Friday, February 18, 2011

Culatello - The King of Cured Meats






If there is a King of salumi, it's definitely Culatello di Zibello. Many might think that honor belongs to Prosciutto di Parma, with it's 5 pointed crown branded onto it's skin, but in reality, those in the know, understand that Culatello is the true King.

Culatello is made from the large muscle mass in the rear leg of the pig. Creating it means destroying the possibility of  making a prosciutto. That, combined with it being a relatively small part of the whole leg, its tremendous aging time, the fact that it's the best part of the leg, and the expertise required to make it, make it one of the most expensive salumi in Italy, particularly if it adheres to the DOP regulations to be a Zibello culatello.

The flavor of culatello is indescribably delicious, but I'll try. It has a soft, supple texture similar to prosciutto, but a tiny bit dryer. The flavor is robust, and redolent of the 500 year old, humid, caves where they spend their 12 months drying. The pork flavor is the main thing you can taste (which is delicious because to adhere to the DOP certain criteria for raising the pigs have to be adhered to, and they must be pigs from either Lombardia or Emilia-Romagna), followed by the funk of the aging and the caves It's really something special. There is obviously no way I can recreate the flavor from the 500 year old caves and the native molds, but I'm hoping I can create something similar and delicious.

You can see the cure is exceedingly simple. Nothing to interfere with the pork flavor and the flavor of the 500 year old caves, which I was unable to import from Italy. This would be a good candidate for using a high quality pastured pig. I'm sure I'll do it again with one, but for this trial I was trying to learn how to make the cut and the complex tying.

I have to thank Scott @ Sausage Debauchery for pushing me to make this through some friendly competition, as well as my friend Alberto in San Francisco (don't know if he reads the blog) without whom I wouldn't have known where to begin the cutting, and also Angelo Competiello and his dad for also showing me how to make the cut.

This is a BIG post with a lot of pictures. It's a complicated process so make sure you understand what you're doing before you hack away! Since i've never made this, and its a complex salume, there is the chance that what I've done will fail....so follow at your own risk. I'm going to also show the curing of the fiocco which is the other side of the leg...a poor man's culatello if you will.


Culatello starts with a whole rear pig leg. I got the biggest one i could find. This one was about 23 lbs.
The first step is removing the aitch bone. Just feel around the front for it, and gently cut around the bone without gouging too far into the meat. Don't want any excess cuts or slices.
Aitch bone is removed and on top of the leg for demonstration.
Next step is to skin the ham leaving behind as much fat as possible.
This is the other side of the leg. Nice and skinless. Ooops! i nicked the fat there in the middle.
It's important to "milk" or "pump" the femoral artery in the leg to get any remaining blood out of there. Leaving it in there risks rancidity.
It's easier to watch a video of someone milking the artery than try to explain how to do it...found this on Youtube.

Thanks to Kim Adams @ Gangofpour.com
Now it's time to cut the precious ham into a culatello, a fiocco and a bone.
The culatello is the the large side of the leg shown inside the green area on this picture.
The fiocco is the small side, shown in red on the picture.
In between is obviously the bone.
Locate the bone and understand how it runs inside the leg, then cut the hunk of muscle off it.
The flap on the front of the culatello is cut off to square up the face. That's the small piece you see there. Use it for salame, or make little pork steaks to eat fresh.
This shows the culatello on the right, the bone in the middle and the fiocco on the left.
The fiocco is considered the poor cousin of the culatello, but it's still good. I cured using the same exact formula ratios as I used for culatello.
Here is the culatello. Trimmed to its proper shape. Use all your trimmings for salame.

The other side of the culatello. Ready for its first tying.
Using slip knots the culatello muscle is tied really tight so it keeps its nice round shape.
Tie tie tie
Rear side. Use twine big enough to not cut into the meat and fat
Salt, pepper, cure #2. That's it.
Rubbed and massaged all over the culatello and then bagged with all the cure.

This was left in the fridge for 21 days. Turning and massaging every 4 or 5 days.
The fiocco/fiocchetto is tied up as well and salted just like the culatello.
The culatello is cased in a pig bladder traditionally. I wasn't able to get any, but, I was able to get a beef bladder. It took some wrestling to get it in there, and then I sewed the cut I made back up, pulling the bladder tight. Kind of looks like Frankenstein. I should have used thinner twine for the trussing. Next time.

The fiocco is stuffed in a beef bung.

Instead of a bladder, collagen can be used, as can strips of  beef bung which can be cut open, and used to wrap the culatello. Cut the bung open so it's a flat sheet and wrap the culatello in that. It might take more than one, no problem, they'll fuse together where they overlap once they dry a little.

The tying is complex and takes quite a while. It took me about 1.5 hrs to case and tie. See the video below for how to tie.
This guy is awesome! I must have watched this 20 times.
I sprayed the culatello and fiocco with MEK 4 mold spray and put it in my fermentation box at 70-72 deg. for 30 hours. This is after the fermentation.
It's so beautiful I can't stop looking at it!
The fiocco was nice looking too.

 Now the waiting game starts. The culatello and fiocco are in the curing chamber at 55 F and 75% RH. I'm guessing the fiocco will be ready in about 4-5 months and the culatello in about 8-10, maybe longer. I guess it'l be a Thanksgiving treat!

91 comments:

matt said...

this is beyond stunning. A great blow by blow account of making this fine cut! I was holding off making this until I got a decent pictorial of breaking down the leg (I am a butchering newbie) - and this is just perfect.

And, WOW, great photographs of the product mate.

scott said...

Bravo!

gianpiero said...

Bravo, bene, 7+ !

Funder said...

I'm hopeful that one day I'll learn to make easy salumi, so this might be a really stupid newbie question. :) Why not rub the cure inside the meat before tying it? Does it work in through osmosis while it's bagged in the fridge?

Jasonmolinari said...

funder, what do you mean "inside the meat" The meat is a solid muscle....

Thais said...

This post is just perfect for me. I have a large black hog that will be fully mature in March. My chamber is too small for a full ham.

Funder said...

Yeah, it's a solid muscle, but you're tying it shut. Most tied roasts are tied up because they have some floppy bits - and it kind of looks from the pictures that there's an opening where the bone used to be, like the culatello is butterflied? That's the "inside" I'm asking about. I knew this was a weird newbie question!

Kevin Kossowan said...

Great how-to. Thanks yet again, and hope it turns out well!

Jasonmolinari said...

Funder, i see what you're saying. The muscle is not butterflied...that area is where the different muscle groups come together...the whole thing is solid, even before tying it.
It's tied to give it a nice round shape.

The meat isn't cut around the bone, it's cut off along side the bone.

Funder said...

Ahh, gotcha - thanks!

Kim Adams said...

Nice presentation. Add thank you for using my video on the milking the vein.

Kim Adams
blogs.gangofpour.com

Jasonmolinari said...

thanks Kim. Please let me know if you'd like me to remove the video. I was unsure how to contact you.
Thanks for sharing the videos on Youtube.

Kim Adams said...

Jason, that's a typo in my note - it should read AND thank you, not add thank you. You may use whatever you need.

Cheers,
Kim

Jasonmolinari said...

Thanks Kim.

Jae Caza said...

I think it's an omen....I read this and then started the 11th chapter in Bill Buford's "Heat" and he talks about eating Culatello! Thank you for making the description visual for me.

Jae Caza

Libby said...

You did a great job putting this together with your own experience and video how-tos from others! I'm looking forward to hearing how it turns out later this year!

Ray Miltier said...

Great post! I always enjoy reading and learning. This is my next project! Keep them coming.

Jasonmolinari said...

thanks Ray. I might have to take a little break, my chamber is full!

Janis said...

jumping up and down and rubbing my hands together! I challenged myself to make this. What an amazing post. Thanks.

Jasonmolinari said...

Do it Janis! and report back!

drzachary said...

Jason, you are going to change the world. Thank you for doing this! :)

Jasonmolinari said...

Haha, i'm not sure about changing the world, just trying to spread the word:)

Scott_D said...

I was wondering about the MEK 4? Is that something you have to have? Could I do without until I can order some? Already have everything else.

I have a leg from my meat CSA. It's already tied up. Going to untie and inspect to see if I can do this with it.

Thanks for any info. You post is terrific.

jasonmolinari said...

Scott, i would say it's not critical, it just helps make sure a beneficial mold grows on the surface which helps slow drying and also protects it from "bad" molds.

You can also take a piece of casing that already has mold on it, and rub it on your new cased meat, and the mold should transfer.

Dive Xtras Inc. said...

Fantastic post, Thanks hugely. This week has been great for me, I found the Starchefs charcuterie series (which I think will solve a few of my Salami issues)http://www.starchefs.com/features/trends/art_and_economics_of_charcuterie/zach_allen/html/index.shtml
My new smoker arrived, and now this..
Just ordered a leg and 2 bladders, pick them up this afternoon.
Any tips on the bladders? Do they need any prep? I was going to wash them thoroughly and then salt them and place in the fridge until the curing was done.

Frank Roesch said...

It looks tremendous. Did you rinse off the cure before tying up and encasing? Is 21 days enough time to allow the salt and Cure #2 to penetrate all the way to the center of such a big chunk of meat? I'm quite sure that it will be a BIG success at your thanksgiving meal--probably so good noone will want to move on from the antipasto to the turkey.

Jasonmolinari said...

Thanks Frank. I think 3 weeks is enough time, yes, but i have no reason for that answer, other than experience with other pieces of meat.

Dive Xtras Inc. said...

Hi
Did you drain the brine as it cured in the bag?

Jasonmolinari said...

I didn't. Traditionally you would. But i like to make sure the salts stay close contact with the meat so i know how much salt and cure is added

Anonymous said...

just curious if you perforated the bladder as was done in the stitching video? I'm sure theirs is going in some already established environment with little chance of bad mold. Now if ur using an old sterilized fridge retrofitted to work as an aging chamber...is it neccessary to perforate or would that likely give way to bad mold contamination issues? BTW just ordered a leg from the butcher after reading this (haha) so your help on whether to perforate or not is much appreciated. Thanks -Andrew

Jasonmolinari said...

AndrewL yes, it's important to perforate to let the air pockets and excess water out.

Check out Scott @ Sausage Debauchery for an awesome salame pricker.

beppe saronni said...

Bravo sig. Molinari your blog and beautiful pictures have pushed me into curing some meat! I m using a inedible collegan casing for a bresola and lonzino should i soak the casing? Also for a 70mm salami would i stuff by hand or use a mechanical stuffer?

Jasonmolinari said...

Hey Beppe, yes, you need to soak the collagen casings before using them, and i would use a mechanical stuff for the salame.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jason,

I realise that this is totally off topic but im in desperate need of a 'Saucisson de Canard' dried duck sassauge recipe and i thought you might be able to help me? if not its all good.
ps. this blog rocks!
thanks as always, mart from South Africa

Jasonmolinari said...

Mart, i don't have one, but i would go with 70-80% duck meat, and 20-30% pork fat. salt same as other salami, and spices of your choice...

Anonymous said...

Jason, congratulations on the excellent step-by-step explanation of how to cure culatello! And you are right that, if it adheres to the DOP regulations, culatello di zibello can be very good. (Unfortunately, as you know, Italian culatello is not yet available in the U.S.). Whether it is King, or not, of course, well that's a matter of personal preference. I personally prefer Prosciutto di Parma with its five-pointed Ducal Crown but then again I am biased. Thanks again for your good explanation of Italian salume to your audience.

Sincerely,
Toni
Advisor, Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma

Jasonmolinari said...

Thanks Toni, of course the "king" is personal preference, but i think you might be a little biased :)
Maybe one day we'll be fortunate enough to have DOP culatello in the US.

vietfoodrecipes said...

Great demo! Too bad I can't try at home. Too big for a small family! Great job!

Jasonmolinari said...

thanks Vietfoodrecipes....Vietnamese food is my favorite Asian cuisine:)

Thais said...

Did you rinse off the curing mixture from the culatello after removing it from the plastic bag?

Thais said...

Sorry, One Last Thing

Everybody knows that Jamon Iberico is the king all of cured meats :)

Jasonmolinari said...

Thais, yes, i did. thanks for pointing that out, i'll add it to the instructions.

I do LOVE jamon iberico de pata negra

Anonymous said...

Hi Jason, sorry to bother you. I have taken the plunge, I am about to put 2 legs of pork into a friends wine barrel cellar. theyve been in salt for just over two weeks now. As this is a commercial wine farm i thought it might be a better idea to cover them in muslin as it might be slightly more asthetically pleasing to potential wine buyers (he, the wine maker thinks so). Would this be okay, i.e will muslin breathe enough? Or is it best to have them naked as is? I asked you a while back about duck salame's.. i'll have you know theyve been in my curing chamber for almost a week and they look like theyre going to be fantastic! thanks for your advice as usual!
regards,
Mart

Jasonmolinari said...

Mart, i think using muslin cloth/cheese cloth SHOULD be ok. It should be plenty breathable..but that's only my guess, no actual knowledge.

Anonymous said...

I have read that cured meats can penetrate corks. You might want to consider that as well when you hang them.

E. Nassar said...

Damn, that looks so good. I can hardly wait to see the end result and I am not even going to be tasting it. Bummer. :)

Jasonmolinari said...

thanks E.

Anonymous said...

Hello Jason,

Did you give any special attention to the bladder before stuffing the meat inside? For example, cure in salt or any special cleaning techniques.

thank you, rob

Jasonmolinari said...

No special care. Treated them like e ery other casing. Soaked and used

T- Glimmer said...

perfect,

I do not want to mess up a project like this. A year is a long time to wait.


rob

Jasonmolinari said...

I agree rob...sucks to have to wait a year to find out the outcome!

javierbr said...

Hey Jason, for the Culatello what was the device that the Italian guy was using when he was poking it like a million times? Do you even by chance know where we would be able to purchase one like that?

Jasonmolinari said...

Javier: it's a salame pricker, and Scott @ Sausagedebauchery (a friend) sells the exact one he uses. It's awesome.

Take a look here: http://www.sausagedebauchery.com/products/?category_keyword=Kitchen%20Gadgets/Tools

Michael said...

Why did u not use any red wine in your salting stage? I also was wondering why you didn't add some white wine to some linen and soak the culatello for 2 days to soften the bladder.

I do not ask from experience but from what I have been researching and am looking for your take on this.

Michael
vinci666@aol.com

Jasonmolinari said...

Michael, i should have washed the culatello in red wine during the salting stage. I forgot.

The softening of the bladder is done after the culatello is dried. IT's wrapped in a cloth soaked in wine to soften it so it can be peeled and then sliced.

steve said...

jason, a question I need help with; I just bought half a hog from a local farmer that has nice hogs and the processing plant called to tell me they cannot scald and leave the skin on the leg for prosciutto. Can I do ok without skin, or will I need to change to the culatello?

question 2 why is cure needed for culatello and not prosciutto?

I have a few days before the slaughter and pick up of the meat to figure this out. There isn't a licensed scalding processor anywhere near me who can scald an leave skin on. It's too late for me to back out of the deal. The rest of the hog will be fine w/o skin.

Jasonmolinari said...

Steve: i've never seen a prosciutto without skin. I guess you cold protect it with sheets of casings.
Cut casings open into sheets and apply them to the areas where the skin used to be before drying it.

Culatello is also traditionally made without cure. I use cure in all my products as a risk mitigation.

steve said...

jason
Thanks for the casing idea, I think that will temper the drying process as to not happen so quick the salt will not completely diffuse into the center of the ham. I did not find any info on the web of any skinless prosciutto, but I don't see any real difference in this and the goat prosciutto you have made. Or am I missing something.

Jasonmolinari said...

Steve, the main difference would be the size of the prosciutti. The goat one is quite small and probably would not run into case hardening issues that a pig leg might because of its thickness.

Anonymous said...

Hey Jason, your blog is amazing, thank you so much for sharing your charcuterie experiences. I had a question regarding the fermenting of the culatello. Why is this done? Is this to get the mold culture activated or for another reason? I've got a whole pig coming in january and am considering taking this on! Thanks for your help. Cheers, Collin

Allison said...

the fermentation is done on whole muscles to get the sprayed mold started and it helps the casing adhere to the muscle as well.

scott said...

Wow, Allison sure knows a lot about fermentation.........eerie

Tom said...

Jason, I just got a side of Mangalitsa and have been wondering what to do with the hindquarter given my level of inexperience. I think this is it. Great post.

Jez Poyser said...

hi,

Fascinating blog. We are budding practitioners of salumi and have done some pancetta, guanciale and prosciutto.
This looks awesome and may be the next project.

Just out of interest, how do you get the shots of the meat silhouetted against black? Is it done on photoshop?

Thanks,
Jez

Jasonmolinari said...

thanks Jez. For the pictures i hang the items in front of a black cardboard sheet, then in photoshop i adjsut contrast and exposure to darken it further.

Anonymous said...

Jason-

Did you rinse the cure off the culatello before you cased it? Also, is there any reason not to tie the culatello after it has done 21 days in the cure? My thinking is that untied more of the muscle will be exposed to and in contact with the cure as opposed to tying first.

Thanks,
Brian

Jasonmolinari said...

Yes, i gave it a quick rinse and dry before casing.

Not sure why it's tied before salting. MAybe it maintains the shape better than doing it after salting?

Anonymous said...

I just re-read the comments and see that I wasn't the first to ask about rinsing the cure... did I read right that you should/could have rinsed the culatello in red wine after the 21 days?

Also, would still be interested in your thoughts on tying the culatello after curing instead of before.

Thanks again.
-Brian

Anonymous said...

Thanks Jason.

Just got an 11 lb culatello from my butcher and some beef bladders from your guy Scott at Sausage Debauchery. 12 months of anticipation starting now.

Brian



Jasonmolinari said...

Brian, you could rinse with wine, yes. I don't see much of a point really.

Don't go by time alone. Mine was ready in about 8 months if i remember correctly.
Probably would have been too dry at 12.

Peter Varkala said...

Hey man, just stumbled on your blog and wanted to introduce myself before asking questions. My name is Pete and I finally bit the bullet and am in the process of purchasing a presumably high quality pig from small farm in VT. I have done a lot of research, and am generally set with a strong game plan. But I am still at an indecision crossroads regarding the hind leg. I am only taking half a pig, so I've only got one shot at the leg. My question for you is basically how your Culatello turned out? In your opinion were you able to approximate something on the same level as Culatello obviously given a different environment and parameters?
Your work is inspiring me to try it, but I'm still wondering if I'm better off trying a bone in cure like Prosciutto or Spanish Jamon. I appreciate any info or opinions you are willing to provide.

Jasonmolinari said...

Peter, the culatello turned out fantastic. See it here:
http://curedmeats.blogspot.com/2012/01/culatello-tasting-notes.html

My 2nd culatello, made from a Mangalitza leg, not only approximated what i've had in Italy, I feel it surpassed it by a long shot.

If i were you, i'd make a culatello. It's easier to handle, and takes less time. The downside is the cutting, tying and casing is more of a challenge.

Al Letizio, Jr. said...

Is the casing removed after the culatello is done?

Unknown said...

yes Al, the casing is removed before eating.

Anonymous said...

Can I come for Thanksgivng?! This is so amazing!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jason I have a question about the thick twine you used before curing, Did you cut that off before stuffing it into it's casing? Or is it tied inside and out?

Jasonmolinari said...

the thick twine stays on inside the casing.

Scott in Oregon said...

Thanks so much for your post, you inspired me. I just finished tying up my first red wattle culatello which I harvested from an entire hind leg using your instructions. Your instructions made it possible for me to try this, and I am really pleased with how it appears. We will see next year how it tastes...

Jasonmolinari said...

Sounds great Scott. I'm glad this helped.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jason,

Since the culatello is rolled did you put any of the cure on the insideand if not might I ask why? Also, what was the upside to a fermention for whole muscle? Also for the cure why .26% instead of .25%? Awesome vids and writing. thanks for posting and sharing.

Jasonmolinari said...

the culatello is not rolled. It's a whole muscle.
The fermentation step for whole muscles helps the casing adhere better.
0.26% because that's what the math came out ot be, and it wasn't worth removing cure #2 for 0.01% which is likely beyond the measurement and accuracy of the scale anyhow.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Jason,

From the pics I thought it was rolled. whoops.

When you said that was what the math came out to be. Would you mind explaining. I thought you just weighed the meat and multiplied by .25%? I have so much to learn and thanks to your blog and many other I am getting free lessons.

Jasonmolinari said...

Correct. weight of meat * 0.25%, but apparently i weighed out 11.3g instead of 11.1g, and i didn't bother removing the 0.2g of extra cure. No big deal.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much

Susana said...

In Spain we have the Serrano ham, its a delicius gourmet ham.
The story of Jamón Ibérico ham. The ancient oak pastures of Spain, the noble black Ibérico pig, the mountain air which caresses each ham as it magically is transformed into one of the world's most exquisite foods.
www.jamon.com/iberico.html
www.joselito.com/en‎
www.tienda.com/jamon/

vic taranta said...

A great job JASON and a lot better than the other sites. MY CONcern is the environment my culatello will be in during the curing process. While I'm sure it'll be ok during winter the basement room does warm up during the summer. I've made prosciutto with the bone in and moved it into the fridge once the weather got warm and it turned out ok but not great. In that room I did get some mold on the prosciutto but not sure if it'll happen with the culatello. I guess it's critical that the temperature be right as is the humidity. Anyway your instructions were very good and happy to know that your culatello turned out good. Vic

Elmar said...

Hi Jason,
thanks for sharing your way of making Culatello. Today my first one became ready to dry. The biggest problem was, that the bladder was not big enough. So my wife and me stitched together 3 beef bladders. What i wonder if i have a look to all the Culatello Videos on youtube is, how easily they put the Culatello into the bladder. I bought also salted ones, but none of them was suitable. What is the secret of these bladders??? Do you or anybody else have an idea how to cover it with one bladder???

Kind Regards from Munich, Germany
Elmar

Jasonmolinari said...

Elmar, the bladders have to be stretched out before using. I fill it with water and stretch the hell out of it.
I know some people use an air compressor to inflate it to expand it.

But either way, it sounds like you got it wrapped up. Creating a blanket with the bladders was a good solution.

Karen said...

Two questions for you. How did you decide how long to cure the culatello? I'm wondering, because directions from Ruhlman & Polcyn's Salumi suggest about a week curing time for culatello.

Second, is the fermentation step necessary? With no added cultures, I would be afraid that I would just be increasing bacteria count across the board?

Thanks for your post, your site is amazingly helpful!

Jasonmolinari said...

The fermentation step isn't strictly necessary. it helps the casing dry out and adhere to the meat.

Rodrigo Duarte said...

hi Jason i.m Passion about this kind of think i'm a butcher since i'm 10 years old back where i,m from(Portugal -Iberian peninsula )recently a took a dry cure meat master course in Spain for i depend two weeks there and i.m have being in the drying process for 25 years i'm so happy too see that person like you and me keep it a live .
i.m a local producer in Newark ,NJ in my owe butcher shop have like 1000 ham in curing process , black hoof , loins , cullatello's , salamis and old the kinds of dry aged products that a try too keep it like the away that butcher do it back on the day .
lets keep in touch
regards
Rodrigo Duarte