Saturday, October 20, 2007

Coppa butchery - How to harvest one

Coppa. What is coppa? Coppa is a muscle of the pork right behind the back of the head, at the top of the shoulder. In the cute little picture of pig parts on the left, it is #4. I guess in English it could be called "pork collar". In Italy this specific piece of meat is available at grocery stores to braise and to roast as "coppa fresca", but here in the US, it takes some effort to get a hold of. When cured it is a wonderful combination of meat and fat, heady from the aromatic spices and herbs in which is it cured. Sliced thin it is a classic on a plate of salumi (cured meats) and makes wonderful sandwiches. You may also know it by its southern Italian name of "capocollo", which translates to "top of the neck", which makes sense. Or you may have heard the word mangled and pronounced "capicola", which is a derivative of capocollo. How about we just stick to the real word: coppa.

So lets start with getting ourselves a piece of coppa. Your best bet, and what I normally do is harvest it from a whole pork shoulder/boston butt which i get at Costco. Sometimes unfortunately the Costco butchers mangle the shoulder so badly when they remove the bone that getting a nice hunk of coppa is near impossible. I've also found if you can find a nice LARGE piece of bone in shoulder/boston butt at the supermarket you can usually get a nice coppa out of it. With the rest make salame!

On the left here in the picture you see a whole shoulder from Costco. I put a blue rectangle around the coppa. I also labeled the direction where the pig's legs and head would be and where the shoulder bone used to be. Hopefully you can orient yourself.

Here the shoulder is lifted on its side. Again I labeled the coppa, and the direction where you'd find the feet, and the side where the skin would have been.

This is the same coppa but flipped over. You can see the nice fat striations in the muscle which will keep the coppa soft and make it tasty once cured. Hmmmmm faaaat.

Cut away the generally circular coppa, and shape it generally into a cylinder of meat and fat.

This is the other side of the coppa. It will end up being about 90mm/3.5" in diameter

You now have a coppa ready to be cured. Stay tuned for that post, which will be coming shortly. I'll be posting about 2 different methods for curing it.


Saturday, October 6, 2007

Farmer pork Vs. Commercial pork - Cacciatorino: The Results

Well, it's finally time for the tasting of the cacciatorino salame. As you may remember the last post was the set up for an experiment. I wanted to see if using farmer raised heirloom pigs would make a difference in the flavor and quality of the salame. The formula was identical for both salami with the only variable being the meat used.

The salami were cured for 12 days at 54 deg. F and about 70% humidity. The Costco salame lost 43% of its weight, and the farmer one lost 40%.

So, is there a difference between the two salami?

The answer to that question is yes, but with qualifiers.

In the picture above are 2 slices of each salame. It is hard to show in the picture, even putzing with it in photoshop (I'll retake them tomorrow in natural light), but there is a visual difference. The farmer one is a lighter shade of red, almost a pink. The Costco is a deep ruby red, which is actually prettier looking. I would attribute this difference to the fact that the farmer pork has more intramuscular fat than the Costco pork.

The mouth feel is also different. The Costco one is a little chewier, while the farmer one is a bit softer and more tender. This is probably due to the fact that the farmer one lost a little bit less water. I prefer the chewier Costco.

Aroma. It is very similar for both. Mild, a bit peppery, and very nice.

Flavor. This is where the real differences come to light. I'll say it right out. The COSTCO salame was better. Yes. It was better. 5 people blind tasted both, and all 5 chose the Costco one. I'm rather amazed. The farmer one is considerably more sour. This might be because the breed of pig, or the way it is raised has an effect on the pH of the meat, with the farmer one being lower (more acidic) right off the bat. It is then fermented/acidified the same amount, but if the starting point of the farmer one is lower, the end point would be lower. I'm going to try testing the salame pH with some pH strips to see if it is actually lower, or if I'm imagining it. If it were not more sour the flavors I think would be almost identical (what I'm saying is that the only flavor difference most of us could taste was just the sour).

Now the qualifiers: First, the % weight loss of the two salami was different, not much, but different. I have another pair (1 farmer, 1 costco) still curing, which I'll remove at 49-50% weight loss, and I'll try to make sure they are as close as possible.

Second, I don't care for the products of this particular farmer. I've had their pork chops and was unimpressed. I used them because that is what was readily available for my experiment. I will repeat the experiment using the pork from a farmer I know is fantastic. His pork is so much better and different you'd think it is a different animal altogether. I'll also have to try to make sure the pHs are the same.

So the conclusion to the experiment is that, based on this, farmer pork is no where NEAR worth using at about 6 to 7 times the cost (after scrap and higher initial cost). Now, if you use it because you don't like how factory farms run, then go for it, but this farmer, this time, just wasn't worth it.