I have a business mentor named John Napolitano who frequently talks about “donating [something] to science.” It’s his way of saying that some things just need to be experimented with, to see if/or how they work. It’s also his way of setting the expectation for me that “hey, if this fails, at least you’ll learn what doesn’t work.” It’s not really my style to jump into something with two feet. Especially something I deem a risk, or something that doesn’t feel fully vetted. But with great risk can come great reward, right? And as another famous saying goes “you’ll miss 100% of the shots you never take.”
It’s with that in mind that I announce I will be donating an 18-pound ham end to science this year. Last weekend was our annual Haas Family Butchering weekend. Many of you know that butchering is a long-standing family tradition, filling the freezer to feed the family for the year. Who doesn’t like having steaks, pork chops, ribs and bacon at the ready?! Each year has seemed to evolve for me too, learning the art of sausage making to then meat curing and now, charcuterie.
The evolution has been fun! It’s truly one of my favorite hobbies. Each type of curing becomes a little more involved. Smoke curing, while challenging in its own right, really just takes the right tools. Salt curing, while more challenging, really just takes patience and superior ingredients. Dry curing, or using a bacteria-starter culture, is the most challenging because it takes a controlled environment, lots of attention to detail and a commitment to a detailed process. It’s not based on heat/smoke, or salt, so the bacteria HAS to be dealt with correctly, and safely.
As involved as that learning process has been, the risk, if I fail, has been minimal. It’s relatively painless to attempt to make 2lbs of Soppressata (for example), wait the 4-6 weeks while it hangs in a controlled environment and “donate the meat to science” until it’s perfected. When it hasn’t worked, I’d isolate the variables, try to determine what caused the failure and tweak the process accordingly. I’ve now been successful dry curing this past year, so now I have my sights set much higher.
I’m going to try to make Prosciutto. That’s curing a full ham leg, not just 2lbs of ground pork. Not only is it an 18lb commitment, but it’s supposed to hang slightly longer than 4-6 weeks. It’s supposed to hang for A YEAR! It’s a huge risk to think I could wait a whole year, waste a whole leg of ham and have absolutely nothing to show for it. On the other hand, it’s one of the most delicious and expensive cuts of meat and would bring me great pride to accomplish.
So…I’m willing to “donate the meat to science” and hope I get it right. There’s going to be a lot of loving care given to that ham end these next few weeks, and then the long hanging process will begin. Check back in with me in 12 months and I’ll let you know how it went. Until we meat again!
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