Growing up, my favorite cold cut in all the universe was called capicola. We bought it at Cavaretta’s deli in the ‘burbs of Los Angeles. Later, I moved to San Francisco and that same delectable meat was called Coppa. As it turns out, capicola is the term used in Umbria, where Coppa is Piemontese for this cut of meat that runs from the neck through the shoulder of a pig. Whatever you call it, I was determined to make my own.
I found a few recipes on the interweb, but was daunted by the prospect of hanging meat unattended in the basement for several weeks. What temperature? How long? Really? Can this possibly be safe? Thankfully Brian Polcyn and Michael Ruhlman came to my rescue by publishing the book Salumi: The Craft of Italian Dry Curing. This book details how to create whole muscle salume (coppa, prosciutto, pancetta among others) and also salami or various flavor combinations.
Ultimately, we’ll make them all. OK, well, most of them. I am not sure I am committed to hanging a pork leg for a year in order to get prosciutto, nor am I committed to consuming a whole prosciutto in the time it would be safe to eat, much as I love that creamy sweet meat.
But I digress. We’re talking about coppa. Capicola. Yum. Actually, no we’re not. We went to Prather Ranch to buy a pork shoulder as we knew (and the authors were adamant) that a high-quality base meat is essential in order to get a high-quality cured product. There’s no way some factory-farmed flavorless pork loin is ever going to cure into a rich creamy lonza. Our shoulder, which was boneless came from a Black pig that had fed on acorns and watermelon. Cue all the foodie hipster jokes all you want, but I am happy with our choice. But if you taste La Quercia prosciutto (or Jamon Iberico or a real Italian prosciutto) compared to supermarket prosciutto you’ll taste the difference that breed and feed make in the final product.
Unfortunately, our shoulder also came without the capicola cylindrical muscle. It was the other 2/3 of the shoulder, so we’re calling it Spalla instead. Spalla being the cured pork shoulder, even though ours is missing a bit. Hopefully that means that it’ll cure faster.
We cured the meat for 3 days in the refrigerator. The book recommends one day for every 2 pounds/1 kilogram and we started with just shy of 6 pounds. The cure included bay leaves, juniper berries, thyme, pepper, kosher salt (NOT iodized) and curing salt. We’re fortunate to have a wonderful local butcher, Guerra’s Meats, from which we bought curing salt and casings for our Andouille. We weighted the meat during this time to press water out of the flesh and help close up the seams created by boning the shoulder.
After the cold cure, we rinsed the meat, applied a new layer of herbs (the same juniper, thyme, etc. mix), tied it as tightly as possible and hung it to dry in our basement.
Ready to hang
According to the book, the ideal conditions for curing meat is a space that is between 55 and 65 degrees F and about 70% humidity and fresh circulating air. We’re not exactly sure what our humidity level is, but 70% seems about right. Being the dead of winter, the temperature has dipped a bit cooler than optimal and with rains, the humidity may be a touch higher on some days, though I think we’re in the ballpark.
If you look closely (click to enlarge) you’ll see that the meat is drier (though it is still soft to the touch) and that there are a few spots of mold growing. The white mold is apparently good and to be encouraged. In the crack there was a touch of furry mold so we swabbed it with vinegar. The meat has lost 100 g over the course of 8 days.
2 weeks in: we have a fine collection of molds! Some are the nice chalky white molds while others are of more uncertain provenance… We wanted to treat these with a healthy respect since some molds can be harmful: on the other hand, we read of traditional Italian salumi being covered in the allegedly not-so-good blue molds. The Monkey (wearing his scientist’s hat) found an interesting thread on egullet covering this topic, which includes reference to this paper. Basically they find a huge variety of microorganisms in both industrial and artisanal sausages from Northern Italy, however they only exist on the surface of the sausage and can be removed by simple washing. (There is, of course, also the potential for microbial contamination inside the rolled meat, but we took care of that with our curing salt…)
3 weeks later: We are almost ready to break in to our fine cured pig! Most of the mold at this stage is the chalky white kind. However, the weight was not quite there: we were losing about 100g per week, so figured that two more weeks were needed.
Finally, time for the grand carving! The first few slices were a bit fatty, but soon we were cutting beautifully marbled slices of tasty cured pork. Marvellous!
As well as eating plain unadorned slices, we made pasta carbonara (below) and are now trying to figure out how to use up the remaining 2 or so pounds. What a nice problem to have!