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October 27, 2008

Air-Dried Ham - Making Proscuitto Crudo

If you've raised a pig this summer or bought a half or whole one from a farmer, you might be wondering how you will use all that pork in one year. Or, you might be wondering how you will keep your food from spoiling if the power goes out for an extended period of time, assuming it's all frozen. An easy and alternative way to use and preserve a ham is to cure it in salt and air-dry it. This is called proscuitto crudo ("raw ham") in Italy and it would make a fantastic gift for that special "foodie" in your life. Here's how to do it:

Assemble your ingredients and tools:

1 ham, 10-20 lbs boned or with bone still in
1 plastic or wooden container
50 lbs of coarsely grained sea salt (your local health food store can order it for you)
plastic or wooden board that fits just inside the container
2 bricks or other heavy item weighing approx 15-20 lbs
1-2 yards of cheese cloth
at least 9 months worth of patience and self-restraint

Rinse the fresh ham well with water and towel dry. Setting the ham on a clean counter surface, hand rub salt into all the nooks and crannies and crevaces of the ham.fresh_ham.jpg

Fill the container with 1"-1 1/2" of salt and put the ham into the container.ham_in_salt1.jpg

Fill the container with the rest of the salt making sure there is at least 1/2" of salt between the ham and the sides of the container.ham_in_salt2.jpg

Put the plastic cover or wooden board on top of the salt and put the bricks or rock on the board.salting_ham.jpg

The salt will work its way through the entire ham, flavoring and preserving it. The length of time the ham is left in the salt determines how salty it will be at the end. You want to leave it in long enough to be completely preserved, but not so long that it becomes excessively salty. The typically ratio is 3 days for every kilo or 1 day for every 2.2 lbs of ham and then take off a day or two. Our ham this year is on the small size (14.5 lbs) so we will leave it in the salt for 18 or 19 days.

After the ham has been salting for the determined number of days, take it out and rinse it thoroughly under running water. Then pour a wash of vinegar over it and towel dry it. Take a handful of salt and rub it into the cut side of the ham, especially around the ends of the bone. This is where disaster will strike if it's going to. The bone area is more prone to harmful organisms entering and ruining your ham. Occasionally, this will happen despite the most scrupulous handling and attention to details. You'll know because the affected area will be black and smell bad. As heartbreaking as it is, just throw it away (yes, the whole ham - don't take any chances) and try again. There's no use in crying over rotted ham.

After the vinegar wash and extra spot salting, wrap the ham in cheese cloth and hang in a well-ventilated place to dry for at least 9 months. Ours is hanging in the kitchen. hanging_ham.jpg

If this is not possible or permitted (the comfort of your ham should be of the utmost importance and should take precedence over any decorating schemes), try the basement or back porch. You'll have to bring it in for the winter so it doesn't freeze. If you live in a mild climate, hang it outside but protected from the rain. You must construct some kind of wire (hardware cloth) box around it, though, because animals will surely devour it otherwise.

While drying, the ham will develop thin layers of mold which are harmless. You might want to unwrap and check on it every few months. At this time, gently brush off excess mold with an old toothbrush and then wrap it back up and hang it. Try to wait as long as possible before trying your ham but at least hold out til the 9 month mark. Some people wait as long as 18 months before they start eating their air-dried ham. Our dried ham from last year has been drying for 12 months and weighs 12.5 lbs (down from 21 lbs fresh). It is ready to eat!dried_ham.jpg

Curing and drying your own ham is quite an unusual thing to do nowadays. It is also a practical and sensible way for the homesteader/do-it-yourselfer to preserve a large portion of food without using fossil fuels.

A note on cheese cloth: Some fabric stores sell "cheese cloth" which is really more like a gauze. The holes are too big and the cloth is not sturdy enough for your ham. Real cheese cloth is a light weight, tightly woven (high thread count) cotton. The easiest place to get it is from Ricki The Cheese Queen's online store, www.cheesemaking.com.

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Posted by Mary Ellen at October 27, 2008 10:07 AM
Recent Comments

Hi there, I really enjoyed your article about Proscuitto Crudo. I don't want to sound dumb or ignorant but I have a question about the weight of the ham and the amount of time (#of days) it should remain in the sea salt.

In your article you mention that the salt time should be "3 days for every kilogram, and 1 day for every 2.2 pounds." 1 kg is 2.2 pounds. Do I use 3 days per kilogram/2.2 lbs or 1 day per kg/lb? For example, a 15 pound ham is 6.8 kg, that would be 19-20 days in salt. Where does the 1 day for every 2.2 pounds figure in?

I want to really do this, so if you could help me, I would really appreciate it. This is probably my own oversight, I appreciate your patience with me. Thanks and I hope to hear from you.

Frank Suber

Posted by: Frank Suber at March 15, 2009 12:41 AM

This is amazing!

Posted by: Beth at February 22, 2009 8:54 PM
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