Showing posts with label Curing Chamber. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Curing Chamber. Show all posts

Thursday, 9 May 2013

So long old friend

I've been reading the excellent The Art Of Making Fermented Sausages by Marianski and Marianski that I got for Christmas. The book is a real tour de force - covering every aspect of fermented sausage production from the science behind the process, bacterial cultures, and chemical changes occurring in the sausage, to meat selection, how to rig up drying equipment and store the finished product - all in clear, concise language. It made me think of my wine cooler curing chamber and how it really needs some improvement if I'm ever going to make decent fermented sausages safely.

So, I've done a bit of soul searching and finally admitted that it isn't working out with the wine cooler (it's not you - it's me etc; although it really is you). The Peltier system just can't cope with the humidity required: the plate and fan ice up, stopping the cooling altogether. This in turn causes the temperature to rise and the RH to drop. In short the system just isn't stable; this should have been obvious given that some dehumidifiers work by using a Peltier-cooled plate to remove moisture from the air. Disconnecting or slowing the fan doesn't work (the fan is also causing case hardening of the sausages).

We hardly knew ye

I've decided to take the plunge and make a chamber from scratch using a proper fridge (not a wine cooler). Temperature and humidity will be monitored and controlled to create the stable conditions required for curing. I'm currently gathering the equipment and hope to post on my new build in the next few weeks.

Monday, 14 May 2012

My curing chamber

Update: My curing chamber is no more! It has ceased to be! It's expired and gone to meet it's maker etc. I'm in the process of assembling a new one from a fridge, rather than a wine cooler. You can read about the various problems I've had on the blog. The original post and update are still below.

When I first announced that I wanted to try my hand at Charcuterie - and that I thought the spare room would make the perfect location for curing meat - I was met with stony silence by my girlfriend. In my mind I thought it would lend a pleasant, rustic feel to the place. My girlfriend thought it would lend a "meaty, slightly corpsey feel to the place" and pointed out that visitors might not really want to go to sleep with hams hanging above the bed or from the wardrobe. I did briefly toy with the response of "Well... I would quite like that.", but decided better of it.

Of course, this discussion took place before I'd properly read up on the conditions actually needed to safely cure meats; namely, somewhere reasonably dark (light turns fats rancid), with a temperature of 10-13 degrees Celsius, relative humidity of 60-70% and a good flow of air. The final product you end up with is apparently highly dependent on these conditions. If the temperature or humidity are too high for extended periods your meat may spoil. If the humidity is too low you run the risk of case hardening, where the outside of the meat dries too fast, preventing the centre of the meat from losing moisture, and again your meat will spoil. Your cured meats also need to be protected from any pests or animals that might also want to chow down on the fruits of your labours. So not the spare room then.

Now, traditionally folks across Europe that were curing meat had dark, damp cellars which provided perfect conditions. If you're lucky enough to have a cellar with the appropriate conditions, great, you're all set. The rest of us however need a curing chamber to provide the correct conditions. I found numerous guides on the intertubes giving instructions on how to build a curing chamber. Good guides can be found here and here. I take no responsibility for the consequences if you do decide to pimp/convert an entire fridge-freezer unit.

My curing chamber is an old wine fridge. I bought it on eBay for half the price of a new one. It maintains a constant temperature of 12 degrees Celcius. Here you can see a lone lonzino hanging in the chamber, along with my digital thermometer/hygrometer, and humidity control beads in trays at the bottom.
     As luck would have it the humidity under the stairs in my flat (where the chamber is located) varies between 55 and 60%, so the humidity only needs to be raised a little to be in the 'butter zone' (as the Mythbusters would say). As you'd expect, once meat is hanging in there the humidity increases, coupled with the beads this gives pretty good humidity of 65-70%. The beads are meant for use in cigar humidors; I bought mine here.
     I should add that the fridge is connected to a timer and is turned off three times a day for 15 min. The fridge has no defrost cycle (not being designed to store meat), so the heat exchanger and fan are prone to icing up; the timer stops this happening by letting them warm slightly.

So far I've hung lonzino, pancetta, and duck prosciutto in here to cure, with reasonable success. I tend to check on the contents every day to make sure everything is ok (mould spots or the like).

Update: I've had some problems with case hardening using this setup; see the post here for details.

I have changed things somewhat, and it's still in a state of flux really. I've looped two length of muslin over the rack at the back and use them like curtains, pulling them across to shield everything from the direct flow of the fan (basically they act as air diffusers). In addition, I initially had the 'curtains' with their ends in a container of saturated salt solution. They acted as wicks, sucking moisture up, which was then evaporated by the fan.

This had mixed success. I found the interior was too moist (if it's not one thing it's another...). Also, the salt crystallises out on the muslin, forming a stiff, salty sheet (no jokes please). I have reverted to just having the muslin hanging in the back, but keeping the saturated salt solution in the bottom. I check the chamber in the morning and when I get back from work. It seems to be hovering between 70-75% at the moment. If the RH falls I wet the muslin a bit.

It's far from ideal but I'll persevere with it for the moment.