One thing that has always fascinated me is the art of making charcuterie. For years, I have longed to learn the craft of salting, smoking, curing and drying large, fat-laden slabs of meat. I’d even bought a copy of Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn’s, definitive tome on the subject, Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing. Late at night, I would greedily pore over those pages, lusting after each photo and dreaming of someday presenting my loved ones with my own delicately spiced and perfectly balanced versions of sopressata, guanciale, pâté and confit. I discovered other like-minded, charcuterie-loving bloggers as well – trailblazers in the metamorphoses of pork, duck and foie gras.
Until very recently, I have only admired those adventurous, bacon curing, salumi making souls from afar – never daring to venture into those uncharted waters myself. Then, I found out about Charcutepalooza, a twelve month blogging extravaganza devoted to celebrating the “elegant craft of salting, smoking and curing” meat. Each month, the group tackles a different type of charcuterie, using Ruhlman’s book as a guide, and the participants each post about their experiences. With over three hundred members and counting, Charcutepalooza is a great opportunity to explore, learn and share the ins and outs of homemade charcuterie.
I sat on the fence for a long time before I decided to join the group. I worried that I wouldn’t have the time or the resources to follow through. I also worried that the hot, muggy climate I live in wouldn’t be conducive to hanging and curing meat. And, I was really afraid that I might unwittingly kill someone with my carnivorous creations! However, when I finally found a local source of fresh duck and pork bellies, I threw caution to the wind and signed on.
I had already missed the first Charcutepalooza assignment, which was making duck prosciutto. I decided to start there anyway as the process looked pretty easy. It seemed like a good way to get my feet wet, and the end result sounded pretty awesome.
Little did I know then that my plans would soon go awry.
I prepped my duck breasts…
…covered them in kosher salt, and let them sit in the fridge for twenty-four hours.
Then, I rinsed and dried them thoroughly.
After that, I wrapped them in some unbleached cheesecloth and tied them up with butcher’s twine.
I measured the weight of each breast at the start of the process and every other day after that, carefully recording the results. The prosciutto is supposed to be ready to consume after it has lost a third of it’s weight. This is supposed to take about a week, but after two, mine still needed more time.
When I started out, the weather here was still hovering in the mid fifties, so I found the coolest spot in my house and literally hung those duck breasts out to dry. And yes, that is a pasta drying rack that my duck breasts are hanging from. Since I rarely make fresh pasta these days, I was glad that I could put the rack to good use. I think they look kind of cute – sort of like an eclectic pair of great, big, meaty earrings. Quick! Someone call Tim Gunn!
When the temperature started to climb, I moved the rack out to the garage, which stayed several degrees cooler. Eventually, I had to break down and hang it in my garage fridge. It was just too warm to leave it out anymore.
This is where things went horribly wrong.
The next day after storing my duck breasts in the garage fridge, I went out there to get them for their daily weigh-in. When I opened the fridge door, the rack – and my duck prosciutto – were gone.
At first, I thought that someone must have taken out the rack to make some room, and left the breasts in there. But, I couldn’t find them. I took everything out of the fridge, thinking that maybe they had fallen behind something else. Still nothing. Then, I looked all around the garage, hoping that whoever moved the rack had accidentally left them out. I found the empty rack, but no duck breasts.
I moved my search inside the house and, with the keen precision of Sherlock Holmes, hunted from room to room for clues. But, the duck breasts were nowhere to be found. They had simply vanished!
By this time I was getting a little panicky. Was someone playing a cruel joke on me? Was I losing my mind? Did Bella suddenly develop thumbs and teach herself how to open the fridge? Did some duck-loving burglar sneak into my garage in the dead of night and steal it? All sorts of crazy scenarios ran through my head.
Later that day, I kicked into “lawyer mode” and cross-examined both Mr. and Mini SGCC. Both of them vehemently denied having ever touched the duck breasts. They both seemed like they were telling the truth. Mr. SGCC even looked a little sad about the fact that he wasn’t going to ever get to try my duck prosciutto. Still, how well do I really know those two?
I tried to question Bella too, but she wasn’t talking. Hmmm. Come to think of it, she did look a little guilty…
It’s been several days now, and still no duck breasts. I kept hoping that they would turn up somewhere, but no such luck. I honestly have no idea what could have happened to those little suckers. And, I was so looking forward to sharing my first attempt at curing meat with you too. It could have been a beautiful thing, people. What a disappointment!
My next charcuterie experiment is going to be Charcutepalooza’s February assignment: homemade bacon. I actually saw Michael Ruhlman demonstrate how to do this last Fall at BlogHer Food, so I’m really excited about trying it. I’m hoping to catch up with the rest of the group, so I’ll also be working on the March challenge, which is all about brining. How does some homemade corned beef for St. Paddy’s Day sound?
After my duck prosciutto fiasco, you can bet that I intend to keep a very close eye on all future charcuterie endeavors. But in the meantime, if you happen to see any small, stray, cheesecloth-wrapped bundles of duck prosciutto lying around, or spot Lady Gaga sporting an eclectic pair of great, big, meaty earrings, please let me know A.S.A.P.! I’m willing to share.