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What’s better than a fatty, grass-fed beef steak, or a pasture raised pork chop?

Don’t think too hard.

Ready?

One that’s been salted and cured.

Better yet, one that’s been salted and dried over time (think “prosciutto” or “bresaola”, or even “jerky”)

The application of salt, and sometimes sugar, to meat serve both to preserve and enhance the flavors of meat.  When certain cuts are prepared and then hung and dried, the flavors shift and change to become unique and amazing. Plus, the meat becomes shelf stable and preserved for easy travel and use.

(photos from the Charcuterie and Pork Preservation class courtesy of Nomad Media)

proscuitto, charcuterie, mangalitsa, cured meat
cured meat, charcuterie, sausage, mangalitsa
cured meat, charcuterie, sausage, mangalitsa, farm education

What I’m talking about is curing meat, yes, and taking it to the next level. This is called “charcuterie.” You might be familiar with “charcuterie boards” on which people artfully lay out time preserved meats, cheeses, and other delicacies. This isn’t just high end stuff, though. It’s a critical process for the homesteader, nomad, prepper, or foodie to master. The ability to provide food security for yourself outside of needing a freezer is the ultimate end of self sufficiency, convenience, and value adding. And it’s pretty amazingly easy.

There are a few things to know, though. That’s why we share our knowledge and expertise with you in the Charcuterie and Pork Preservation class: knowledge is a tool, experience is the power. You won’t just learn, you’ll experience the art of making preserved pork as charcuterie.

Here are some FAQ’s about curing meat:

What are the temperature and humidity requirements?

             The ideal is 60 degrees and 60% humidity. The temperature can fluctuate up to 20 degrees and you can be ok. The humidity is more critical. Too much humidity and you’ll get green and black mold. This is  bad. Too low humidity and the meat can dry out on the outside and seal in the inner moisture, causing rot. This is also bad. You don’t need a complicated temperature and humidity controlled room. A secure area with a humidifier in the winter and dehumidifier in the summer is sufficient. A garage that doesn’t quite freeze or a cooler entryway closet can suffice.

I have some meat in my freezer. Can I grind it and make dry cured sausages?

             No. Once frozen the basic structure of the meat changes as the water in it expands and changes the cells.  It can be salted and refrozen, but not dry aged.

Will it be ok if I smoke it?

             Smoking won’t change frozen meat, so if that’s your goal, you still can’t dry age previously frozen meat.

             However, you can cold smoke salted/cured pieces and then hang them. That’s very traditional in many cultures, including our own American pioneer and homestead heritage.

Can I reuse a brine?

             No. Once a brine has been used, the salt to water ratio is altered. The next piece wouldn’t have the proper amount of salt available in the brine to cure it. Always use a brine only once.

There’s so much salt left over! What can I use it for?

             Tanning hides, salting areas where you don’t want vegetation, dry it out and use it in a “bug a salt” gun. We’re open to other ideas!