We first met chef Jeffrey DeAlejandro ( olibeaoldcity.com) at a class he hosted on whole hog butchering back in 2014. Since then, we’ve followed and admired everything he has been doing. From rigorously sourcing from local and regional farmers to his work in the community. When we heard he was opening a butcher shop, Henhocbutcher.com, we were so excited. And with the news that chef Jon Newman would be part of the project, it became even more exciting.
Chefs DeAlejandro and Newman recently hosted a Country Ham Curing class at Lick Skillet Farm ( https://lickskillet.farm ). Each attendee learned to cure their own ham which will be aged at Lick Skillet for about 12 months before they will bring it home to serve to friends and family. Lick Skillet is part of the national Meat Collective organization and maintains the Appalachian Meat Collective (https://www.facebook.com/AppalachianMeatCollective/ ). The program is designed to highlight farms, like Lick Skillet, that ethically raise and care for their animals. “Eat better meat. Eat less meat,” said Alex Miller, owner of Lick Skillet and University of Tennessee non-profit business professor. Through open pasturing and carefully selecting the food that their livestock eat, the farm raises happy, healthy animals that are more like pets than livestock. Their upcoming classes include a weekend intensive charcuterie class THIS WEEKEND and a whole muscle curing class in February.
We toured the farm to see their operation prior to the beginning of the class. The tame, friendly yearling pigs were eager to be petted and take our food offerings of fall pumpkins. The breeding stock are housed separately in a comfortable field and barn where they happily eat and play. The yearlings are free to roam the fields as they would naturally and are kept contained by one or two small wires. Next up for the Lick Skillet Farm is raising chickens who will live together with the hogs happily munching on bugs and seeds on the farm.
We started our class learning about the different butchery techniques. The USDA has theirs, but it seems there’s a more interesting way to break down an animal and it focuses on increasing the usable parts. The latter is what we discussed. After all, aren’t we trying to produce less waste?
Jon Newman then showed us how to properly prepare a prosciutto ham for curing. It was now time for us to do it fo ourselves. Mrs. KnoxFoodie is a physician assistant who does hip surgery so this was right in her wheelhouse. We located the aitch bone, or part of pelvis, cut around it making smooth cuts. Pulling traction we located the femoral head and gently cut around it until it separated from the atich bone. This step was important because puncturing the bone can lead to rot when curing.
Cutting the rest of the aitch bone away and trimming the surface of the ham smooth we were ready for curing. The boys at Hen+Hoc taught us that nitrates are essential to long term curing of meats. These salts act as time release preservatives chemically breaking down into nitrites over time. There are alternatives like celery juice but they also convert to nitrites over time.
We got our mixture of salt, sugar and curing salts and set of to cover our hams. Covering every area, rubbing into the skin, fleshy parts and especially around the femoral head. Once completed they were wrapped up in plastic and set one on top of the other in a cooler to cure.
These will cure for about a month, or one day for each pound of weight Jon Newman explained. They will then be rinsed and washed with white wine and hung in the smokehouse where they will age for an entire year. Yes, a WHOLE year!
While we were finishing up, the Millers served up some of their first ham, biscuits and beer.
This class was both informational and fun. We had seen butchering before but were glad to get in and do it ourselves. The Appalachian Meat Collective has a 2 day intensive charcuterie class coming up that we will also be attending. Do you think we’re addicted? Probably.