the one above?  Well, you’re just going to have to wait a minute and read along – since the theme of this post is patience.

You’re just going to have to bear with me here – I just got back from bridesmaiding in the most amazing wedding, and still have a few emotions to spare, so I’m going to park some of them in my little corner of the internet.  But seriously, this wedding was fantastic – the bride and groom are both amazing, talented, and giving people, and they gathered a circle of like-minded friends for a weekend of hiking and bonfires in the New Hampshire mountains where they met.  The only downer: I wussed out on giving a cute groomsman a nudge to call me, definitely.

But really – how bad can things be when skies are this blue and you’ve swum in a lake after a steep hike.  So, in the wake of this complete overload of love and nature, I’m trying to use that mountaintop perspective and some bresaola lessons to jumpstart my Deep Thinking Machine.

Bresaola Principle #1: Work out the kinks.

Not in a Dan Savage way, but in an if-at-first-you-don’t-succeed way.  I am really not the best at re-approaching things at which I fail once.  This whole bresaola effort has been an active attempt to get over that.  I managed to fill an entire closet with half-finished crafts when I was a kid (#OnlyChildProblems), and I was determined not to add my curing fridge to the project-related detritus I’ve hoarded over the years.

In the time since I posted last I gained and lost a boyfriend, so I am currently applying this principle directly to my love life.  Just because one was moldy doesn’t mean the next will be.

Bresaola Principle #2: Keep an eye out.

While meat curing seems like it should be completely effortless, a cure actually requires attention and careful monitoring.  Fluctuations in airflow, temperature, and humidity can determine whether you wind up with charcuterie or charcute-rot.

I’ve realized I need to check back in with myself as much as with my curing meats.  I was working so hard these last few months that I didn’t even notice until I got a break and a breath of fresh air how down and dull I’d become.  Just as a spritz of water was able to bring my bresaola back when the case started hardening in Week 3, a little time with friends and a little blogging is making me a little less rigid.

Bresaola Principle #3: Uhhh…

Shit, I totally had more wisdom last night.  And now I’ve forgotten it.  Guess you’ll have to check back another time for the next pearl.

And now that I’ve made you sit through my sun-addled pseudo-philosphical musings, I’ll tell you how I got this cure to work.  First, I stuck to a well-tested recipe – one from the awesome blog Wrightfood.  And then, I stuck to science, and I built myself a curing chamber in which I could control the environment as precisely as possible.  Here it is:

I drilled two rows of holes in the size of this mini-fridge and hot-glued two computer fans over the top row.  This is actually the second fridge on which I tried this – I hit the freon line in the first and contributed to destruction of the ozone layer.  When I got this one ($40 on Craigslist, hell yes), I was far more careful.  Though I did take a slightly over-large amount of pleasure in drilling through the metal sides of the fridge with my cobalt drill bits.  Power tool power trip!

The holes and fans take care of ventilation (to address that pesky mold problem I had with Bresaola #2); to keep a steady amount of humidity I bought a little desk humidifier and tucked it inside the fridge.  And to monitor all this, I got a small thermometer/hydrometer.  In all – completely insane and utterly effective.

This setup produced a truly lovely bresaola.  I used an eye round from Greene Grape Provisions, so I started with great ingredients.  This cut had an unexpected treat: it somehow allowed some of the curing spices to seep into the middle, so the finished product is run through with a seam of pepper, rosemary, and thyme.  Delicious – and balanced well by fresh figs.

I am now wishing I had brought this to New Hampshire for wedding snacking – I refrained from doing so because I was a little nervous about giving the entire wedding party botulism or dystentery.  There will be more bresaolas, though (or even coppas), and more friends willing to risk it all for the home-cured products of patience and persistence.