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 Italian Charcuterie and the dominant spice

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Maddmax1 Inserito il - 19 gen 2015 : 19:13:12
It may be hard to believe, but overall Italian mindset is still rooted in the Renaissance when Italy was divided into a plethora of City States, fiercely competing for power and riches through war, politics, art, science and of course … cuisine. In Italy this lead to what is known as “campanilismo’ which may be loosely translated into “affection to the city bell tower”, a peculiar attitude, which in its extremes becomes a syndrome making it problematic accepting new “foreign” practices or recipes, or even courting a gal the next village (kinda like “Louisiana woman Mississippi man” only the river may be 30 feet -10 meters- wide and the situation could get really nasty, really fast …).
This has ramifications in Italian charcuterie because everybody swears to the originality and uniqueness of their own recipes, marking anything else as spurious, apostatical or outright blaspheme. The truth of the matter is that each and every Italian recipe exists as a continuum like, for example, lasagna which are cooked in a myriad of variants with different beef/pork ratios, use of ham, different spices and different textures. At some point lasagna turn into cannelloni but the border between the two is blurred to say the least. Likewise, each Italian charcuterie product does exist in numerous variants, which leads to the concept of the DOMINANT SPICE. Almost any dry salami with fennel seeds can be called finocchiona (what in the rest of the world is known as “pepperoni” or “Italian”). As you travel south, the finocchiona gathers progressively sweet peppers, oregano and more hot chiles and it becomes salsiccia calabrese.
By the same talking, prosciutto crudo switches from sweet to salty while moving across the Appennini mountains between Emilia-Romagna and Toscana. You move north into the Alps and the same prosciutto crudo becomes more austere acquiring the taste of the mountain herbs. There is no question that there is a huge difference between a prosciutto bought in Firenze and one bought in Modena but they are all prosciutti and they all are original, only different. Incidentally, 10-20 years ago if one had told to any Italian that the Spaniards were making prosciutto crudo (a hell of a prosciutto, may I add!) nobody would have ever believed it.
The same is true for the pork/salt/pepper salami which tends to be creamy and smeared in the North while being more firm in central regions but then, again, the difference between salame Genova, cacciatorini (widespread all over Italy) and coglioni di mulo (mule’s balls, typical of Umbria) is metaphysical in nature: ask ten “experts” to taste them in blind and I bet my butt that they’ll fail.
The same holds true for non-Italian sausages: if the dominant spice is coriander, you’ll get biltong. It may not be the exact biltong that grampa Otto made out of wilderbeast, or the biltong that auntie Ulrike made with warthog, but it’s biltong nonetheless.
Why am I saying all this one may ask. The reason is that I believe that the attitude “My recipe is the only and true whereas the others are crappy imitations” is detrimental to the transmission and spread of the art and it discourages beginners who are put down but the daunting task to find “the” recipe, while there is not such a thing as “the” recipe. Or at least this is my opinion. Let us salami on! Because we’ll keep this art more alive and well by making 1 salame than by talking about making 100.
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wolftrap Inserito il - 02 ago 2015 : 13:20:44
Well yes, I do . I do not use a dehydrator as we have a very dry weather in winter. I just put it in my 'trusted' biltong-maker (it's basically a plastic box with a small fan at the top and the possibility to add a lamp in order to reduce humidity quickly - I think the option of the lamp is more for the coast users)and use plastic hooks in the 'leaves' to dry them. I think it will work as well for the jerky. After finishing my bresaola I will give it try.

Just to return to your original post. Also on biltong you have the two different approaches:
a.) either very dry (and then you will not even need a fridge to store it, but you will need a special biltong cutter to get your meat-chips or
b.) the more wet approach where it has the more gummi-like consistency (soft in the middle) and it is cut in fairly thin slices.

Up to now I also have used the freezer approach, but ... I am using a secondary fridge to age my cheeses (at about 8 C). I think that if the biltong/jerky were to be vacuum packed, they could be kept there for +/- 2 to 4 weeks without spoiling (that's the normal shelf life of a kg before I have to make the next batch). I will try this with the next batch.
Maddmax1 Inserito il - 01 ago 2015 : 15:58:54
You like to spoil yourself, I see ... I, too, like my jerky without any fat whatsoever (like my bresaola).
You can do either way. I personally prefer to have my jerky "leaves" as opposed to have "fingers". Just have in mind that jerky is quite chewy so you'll definitely need to make the first cut across the grain. Also, in my experience coriander fragrance doesn't keep well and it turns stale rather quick. I recommend that you VacPack and freeze the surplus (it will keep for years -and I mean YEARS-). One last suggestion: if you use a food dehydrator your meat will stick to the support so, either flip it over a few times at the beginning, or use one of those chemicals ...
wolftrap Inserito il - 01 ago 2015 : 13:37:10
Thanks Maddmax,
I will try your recipe when I make biltong the next time (perhaps on 1/2 the amount).
Just to clear any misunderstanding, I normally use for the biltong a piece of topside or silverside (which is normally used for stewing and has no or little fat). When I prepare the biltong I cut slabs (like steaks) with a thickness of about 3 cm.
Do you suggest the same procedure or is the jerky more like strips of meat with the same thickness?
Maddmax1 Inserito il - 31 lug 2015 : 22:53:43
Hi Wolftrap,
yeah, that's exactly what it is. Any jerky heavily spiced with coriander will be tasting like biltong.
If you chose dry curing (which I think is safer)
1) cut the meat in stripes 2-3cm (1 inch) thick
2) cure the meat with a mix of sugar, pepper, salt and coriander (nitrite/nitrate cure optional).
3) Let it sit in the fridge for a couple of days then dry with your method of choice.
You can dry it by a fireplace or in a food de-hydrator, in an open oven or in the hot shade ... wherever. Dry the meat until gummy but not hard.
wolftrap Inserito il - 31 lug 2015 : 09:48:44
Hi Maddmax. I fully agree with your arguments and fully agree with your concepts for a globalisation of this hobby!

I found this article by chance as I was looking for biltong. I have read somewhere that biltong is the South African version of jerky beef. Can you confirm it? If yes have you ever done it? And if again yes, can you give me a procedure?

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