Out of the Salt Pan, into the Smoker
The great and frightful day came this last week. After three weeks of curing in salt, the prosciutto and molasses ham were ready to move from my home fridge (that’s the great part) and into the next steps of the process (frightening).
After rinsing the salt from the prosciutto, it was coated with a layer of lard and cracked peppercorns – then wrapped in cheese cloth and hung to dry in a temperature and humidity controlled refrigerator. The book claims the peppercorns will keep the bugs away. I doubt we’ll have any trouble with bugs in our adapted fridge, but maybe the pepper will add some flavor complexity to the hams exterior.
The prosciutto’s weight dropped about two and a half pounds during the salt cure process, from about 19 to 16 or 16.5 lbs. Above you can almost see that the scale reads nearly 17 lbs with the lard, peppercorns, and cheesecloth added to the ham.
The next step for the molasses ham was a little more fun. As seen below, the ham was rinsed of the molasses-salt mixture and cold smoked for 18 hours at 60 degrees.
There’s a dark caramel colored stain around the fatty areas of the ham while the meaty parts are a deep mahogany. Most of the stain comes from the molasses and not the smoke, but the scent of the smoked molasses is indeed enticing.
The molasses ham has been tied with string (no lard or cheese cloth required) and hung in the fridge along side the prosciutto.
It will stay in 60 degree and 70% (+/-) humidity conditions for about 2 months before it’s ready to eat. The prosciutto, however, will need to stay in these conditions for 5 months to a year.
So here’s the scary part. After curing in salt, the outer edges of the hams are in a water activity range that should keep most harmful bacteria from growing. The centers of the hams, however, are still pretty high in water activity at 0.96 and 0.97aw. So, as long as microbials haven’t been introduced inside the ham, the hams should dry safely over time. But, as I take water activity readings, I insert a tool into the center of the hams to extract a biopsy. In doing this, even though I’m sterilizing the biopsy needle, will I create a hole that allows bacteria into the moist flesh? If so, will the ham spoil? We’ll just have to wait and see, but in the meantime I’ll try to think of some protective measures.