Thursday, 16 August 2012

Smoked cheese and garlic

While I gather everything together for my next charcuterie project I thought I'd try cold smoking some foods other than meat.

I'm a big fan of smoked cheese and had heard about the magic effect cold smoking has on Edam. Now, don't get me wrong: I like a bit of Edam now and then, and I'm sure it has some devoted fans; but generally the word 'Edam' is associated in the mind (somewhat unfairly) with other words such as 'rubbery', 'flavourless', 'Babybel' and perhaps 'Northern Dutch town'. I wanted to see if cold smoking could indeed turn this boring, every day, run-of-the-mill, Vauxhall Nova of a cheese into something a bit more special. The cheese was cut into 1" thick slices to allow the smoke to permeate.

Raw Edam ore mined in The Netherlands 
I also wanted to try smoking garlic. The information super towpath, as always, had a number of suggestions: smoke for at least 3 days, no  5 hours, no – you should have started smoking it before you left the womb etc. In the end I followed some advice I found in a smoking forum: I  removed most of the outer skin, sprayed with a thin coat of oil, and put it in the smoker for 3 hours (mainly because this was the time suggested for the cheese and I wasn't going to get up twice from watching whatever generic E4 comedy was on).

Smoke my pretties
I used cherry wood this time; after 3 hours cold smoking everything was taken out and left to rest for 24 hours. The Edam worked out well: it has slight smokey taste, and is delicious. It could do with a longer smoking time perhaps, but not bad for a first try. I'll report back on the garlic once I've used it

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Spicy lonzino results

Last week I cut open the spicy lonzino but I've only just got round to updating the blog. It had lost just over 30% of its weight when I took it out of the chamber. Feast your eyes on its meaty glory:

Not the greatest photo. Sorry.
It looks pretty good (ignoring the dubious photography), wouldn't you agree? It is pretty spicy, I got a chilli flake on the third bite that I wasn't expecting, but not ridiculously so. It tastes much better than previous lonzino attempts. I think that the longer hanging period (because it was much larger than ones I've done before) really helps to develop the flavour.

So, success then? Well, all is not as it seems. I mentioned in a previous post that my cured meats (particularly the salami) have been drying faster than the underpants on Satan's washing line. The same thing has happened to this lonzino: quite a bit of case hardening. In fact, the central one-third was still a bit too soft and won't be eaten. There was also a little bit of green mould growth on one end (where the casing had come away from the meat); hopefully this will be less of a problem in future now that I have a mould culture to apply to the outside before things go into the chamber.

The case hardening is almost certainly due to the fan at the back of the wine fridge. The fridge is Peltier cooled, so it needs a fan to move the air inside over the heat exchanger. If you disconnect the fan (which I have tried) the heat exchanger doesn't work properly and the chamber heats up. I can think of two possible ways forward:
  1. Hook up the existing fan/a new fan so that it can be controlled independently;
  2. Add an air diffuser to reduce the air flow 
I've decided to go with option 2 mainly because it's cheaper and simpler. I bought some muslin, wet it, and hung it over the rack in the back of the chamber like a curtain. The ends sit in a seed tray that is filled with water. I spent a few days moving the muslin diffuser back and forth to block the air flow from the fan and seeing how it affected the conditions inside; I seem to have it down now. The addition of the seed tray means that the diffuser also acts like a wick, drawing moisture that is then evaporated by the fan. So far, this has meant the relative humidity has stayed pretty stable. Time will tell I guess.

Friday, 20 July 2012

"Enthusiasm is followed by disappointment and even depression, and then by renewed enthusiasm."

-Murray Gell-Mann

That's right, disappointment. I said in my last post that I thought the salamis were drying too quickly: turns out I was right. The salamis have all lost ~40% of their starting weights, so I thought it was time to cut into one to have a look. Feast your eyes on an excellent example of case hardening: 

The salami version of the RRoD
The outside has dried too fast, forming a relatively impermeable layer preventing the escape of moisture from the centre, which is still a bit too moist. Although this wasn't a great success, some things give me hope:
  1. Great bind on the salami; high five!
  2. No fat smearing. Again, high five!
  3. Copious mould growth;
  4. Fermentation success (I'd checked with pH strips) as they have a good 'salami' aroma
All good things I'm sure you'll agree; however, the case hardening is a pretty big setback that needs to be investigated and rectified before I attempt any more salami. A quick read on the interwebs turned up some advice regarding case hardening: one suggestion was to vacuum pack the salamis and stick them in the fridge for a couple of weeks. I don't have anything to lose (and it was a good excuse to get my new vacuum packer out), so I did just that. I'll take a look at them in 10 days or so and see how they're doing.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Salami update

After 48 hours fermenting the salamis have got a nice covering of white mould; I'm surprised how quickly it grew. There are a few bald stripes where the mould culture didn't reach, but they are slowly being colonised. I've weighed them all and put them in the curing chamber to dry. In a few weeks they should be ready!

I weighed the salamis today (8 days after I hung them to dry); they've all lost 15-20% of their initial weights. I suspect they are drying too fast and that I might see a bit of case hardening when I eventually cut them open. Patience grasshopper...

Friday, 6 July 2012

Red wine and fennel salami

I finally got round to having a crack at salami this weekend. I went for the classic red wine and fennel. It was a good opportunity to test out my new meat grinder, no more hand cranking like an idiot! I say idiot because whilst making my last batch of sausage I didn't trim the meat properly; I ended up feeding quite a bit of sinewy meat in, which promptly gummed everything up, doh! The new one chews through pretty much anything in short order.

Here are the finished beauties. The coarse grinder did a good job. I also made sure to mix everything well until the protein started to coat the bowl as I was stirring; hopefully it'll bind well in the casing. I would have taken more photos but I was up to my elbow in sausage...

I spent a couple of days last week cobbling together a container to ferment the little beauties in. Basically a cheap plastic bin from Tesco with a bulb in the bottom to provide some heat. The sides were lined with bubble wrap and tin foil for insulation. It all worked pretty well until I made the sausage. You see, for some reason it didn't click in my brain that the salamis would be curved; I'd reckoned on space for 5-6 perfectly vertically hanging salamis. Or, as it turns out, 2 curved salamis. Oh well - in the end I stuffed all four of them in (even though they were touching, which everything says not to do). Just over 24 hours later and the white salami mould is beginning to grow. The mould is a strain of Penicillium candidum used to make brie, you can buy it online from Ascott. I've got 'good' mould growing in my curing chamber, but I wanted to try out a commercial strain to see how it works. As we can't buy Bactoferm 600 in the UK (someone tell me if I'm wrong), I went with the P. candidum.

Ok, they don't look appetising now, but in a few weeks...
I added SPT-X starter culture to the salami mix for the fermentation. You can see in the first picture some mix wrapped in clingfilm. After 48 hours fermenting I'm going to check the pH with some test strips I also bought on the intertubes. I'm optimistic things are moving in the right direction as they are already starting to smell like salami, rather than rotting meat.