My husband and I have gone down the road of curing meat for almost five years now, and the lessons abound. We started out with bacon, the “gateway meat” when it comes to curing, and then went crazy from there – lonzino, prosciutto, salami, pancetta, lardo, sausages from seemingly everywhere around the world, even Canadian bacon…and more.
But I gotta say, my favorite is definitely a good salami, and the Genoa one we first made in 2017 was a winner! We cured it in a closet of an unused bedroom in the basement of our old house, to take advantage of the cooler temps down there, fermenting it for 24 hours under…the heating light we’d recently used for our then-ducklings and a bucket of salt water for humidity. It. Was. Amazing.
In 2018 we moved out here to the farm and by the fall had secured a pig from a neighbor for us to butcher, and while most of it went really really well, it was a Kune Kune whose name means ‘fat and round’…and boy was he tubby. What does that mean for salami? Well, you want to get the leanest bits of shoulder/butt you can, then mix it with the proper amount of fat, so that you can control the ratio. If it’s too fatty, it will have a seriously tough time drying. And this li’l guy was just oozing with fat in everything. So two salamis? Total fail. The piggy was great for everything else – clearly we were able to get a lot of leaf lard for rendering (mmm, pie crust…) – but not at all the ideal salami pig.
So this last fall, we invested in procuring half of a hazelnut-finished pig and boy has it made all the difference. We’ve been able to do so, so much more, and with that, finally took that Pinterest inspiration and turned it into reality this past month, building our own curing chamber from a repurposed old fridge.
When we first renovated our kitchen, we had to get rid of the ugly old monstrous fridge that was here, and unlike smaller appliances, didn’t have the human-power (or a truck) to transport it for recycling. Fortunately the light bulb moment happened as we were dragging it into our garage, when I remembered that Pinterest folder we’d created back in P-town with this awesome inspiration post:
Now this is a 3D rendering of what he made, but he had some good tips as to what to buy, why to buy it, and a sense of humor to boot, so over the last few months we started collecting the doohickies needed to turn the old fridge into a Crazy-Awesome Curing Chamber! Here’s the basics:
With the picture on the left, I’ve circled the interior things needed (clockwise):
* Hygrometer (the little black round thing on the left – usually used for brewing, this measures the interior humidity and temp)
* Temperature Controller (interior part shown here, exterior portion shown on the right hand photos – basically you plug your fridge into this THEN plug the controller into the wall, so it overrides the default fridge/freezer temps and you can set it – from the outside – at the desired temp. Pretty cool huh?!)
* Seedling heating mat (this helped amp up the fridge temp since our attached garage is not insulated and it’s January! the idea came recommended by another blogger fortunately as most plans for these assume you’re doing this indoors or in a basement…PS – you can also use a poultry heating light if you don’t have one of those, we just found this smaller and therefore less unwieldy)
* Humidifier (normal one you buy at the store, keeps it at the right moisture level)
What’s great about this is that it actually uses very little energy from the old dinosaur fridge (a major priority of mine) – it’s the humidifier and tiny heating mat doing most of the work in the interior, and the fridge only turns on if the temp gets too hot or cold. Being that we’re on the North Coast, where our daytime temps this winter have been in the upper 40’s, low 50’s for the most part, it’s not been too tough.
So the next part is to make the salami! To remain a bit scientific, this first round in the new curing chamber, we’re using the same Genoa Salami recipe that my husband got at a salami curing workshop run by Revel Meat founder Ben Meyer, one of the few meat processors in the state and also known for his organic and humane practices as wholesale butcher in the Willamette Valley.
After mixing the pork, fat, seasonings and bactoferm (i.e., starter culture necessary to safely cure salami) at a very very cold temp (if you stuff it at over 28 degrees F, you’ll most likely see the fat get all emulsified – i.e., hot doggy…ya don’t want that!), husband then stuffs the salami casings. For this first run, we didn’t want to use a huge amount of shoulder as we wanted to make sure we’ve got a good process going with the new chamber, so we’ve just used about 3 lbs total.
Then you want to do the weird part – fermenting it for 24 hours in 85F at around 80-90% humidity. How do you do that? Creatively! In Portland, we used the method described above, with the bucket of salt water and a heat lamp in a small basement closet that strangely had an outlet in it. Here in Astoria, we have more than one bathroom so we used our yet-to-be remodeled guest bathroom shower, hanging it from the rod with a portable heater jacked up to the hottest it’d go along with my humidifier (usually helping keep our bedroom from being bone-dry in the winter) filled and amped up to 85%. Then I put the curtain around it and turned out the lights to keep the heat/humidity in close quarters. Yeah it became a complete sauna in there very very quickly let me tell you – our glasses even fogged up walking in there at the end, haha…
But it seriously works, y’all. Look below and you can see the Before picture where the salami is just brown and nothing special to look at, and the After picture where the initial fermentation has made it that lovely pinkish-red at that you’d expect with salami!
Pretty rad dontcha think? And no, my husband, even though he’s one of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet, rarely smiles for the camera 🙂
So now our salami is happily curing inside our ‘new’ home-built chamber, which is keeping the temp and humidity constant… and in 6 weeks we should be happy as can be in charcuterie-land!
Note to those who might try to build one: Please buy your items from businesses other than Amazon. Support small business by buying direct – NOT by lining Bezos’ wallet at his company with a long history of corrupt business practices and unethical treatment of employees, not to mention stealing from then squelching small businesses.