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Mar 8, 2013 05:49 AM

Charcuterie Questions: Guanciale & Ham


I've recently purchased a pig and I'm starting to learn the basics of curing. My first stab at it is making guanciale from a jowl. Ruhlman's book instructs me to hang it in a "cool dry place." For those of you with more experience in such things, are we talking about hanging it from the ceiling of my 60-62 degree basement/storage unit or from a rack in the fridge in the 30's? I'm guessing that the ideal is somewhere in between, but is 60 degrees too warm? if so, should I use the fridge and let it hang longer? (It's been four days in the cure in the fridge, so I'm probably 2-4 days from hanging it.)

Regarding curing ham. I wasn't thinking too much about curing the ham when I had the pig processed, so I had the fresh hams cut up and packaged in 5 lb roasts, but most curing recipes call for the whole ham. Can I still cure a ham that has been processed like this. If so, it would be great in that I could try several styles of ham and different curing techniques and not worry about losing a whole ham if it doesn't work!

On a final note, bacon, salt pork, lardo, and maybe pancetta are on the menu for the near future, so if you have advice on any of those, I'd sure appreciate it!

Thanks so much--I appreciate any help!


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  1. Bump, anyone? (I hope it's ok to do that!)

    1. Since we live in the South and don't have a basement, I've always hung hams and such to cure in our fridge in the garage. I wrapped the ham and used cotton cord to hang it from the topmost shelf with a pan under it to catch the drips. I took out all the other shelves.

      When I made guanciale, i smoked the jowls after curing and then froze them in small pieces.

      I don't see why you couldn't make small hams. I would think the cure would penetrate faster and more strongly on the small ham pieces. Hams are also great smoked.

      If you decide to go the smoking route, I can post a pic of the smoker we built at a lot less cost than buying one.

      For bacon it's another cure and smoke it route here. So far the cures that involve sugar and apple juice have been our favorites. I've found that kitty litter pans are the perfect size and depth for bacon. The people at the Dollar Store gave me some funny looks when I bought 5 litter pans. They were great for holding the meat while rubbing in the cure - worked well for the hams too. The bacon was in food grade plastic bags during the curing process. There are lots of places to look on the internet for recipes and advice. Pancettta was also incredibly easy to make too.

      1. 60 degrees and 60% humidity is a good target. Also if you need in depth help check out "the salt cured pig" on facebook. They have tons of Charcuterie experts...

        1. 45 - 60 degrees, 50 - 60% humidity. Important to have a modest degree of air circulation.

          1. Really, a ham, a real ham, is not a great project for home. Chances of rot or other problems is really high without perfect conditions. Even if you have the whole leg and perfect conditions. We have a good friend who is a chef and his projects have spoiled many times at home. And no, it is not something to try with a defrosted cut of meat that is cut up. You loose the integrity of the meat, muscle structure, and have introduced bacteria at many levels.

            There is a reason that killing and prepping a pig "takes a village." It isn't a project for one person, over time.

            1 Reply
            1. re: JudiAU


              Thanks for your perspective on this. Let me ask you specifically: Assuming I've purchased a pig that was slaughtered, butchered, wrapped, and frozen for me, which I then went and picked up in a bunch of coolers and transported to my freezer. What cuts would you think are appropriate for home-curing? Belly? Jowl? Back fat? Anything else? And what would you think I shouldn't try in addition to the ham?