Charcutepalooza November: Curing

It’s taken me until this month’s Charcutepalooza challenge – the penultimate – to figure out what it’s really it’s all about.  It’s not about perfection – indeed, a few things didn’t quite go as planned for us this time around – it’s about the journey.  Every day at school, I tell the boys that the end result doesn’t matter – it’s about how they arrive there and this month, I realised that, especially in the kitchen, I do need to practice what I preach more often. A failure is a learning experience. A glitch is a teachable moment.  I mean, it’s taken me nearly 2 years to get the macaron right and even then, it’s unpredictable. It’s only since I started teaching classes that I have realised how important not dwelling on perfection is – in fact, instant perfection is boring, right?  And it’s not like making meat is easy, not by a long shot.

This year of meat has been challenging to say the least. I’ve dealt with bits of meat that I never thought I would be going anywhere near. Thank goodness for my in-house Master Butcher, Mr Neil, without whom I would be nowhere near completing this year of challenges. And certainly not contemplating six different dishes showing a bunch of different techniques for our “Last Supper” this coming Sunday. No siree. This year has been all about working as a team and much as Neil probably thinks all I do is take the pretty pictures (though let’s face it – some of my meat pictures have been less than pretty!), this was definitely a team effort.  With a specific goal in mind, you see….

Every time I open our copy of Charcuterie, this is what I see:

(and before you start going on about the grammatical error here – Dad, I am looking at you! – I KNOW there’s an error and it’s on purpose. It’s a bit of a family joke that my sister and I always say “Me and…..” JUST to annoy my dad!)

Uh huh. We’ve had the book since June 2009. When my blog was just a baby (less than a month old). Michael Ruhlman’s blog was one of the first I ever read and he just happened to be challenging people to make BLTs from scratch. Yeah – the bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, bread, mayo – the whole shebang! Well it took us the whole summer and an army of friends helping but we produced the tastiest BLTs ever.  Oh we had plans to work our way through the book, for sure. And despite our deep desire to make saucisson sec (our favourite French charcuterie item) from scratch, like so many of our cookbooks, it kind of got lost in the shuffle. Until last December when a few tweets between Cathy and Kim about making charcuterie turned into a worldwide, meat-making phenomenon that both Neil and I have been so pleased to be a part of.

So each month this year, we have dutifully followed the instructions (even whilst battling a viral infection, or when we were in two different countries and even when someone forgot to put the blade into the meat grinder – nothing could stop us!), impatiently waiting for the saucisson sec to appear on the challenge, knowing that Cathy was guiding us through the book and each technique in a very methodical order, so that by the time we got to the dry-cured sausages, it wouldn’t be intimidating in the least.

Which it was not. I mean, we had ground meat and stuffed sausages before, right so it was so not the issue here.

Ok so that part wasn’t intimidating. Maybe making the noix de jambon was a little. Mostly because it involved a giant piece of pork leg and a giant knife.  I particularly like the image below and the headline in the paper under said giant piece of pork leg. Excess? In Charcutepalooza? Never!

(I’ll spare you the picture of Neil showing me how the leg joints of the pig work). So after Neil had finished carving the meat, the little noix were pretty easy. They cured in the fridge….

And then we hung them up in the basement….

Once they had reached their desired 30% weight loss stage, albeit way quicker than they were supposed to, I brought a couple up to test on some unsuspecting guests. Oh, and of course our taste tester had to get involved. She was VERY interested. And no, my first reaction was not to grab the camera, I already had my phone in my hand having just tweeted something along the lines of “Wow, this tastes real!” and I turned my head for 2 seconds and Miss Cleo was in there…

She approved…

And you know what? So did we. Even though we had some – shall we say, issues? Some holey (definitely not holy) meat. And some uneven drying.

And here I am going to have to blame this on Neil. Yes I am.

Check out the photo below on the left. That was our basement in June.  Yes friends, our basement. Not a cellar. Just a huge old room with a ton of wine all over the place. Stressing out Mr Excel Spreadsheet no end…  On the right you see the key. To the new, temperature controlled cellar. It’s locked. Obviously. I live in the house. And this, my friends, is the reason our dry cured sausage didn’t work perfectly. Seriously.

Now the basement has been “finished” (i.e. it’s not a big old room with concrete floors and piles (of very important documents) everywhere, the humidity is much more controlled (i.e. much lower) as is the temperature. So whilst the temperature was a beautiful stable 15˚C as it is supposed to be, the humidity was way too low, meaning the saucisson dried much faster than it was supposed to. So we have imperfect saucisson.  But you know, we have a cave of wine and some imperfect saucisson.  And we know why it went wrong (nothing to do with said cave of wine except its existence).

Ok, enough already, I hear you saying. If this is about the journey and we KNOW why it went wrong – how does it taste????

Pretty amazing, actually. The saucisson, if we ignore the look of it, tastes exactly like a real one. And the noix de jambon is simply sensational.

We didn’t do anything fancy with our charcuterie this month. We just ate it. And pondered where on earth we would hang the next batch 😉

Watch out for the FINAL Charcutepalooza post next Tuesday featuring the Last Supper. Though hopefully not for anyone who will be enjoying it with us.

59 thoughts on “Charcutepalooza November: Curing”

  1. Mardi I absolutely loved everything about this post. What a fantastic achievement, love your sentiment, and glad to hear about the “cave”! Not to mention that’s a mighty fine keychain you’ve got there hanging on the door 🙂 can’t wait to see your “last supper”!

  2. Oh wow, I’d never think to make my own cured meats and sausages. I am a huge lover of cured meats, they were a staple growing up in Germany, this is a very exciting post for me! 🙂

  3. Well I’m not sure I have much to add to Mardi’s post…other than it’s a bit of a poor showing that it took Charcutepalooza to actually snap us into the book. I disticntly remember Mardi getting me this in 2009 – just before she dashed off to France for the summer…

    Some of the items have been labour-intensive, but I must admit, we almost solely make our own bacon, pancetta – and I’ll be adding noix de jambon to the list – now. And I just love all the butchery practice. Something soothing, in a primal way, about that act.

    And as for the wine cave…well lete’s just say, it’s now MUCH easier for me to produce whatever bottle we feel like at any given time, or to suit a particular meal. That, my friends, is golden. 🙂

  4. The noix de jambon looks gorgeous! And I’m sure the saucisson sec tasted amazing even if it looked imperfect. It seems to me like everything we learned so far came together in this final challenge. Great work!

  5. Great post! I am still learning that it’s ok to make mistakes. Sometimes they are still quite tasty!

  6. Ooooh, I am so jealous! My bresaola is still hanging…your success is getting me totally pumped, though. Don’t worry about the holes – I spent the summer slicing cured meats, and I can tell you: I came across some pretty holey professionally cured soppressata. I’d totally go for a slice of that saucisson right now – holey or not; looks delicious. Also delicious-looking: that cellar full of wine… 🙂

  7. I tip my hat to you for taking the plunge and curing your own sausage. Imperfect or not, that looks like some top-notch charcuterie!
    The Boy and I have been debating trying our hands at curing sausages for a while now, but so far we’ve both been too chicken to actually go beyond smoking… but as you say, it really is about the journey, so I think this winter we’ll bite the bullet and try it for ourselves, especially since we’ve retired the smoker for the seaon. 🙂

  8. What a lovely post – I have to remind myself to focus on the journey, often. I am excited to read your last supper post – and so happy to have “met” you through charcutepalooza. Have a wonderful dinner Sunday!

  9. Lovely reflections on a fantastic endeavor! I have been amazed at what you and Neil have done with this project and have enjoyed your sharing of the adventure with all of us. You are a much more daring woman than I for I would have never attempted what you did and I admire you for having not only taken on this project but for completing it so successfully. You are right, it is about the journey and this one you will remember fondly. For what you have learned, for those you have met throughout it and for all that you have accomplished. Enjoy your last supper, I’m looking forward to reading all about it.

  10. If I get trapped down there, is there a corkscrew? So I don’t die of thirst. That’s the only reason I’m wondering. And Mr. Neil, if one is trapped in a wine cellar and fearing death, what wine would you recommend?

  11. Your little cat–how very cute! As the owner of a late and beloved black cat, I know what it is like to have a designated “taste tester” in the house. But I digress–those are some fabulous cured goods, and kudos to you for the time and effort involved in making them.

  12. I’ve been trying to leave a comment all day using “whilst” but it sounds preposterous coming from me, even when I write it.

    I love this post, your meat, you. Everything. One of the most enjoyable things this year has been getting to do this crazy meat thing with you and Mr. Neil. Thanks for going whole hog (see what i did there?) You are an inspiration, Mardi.


  13. Oh Mardi, it really is steadying and comforting to see evidence of the rough patches! Another great post, and another fantastic portrait of Miss Cleo, and isn’t noix de jambon the best?


  14. I’ve loved following the Charcutepalooza. Will definitely give it a go when I live in the right sort of house (yes, I’m a procrastinator!) I agree with your philosophy – instant perfection is boring – all the learning is in making mistakes and correcting them. Miss Cleo seems to have given her seal of approval – or meow of approval 🙂

  15. My first batch of salami dried too fast as well. This time around I used beef middles and the thicker diameter seems to help in suboptimal humidity. I use my wine fridge for aging and it works pretty well. The noix look fabulous.

  16. Mardi, it took me a few days to get to this post, but I’m glad i finally did. I’m so sad I dropped off on the challenges when life got crazy. There was an awesome feeling of satisfaction of completely journey after journey and sharing all I learned along the way. You have been quite a force on this journey, congrats!

  17. So amazing! I think you did an amazing job… And, great that you learned from the process.

    PS… I’m envious of your new wine cellar. I finally got our wine cooler set up in the dining room/kitchen, but it’s mostly full of Pellegrino. 🙂


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