I never imagined that I would have as much trouble with a Charcutepalooza challenge as I have with this last one. I’ve cured meat successfully already this year and I figured with my fancy new curing chamber (otherwise known as an old fridge with a bunch of gadgets inside) it would be even easier.
Sigh. Not so much.
The charcuterie challenge this month was to cure a whole cut. I was awfully tempted to try my hand at bresaola (because it is hard to find and I love it so) but I knew there was a high chance of failure on this particular challenge. I decided that if I did happen to have a failure, I would rather fail with a cheaper cut of meat such a pork loin then a more expensive beef round. I settled on Lonzino (air dried pork loin) and found a recipe (complete with video) on Matt Wright’s lovely blog.
This is where Twitter came in. My first question was for Matt (@wrightfood onTwitter) “just how funky are the casings you use”. I am extremely smell averse and I knew if the casings were too stinky I was in big trouble. He assured me that with a good soaking and a little vinegar I should be just fine. So, I preceded along my merry way, starting the pork loin in the cure, ordering the casing that Matt suggested and getting my curing chamber up and running (based on Matt’s setup).
A few days later it was time to get the meat into the chamber. When I trimmed up my pork loin to for curing, one end of it was pretty darn thin, so I made the decision to cut it in half so that I could put the thicker end in the casing and leave the thin end naked.
Before I added the meat, my chamber was holding nicely at 55 degrees with 76% humidity. Just about perfect. As soon as I added the meat the humidity jumped to 93%. I turned to Twitter again, asking Matt, Michael Ruhlman (@ruhlman) and the whole of the #Charcutepalooza community, “is this going to be a problem?”
Matt was the first to respond.
We Tweeted back and forth a few more times and basically he told me because of the size of my chamber, I definitely needed to add a fan to the mix (which was confirmed later by Mrs. Wheelbarrow). Of course being told you need to add a fan to the mix does not necessarily mean you have time to add a fan to the mix. As Matt had suggested, I had propped the door opened and that had helped with the humidity, but I had a feeling I was going to be in for trouble.
Four days later, trouble showed up. The end of the loin that I had put into the casing developed a few spots of black mold. I’d been expecting mold of some kind. It’s a frequent issue with cured meats but I’d always heard that mold could simply be washed of with a vinegar solution so I was a bit surprised when, after tweeting this:
I got this reply:
Okay I wasn’t surprised about that one, but I was surprised by this one:
Trash it!? But… vinegar… won’t that work?
Kill me? Um, no thanks.
With a little more Twitter discussion, I determined that the uncased end could possibly be saved. but after a couple more days in the non-fanned curing chamber I realized that my meat was not happy in there. It had developed a few spots of white fuzzy mold (which can be washed off with vinegar) so I made the decision to move the meat to a new spot. While not the ideal conditions, my pantry/liquor cabinet/laundry room would have to do.
Almost immediately my meat just looked better and it finally started losing some weight. My lonzino started at 360 grams so my target weight was 252 grams. After a couple more days of anxious waiting (and white fuzzy mold washing) my lonzino was finally ready to try.
I cut a few slices and gave it a try. Hmm, a little bit salty and a little too junipery, but not bad. I tossed a few slices in with some pasta and called it lunch.
Next I decided to serve it as part of my charcutepalooza finale dinner. I spread a little Chevre (Yarmuth Farms Chevre from Darrington WA to be exact) on a cracker and then topped it with a thin slice of lonzino and a little scallion. Delicious. The goat cheese masked the overly juniper taste and added a nice creaminess to the mix. I could have eaten ten of them (of course I was serving seven other dishes so I refrained).
I’m grateful for all the help (and the dirty jokes about meat, casings and more) I’ve received from Matt and the rest of the Twitter community over the last few weeks. This whole thing wouldn’t be nearly as fun without you.