After months of planning, we were finally ready to make our bresaola. There are 4 different stages to curing whole muscle meats like bresaola; curing, fermentation, drying, and of course, tasting. We created a basic timeline for our meat to insure that we would be ready and available to do all the necessary steps at the proper time. So much about curing meat is experience and feel, so as beginners, we did our best to prepare as thoroughly as possible and read up on the process from people who had already done it and chronicled their process.
Time: 5 weeks total (approximately)
2 weeks: Curing
48 hours: Fermentation
3 weeks: Drying
We stared the curing process on a Friday, so that in two weeks, when we started the fermentation process, we could watch over the conditions to make sure the temperature and humidity stayed constant. We let the fermentation process run its course over the weekend, and then began the drying process the following Monday and let the meat dry for 3 weeks (until it lost about 30-40% of its weight).
We collected all the materials we needed for the cure and based on a combination of ratios we found (see sources), and we created a spreadsheet letting us know how much of each ingredient to add (based off the mass of the meat itself).
On the day we started curing the meat, we left our scale behind, so we only were able to do a rough approximation of the spice cure. In the future, we plan on experimenting with other ingredients and based on the results, changing our initial ratios. Some of the ingredients we plan on adding include cinnamon, bay leaves, coffee and white wine.
In order to make the spice cure, we ground the spices that we didn’t buy pre-ground, and added them all together. We gently rubbed the spices into the meat, and then vacuumed sealed it shut.
We allowed the curing process to go on for about two weeks, leaving the meat in the refrigerator, occasionally flipping it over and gently rubbing the spices in.
Humidity: 80-90% RH
After two weeks, the meat was ready for the fermentation process. The fermentation process is useful to induce the growth of beneficial bacteria and molds. The ideal temperature varies based on the culture that is used. While historically, the caves or rooms that were used to cure meat would already be flush with beneficial molds which would then “jump” onto the sausages and hanging meats, today, the individual with a personal curing chamber has to rely on more direct measures. We ordered a single strain culture of Penicillium nalgiovense, commercially referred to as Bactoferm M-EK-4. We created a 0.5% solution of the fungus, adding 2.0 g of the M-EK-4 to 400g of water. The ideal temperature for this strain is around 69F/20C, so we set the temperature controller in the curing chamber turned fermentation chamber to around 69F/20C. Luckily enough, this was around room temperature anyway, so basically the fridge was off for the entire fermentation stage. On the other hand, high humidity is a necessary in order to have mold growth, as well as to keep the meat from drying out during this process. We aimed for 80-90% RH for this process, and kept an eye on humidity over the weekend.
We removed the meat from the vacuumed sealed bag with the spice cure, and rinsed it in cold water while wiping off what remained of the spice cure.
We bought 100 mm collagen casings to stuff the meat into when we hung it, which we soaked in cold water for a few minutes before we attempted stuffing the meat into it. This was a little tight, which was good, but made it moderately difficult to do.
After we stuffed the meat into the collagen casing, we used butcher knots to string up the meat in the casing, and then used a toothpick to poke any air holes and squeeze out any air that remained in the casing.
We then sprayed the meat with the M-EK-4 solution until it was heavily dripping with the mold solution.
We hung the meat that had been inoculated with the “good mold” Penicillium nalgiovense in the “fermentation chamber” (i.e. the curing chamber at higher temperature and higher humidity). We hung the meat on S hooks, using the string that we tied the meat up with, and let it stay in the chamber for about 48 hours.
After 48 hours we attempted to check the pH (since it should have been lowered to below 5.1), but since we didn’t have a pH meter and had to rely on pH strips all we knew was that it did indeed become more acidic than a pH of 5, so we moved ahead to the next step, drying.
We didn’t see much mold growth at first, so we were concerned that it wouldn’t grow, but we decided to spray it again and move on with the drying stage, since beneficial mold growth is not a requirement for the bresaola to achieve the required end product.
After the fermentation process was complete, we moved on to the drying process. We changed the refrigerator set point to 54F/12C and the humidity set point to 70% RH. We let the meat hang for about 3 weeks, keeping an eye on the temperature and humidity and watching for mold growth.
Over time, we ended up having a decent mold bloom, of mostly white smooth mold with some green mold spots. Because we were uncertain of what the green mold was, we used white vinegar to clean off the mold bloom.
After 3 weeks, we measured the weight of the meat in order to see if it had lost 30-40% of its weight. It weighed in at 1016g, down from 1551g, or about 35% of its weight. It felt hard to the touch, like any store bought bresaola, so we took a leap of faith and went ahead with the tasting.
We cleaned the outside of the bresaola with white vinegar and water, and removed the butcher string and the collagen casing. Using a commercial deli slicer, we were able to slice the bresaola as finely as it deserved. After checking for any signs that something went amiss, such as case hardening, or a rancid soft inside with a bad smell, and finding none, we went ahead.
Wow. I had never tasted such a succulent piece of cured meat. This solidified in my mind that curing your own meat is the way to go. We prepared it as simply as possible, tasting it directly off the slicer at first, and later with some olive oil, pepper, and lemon juice.
In the days following, we couldn’t get enough of the delicious bresaola that we had created, and ate it any way possible. From sandwiches to cheese plates, a little bresaola never goes amiss. One of my favorite ways to enjoy the bresaola is in a cheese and meat plate with taleggio, an earthy Italian cheese that best pairs with bresaola.
Our experiment was a success! And with the bresaola finished, we are currently looking forward to our next batch of cured meats.
Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing (November 2005) by Michael Ruhlman, Brian Polcyn