Thursday, November 11, 2010

Ham Anatomy, Culatello Fabrication and Manufacture

Our hams (and paletas) get turned into cured hams by Johnston County Hams (order them here).

I've had some people who've bought pigs from me ask how to make culatelli (plural of culatello). Culatello is a cured product made from the "haunch" of a pig. It is a famous product, primarily associated with Italy.

You hear foodies talk about it, but you don't normally get the details.

I try to make this blog as informative as possible, so I've gathered here a lot of info about culatello. If you find this information helpful, please let me know.

The culatello picture, up top, is from this website. You can read about the product there.

It starts with anatomy. Click here for the best document I've found on ham anatomy. Download and look at it - it shows you the muscles in the leg.

The "top round" (aka "Frikandeau) is the biceps femoris (bf).
The "bottom round" (aka "Schale) is made up of the Semimembranosus (SM), Adductor (A) and Pectineus (P).
The "eye of round" is the Semitendinosus (ST)

The culatello is made from a 3-muscle ham, made up of the top round, eye of round and bottom round.

You can see the "top round" at the top, the eye of round on the left and the bottom round beneath it. How do you know which is the "top round"? One clue is the fat attached to it. The "bottom round" doesn't have as much fat, because it is on the inside of the leg.

To fabricate a culatello, you bone out the ham (cutting through a bit of the Sartorius), and keep the top round, eye of round and bottom round as a big piece. To make a finished culatello from that raw meat, you do something like this (rub it with cure, put it in a bladder, tie it up and dry it out).

In this video, a guy shows how to tie it up:

It looks like quite a chore.

A by-product of culatello manufacture is the creation of the knuckle (aka "Nuss") aka "Fiochetto".

In Italy, they make another product from it, a fiochetto.

One neat thing I found, in the course of doing this research, is how to debone a whole prosciutto (the whole leg) into the fiochetto/Nuss/knuckle and culatello/3-muscle-ham.

That's pretty neat! I'm willing to bet that very few people do that on a regular basis.

I remember reading about culatello years ago. None of it made much sense to me - what part of the pig it was, the chemistry involved in curing it, why it was aged, why it was safe to eat raw, etc.

Just a few years later, if my customers ask me for info, I feel I've got to get it to them - that's my new job.

The more I learn about this stuff, the more I learn how many details there are to get right. E.g. in order to make a great culatello, you need:

the right genetics
good husbandry (Mangalitsa reproduction is difficult at best)
the right feed
the right age at slaughter
killing in such a way that there's no blood in the ham and the same pH in each ham.
proper cutting of the culatello
correct curing & aging

and probably yet more factors that I'm not aware of.

It is hard to get all that right. It is amazing that some people decide to specialize in products like culatello, despite that fact that it is a difficult business, with lots of competition.

Thinking about factors that impact taste reminds me of factors that some people talk a lot about, that don't impact taste much. For example:

1) organic raw material

2) how close the culatello is produced to the pigs that provide the hams or the humans that eat the finished product.

3) sustainability issues. E.g. the best stuff tastes the best, regardless of its carbon footprint.

3) how modern the pig farm is

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