My regular readers know that I have been known to do a little sewing from time to time, and my current sewing student knows I know how to do a few stitches by hand. This morning, I got out two of my new needles.
As you can see, trussing needles are just a little bit larger than your average sharps or betweens, which are often used for hand quilting. Yes, these two larger needles come from Allied Kenco, and are used in the kitchen or butcher shop. Today’s exercise was not in quilting or hemming, but of sewing ham into casings, and prepping them to hang for several to many months in the curing chamber.
I soaked the laminated casings (I got them from Butcher & Packer), which are large and bulbous in shape, in warm water for about 30 minutes while I rinsed and dried the hams, after taking them out of their plastic bags, removing the salt and the accumulated liquid that has come out of the meat.
The first step was to cut the casing open on one side, almost to the bottom of the bulbous end, and then put the ham into it. Then, with my trusty new needle and butchers twine (I wonder if Aurifil would make this size…. 00?), I sewed the ham into the casing, doing my best to get all the air pockets out.
(I apologize for the bad lighting in the pictures… sun streaming into the kitchen is a lovely thing, though not necessarily convenient in process photos.) This was my first try, with one of the two hams. This sewing process is not as easy as you might think, given that the thing is a bit slippery, and the large needle doesn’t always allow for the most nimble maneuvers.
With that done, the next step was to tie some loops of twine around the ham, so that I could make a net-like structure around the casing, to evenly distribute the weight for when the ham is hanging.
With this done, the next step was to make the “net”, with another large piece of twine, looping around the supports, working from bottom to top. This takes more string than you think, and a fair bit of time. I put some Italian pop songs on the iPod while I was working at this. While your choice of tunes may vary, I enjoy singing along in Italian while I do this. (Will this make the culatello more authentic? Doubtful, but I’m hoping the spirit is in the right place.) Once again, practice makes better- I did a much better job on the second one that I did.
Again, keeping the twine taut, more air gets forced out through the top of the casing, allowing me to tighten it.
The final step was to make a hanging loop, record the weight, and put them into the curing chamber. I’m pleased with the results at this point. The sewing and tying is a pretty satisfying process. But you knew I like sewing.
To get the humidity up, I have two bread pans with a salt and water slurry in them. I expect I’ll be checking the humidity a lot for the next couple days, to see how it goes. Now for the curing magic. I am expecting these to lose about 30% of their weight before they’re ready. If I can keep the conditions right, these beauties may be ready in anywhere from 4 to 36 months. So, back to being patient. I’ll get on that right away.