When we returned from our Tuscan vacation back in October I was extra-inspired to try curing new things like salumi and hams. Eating prosciutto all week will do that to you. Inspired, yes, but not quite ready to go whole hog (ha ha ha) and hang an entire leg in my basement. Instead, I opted to cut a ham into two smaller, boneless hams, which would be ready to eat much quicker: the culatello and fiocco. Fiocco being the smaller of the two it came out of the curing fridge this week.
Everyone has heard of prosciutto, but I’ll wager not many outside of Italy have heard of culatello or fiocco. It’s one of the best meat secrets the Italians have kept to themselves. Like prosciutto, culatello (loosely ‘little ass’) and fiocco are cured and dried ham, but are boneless. On a ham there is a big piece on one side of the femur (the culatello) and small one on the other side (the fiocco). It is highly prized, especially around Parma, and it is quite common for people to order these hams and wait 2-3 years for them to age (an Italian friend in my soccer club is from Parma and he gets very excited about culatello). Some call it the King of Salumi, better than prosciutto. And I get why.
For something which tastes so good, I continue to be amazed at how ridiculously simple the process really is. Pretty much cure with salt and then dry for a long time. For my first attempt I picked up a rather small ham, one which yielded a 2 pound fiocco and 6 pound culatello. Trust me, those are not big at all. But a good starting point and one which would give me testable results fairly quickly. The only special item needed was a bladder to stuff the ham into to protect it during the aging process and it was pretty easy to find one.
When I purchased the meat cultures from Butcher and Packer for my nduja I checked to see if they had any hog bladders. They didn’t (Craft Butcher Pantry does as I found out afterwards) but they did have a laminated one which is basically made up of fused parts. Think particle board. It is not pliable at all and came dried out. Didn’t take much soaking to get it into a casing-like state but again, no elasticity. It retains the shape it comes in. I purchased two not knowing their size, which is pretty big. I could have easily put larger hams than I had into these bladders.
Since the laminated bladders do not stretch I just cut them down to more manageable size and then after making a tight wrap around the ham, sewed up the seam. The final step was the special trussing in order to make the rounded shape. The fiocco was pretty quick to tie up, much smaller. The culatello took a little longer but once I got going it wasn’t too bad.
Looking back, for really small hams like these you can probably get away with using hog or beef middles in the place of larger bladders. I think they’d work fine, especially for a fiocco.
After a couple of months, the fiocco was ready. It was very exciting peeling back the bladder. I had no idea what was going on inside the past couple of months or how the fiocco would turn out. It was the first time curing a whole muscle inside a casing so there was some worry I didn’t do it correctly. I shouldn’t have worried though. As I cut and peeled away, the bladder revealed a teardrop shaped piece of pork with glistening fat giving off a wonderfully funky aroma. It looked great! And the taste?
How do you think it tastes? Awesome! I was hoping this fiocco would be ready for Christmas, now I’m afraid it won’t even make it to Christmas! I mean, my coppa and bresaola are pretty damn good, but this…oh man…this is a HAM. It is so good. Smoother, more velvety and softer than coppa. Ham. But really frickin good ham. I can see how aging these packages of salted pork for a long time intensifies things. And I didn’t even use any special heirloom breed of pig, just one from the meat packer! When I make it again (and I will make these again) I will definitely try to source a good piece of pork. It deserves to be.
My culatello from this curing session is still hanging and has a way to go yet but don’t worry, you’ll know when it’s ready!
Culatello and Fiocco (from Ruhlman’s Salumi)
- 1 fresh ham
- White wine
- 1 (2 if doing both and why wouldn’t you?) laminated hog’s bladder (soaked overnight in water)
- Trussing needle
- Butcher’s/kitchen twine
Remove the skin from the ham (or buy a skinless one). If you have a full leg, score around the end of the shank with a sharp knife.
Slice the back part of the leg off of the bone. This is the culatello. Do the same for the smaller front part. This is the fiocco. Trim and clean up any rough edges.
Tie each piece as you would a roast but not in a continuous tie. Make separate loops, 4-5 loops, tie tightly.
Pour enough salt on a sheet pan and dredge and roll the tied pieces through the salt completely covering them (salt-box method).
Place in plastic bags, squeeze out the air, and zip shut. Weight the meat.
Cure in refrigerator 1 day for every 2 pounds/1000gr of meat.
When the time is up, remove meat from bags, brush off any salt then rinse the rest off with the wine.
Make a cut in the bladder and insert the boneless ham piece in.
Make sure the bladder is tight against the ham and squeeze out any air pockets.
With your trussing needle sew up the seam, enclosing the ham inside the bladder making sure to keep it tightly wrapped.
When you have finished sewing up the seam proceed to tying the ham for hanging. This will give it the rounded teardrop shape. It looks intricate but it’s pretty easy. Starting at the top, make at least 3 double loops from top to bottom and around, interspersed equally around the encased ham. Should look like you have 6 sections of an apple put together.
Next from the top part begin creating the ‘netting’ by tying one end then going to one strand, wrap around the strand then move to the next one. Repeat on the entire ham working your way down to the bottom in a spiral.
Using a sausage pricker or sterile needle poke the casing all over in order to let air escape as the casing dries and shrinks.
Repeat with the fiocco.
Weigh and record the amount.
Hang in your curing fridge for the requisite amount of time, which is when it has lost at least 30% of the recorded weight. I let mine hang until lost about 40%.
When ready, soak a towel in some wine and wrap around the culatello/fiocco and let it sit to soften the dried bladder. Nothing wrong with soaking it overnight but use your judgement. For this itty bitty one the bladder was pliable enough after 3-4 hours.
With a sharp knife, carefully make an incision by where you sewed the bladder together and peel away revealing your culatello/fiocco.
Slice and enjoy!