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!