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maher

Cellars & Chambers for Curing and Aging

163 posts in this topic

I am trying to figure out how to build a cellar for curing assorted charcuterie. I have a wine cellar that is below ground, its temperature is fairly stable but not 100% stable. It goes to a low of about 8 degrees C in the winter (46 degrees F) to about a maximum of 17 degrees in the summer (63 degrees F). The humidity is fairly high to where the wine labels are getting a bit wet. i am trying to rig some circulation fans to reduce this and bring it down to a somewhat drier clime since i would like to use the cellar to cure meats.

Does anyone know what the optimal temperature range/humidity is for this? what are the outside limits? if i start something in the winter will it spoil due to high temp. in the summer?

I am concerned that by circulating the air and putting in an extraction fan to lower the humidity i will raise the cellar temperature.

Any help from those of you with expertise is much appreciated. also if anyone knows of good books on building the right type of curing room/ sourcing the equipment that would be great.

Finally, i am wondering if the cellar would be a good place to age cheese? so the same questions that apply to curing meats apply to aging cheese. Any guidance is really welcome.

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What a great topic idea, maher! I've been wondering the same thing myself. I have a basement that stays moist and cold most of the year but is extremely variable at different times. I tried making a curing chamber last year (click here) using this set-up:

gallery_19804_437_258487.jpg

Problems included the obvious: lack of much control of humidity or temperature; the inability to give the chamber a really thorough cleaning; extremely clunky top-down access. I'm at the point now where I think a more enclosed chamber is in order, and I've been thinking about what it would take to convert an old fridge or wine cooler/cellar. There are a few chefs here in town who've rigged their own set-ups, and I'm hoping to check those out for tips.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I think your temperatures are on the borderline of OK. Maybe going a bit high for the summer. I would tend towards a range of about 50-60, maybe even a little lower on the low side.

As far as humidity, you don't tell us what the value is. In my curing box i keep the humidity at about 65%, but ti fluctuates between 50-75% (the fluctuations only last an hour or so each direction)

Just circulating the air isn't going to reduce the humidity. You have to get dry air in, or get the moisture out. Unfortunately dehumidifiers work by drying the air and dumping the now dry and HOT air back into the room, so that probably won't work. An air conditioner on the other hand, dries the air AND makes it colder. IS there any way you can put an air conditioner in there?

I imagine the most humid time is in the summer, when it is hotter too, so you may only need to run the air conditioner during the summer months, and leave it to mother nature during the winter.

If it is too humid during the winter but too cold for the air conditioner, you can force the A/C to come on by injecting heat into the area through the use of either some terrarium heat lamp (emit no light), or just plain old 150W light bulbs.

jason

Oh, for cheese i think you want a higher humidity than is optimal for salumi, but you'd have to check. There is a cheese-making mailing list where you could ask. I know a lot of them use dorm refrigerators to age their cheeses in.


Edited by jmolinari (log)

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i havent monitored the humdity yet. i just got a hygrometer so i can give you the numbers soon, but i would imagine over 70% from the condensation. the summers here are fairly dry so i dont think humidity from the ambient air is a problem.

Chris, maybe you are onto something, im thinking putting an old fridge in the cellar might be the solution, that way i get the more controlled environment and benefit from the starting ambient temperature of the cellar. i guess my thoughts are just leaning toward the aesthete in me who wants to walk into a cellar that has hams hanging in one corner, cheeses on a shelf in another, and wines in the middle. i doubt it is a reasonable picture that im painting so a more controlled environment makes more sense.

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i havent monitored the humdity yet. i just got a hygrometer so i can give you the numbers soon, but i would imagine over 70% from the condensation. the summers here are fairly dry so i dont think humidity from the ambient air is a problem.

Chris, maybe you are onto something, im thinking putting an old fridge in the cellar might be the solution, that way i get the more controlled environment and benefit from the starting ambient temperature of the cellar. i guess my thoughts are just leaning toward the aesthete in me who wants to walk into a cellar that has hams hanging in one corner, cheeses on a shelf in another, and wines in the middle. i doubt it is a reasonable picture that im painting so a more controlled environment makes more sense.

Thats pretty true...You can see how cold the ground temp is at 6ft. or so (depth varies by what part of country you are in, due to varying frost levels), by just measuring your cold water temp after letting it run so you are getting it from the house feed line..That ground temp is going to be the coldest you can hope to get in your room...I have a cabinet in my basement darkroom that at this moment in time is 61.3ºF...It is a base cabinet with a concrete floor and about 9ft below ground level..During the winter it was About 55ºf..

I am going to use a 3 sided poly foam box this summer that goes in a corner at the 9ft depth level that has the concrete on the floor and sides open to the inside of the box. hope that made sense....

Bud

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I use my wine cellar to cure peperoni, salami and such. It's very well insulated.

I have a small electric wall heater that I usually set for 55' in the winter, but have to turn it up a bit when curing sausages as the ones I make like it a little warmer. The house has central air and it wasn't hard to tap into one of the ducts, so when the house air conditioner runs, the wine cellar gets a good blast and never goes above 64'.

I don't have any problem keeping it between the 60 and 70% humidity, if I have to increase it, I just hang a wet towel in there and pour some water on the concrete floor.

Oregon Scientific makes a good remote thermometer with humidity on it, so I can see the info from my bed, if I'm so lazy.

I keep my chocolate in there, but haven't played with cheese aging as there are so many excellent cheese shops close by.

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Actually temp and Humidity control shouldn't cost more than a couple hundred dollars.

You can buy a temperature neutral dehumidifier for about $125 at Costco and if you wish you can add a fancier humidistat to remotely run the dehumidifier or if the airs too dry to open a sprayer valve and atomize some more water into the room. Heat and a small ac unit could be cheaply controlled by a single HVAC thermostat.

I'd think that insulation of the room would be essential as well.

Some requirements:

Country Ham 60-70 % @60 degrees for 7 weeks

Coppa the same

Tuscan Salami 12hrs at 70-80 % at 70-75 degrees then60-70% at 50-55 degrees for 2.5 weeks Actually most of the salami and pepperoni call for this same curing

Lardo 60-70% @ 60 degree for 2.5 weeks...

Cheeses seem to cure mostly at a cool room temp for hard paraffin coated cheeses or in the reefer in the case of fresh cheese


Robert

Seattle

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GREAT topic idea, maher. I'll post my cabinet info in a bit... interestingly, cigars are held at a similar humidity as most sausage curing (around 70% humidity), so I have been playing with humidifiers for made for humidors.

Very interesting idea, Jeff. Though I've been out of the country and away from my curing stuff for several months, I haven't stopped thinking about it. The cigar humidifiers sound particularly intriguing.

I've been struggling with temp/humidity in the dorm-size fridge I use for curing. One problem is that its warmest temperature is still cooler than ideal for curing. But then my foray into cheesemaking led me to a separate fridge thermostat that cycles the fridge on and off based on the temperature sensor:

Thermostat

With a range that can be set from 30-80, this seems ideal, so I'm going to look into getting one when I come home.

That leaves the problem of humidity. I tried using the pan of salt/water to regulate the humidity, but eventually the whole inside of the fridge got covered in salt from evaporated water. Nor was it particularly steady. Your suggestion about cigar humidifiers got me searching on google, and I ran across the following that looks ideal, as it can be set to maintain a specific humidity level:

humidifier

Anyway, I'm interested in hearing what others might think of this and any opinions on how it would work...

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for humidity control in my chamber i use an ultrasonic humidifier connected to a humidistat.

This temperature control is the same as the one you posted, with a remote temp. sensor, so you can hang the box outside the fridge:

http://www.kegworks.com/product.php?produc...&cat=778&page=1

i got mine on Ebay. Also got my Greenair humidistat on ebay.

http://www.littlegreenhouse.com/accessory/controls2.shtml

Works quite well.

edit to add: if you go with the cigar humidifier route, you're stuck with having to replace those expensive parts, and you'll probably have to refill it very often. Every time the fridge cycles on, the humidifier will also come on, since the fridge dries the air. My guess is you'll be refilling it every day or 2. The humidifier/humidistat combo is a bit cheaper ($100 or so) and you still have a perfectly functional humidifier if you decide not to make charcuterie.


Edited by jmolinari (log)

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...

Does anyone know what the optimal temperature range/humidity is for this? what are the outside limits? if i start something in the winter will it spoil due to high temp. in the summer?

I am concerned that by circulating the air and putting in an extraction fan to lower the humidity i will raise the cellar temperature.

...

If you are trying to establish ideal conditions, as has been said, a temperature maintained between 50F and 60F with a humidity of 60 to 70% is the quoted standard.

If you take those as "acceptable ranges" you shouldn't go far wrong.

The brief "incubation" of salami bacteria wants to be done in a different place - much hotter, and a bit wetter.

A little bit of very gentle air movement is also advised during the long slow cure.

While this is generally said to be to prevent spoilage, my 'take' is that it is to give uniformity of conditions - and thereby prevent spoilage.

An ordinary domestic room will tend to have a significant temperature difference between floor and ceiling. In static conditions, I'm sure there would be a humidity gradient too.

Thus, while at the control position the temperature and humidity could be within limits, elsewhere in the chamber it might be sufficiently warm or damp to encourage the growth of spoilage organisms. And the particularly damp spots might be expected to be in sheltered crevices in the meat surface.

A small, ex-computer fan with some drainpipe as ducting, could help to even out temperature and humidity between top and bottom of the chamber. (Whether cold damp air is taken up, or hot dry air taken down, shouldn't matter - it'll try and get back to where it came from, stirring the whole enclosure.)

In the earliest phase of curing, the humidity jumps up with the introduction of the wet meat. But after a while, the problem generally becomes keeping the humidity *up*...

Temperature and humidity are interlinked.

Take a sealed chamber. Raise its temperature and the % relative humidity falls. Cool it and the humidity rises.

Now, in a refrigerator, the chiller panels (cooling elements) get so cold that the humidity of the air alongside reaches 100% and condensation forms - often turning to 'frost'. This is "knocking out" some of the moisture from the air in the fridge - dehumidifying the fridge chamber. However, this can only happen when the fridge compressor runs to bring the fridge back to temperature.

So, if you have the fridge somehow set to 55F but located in a 54F environment, There will be no need for it to cool, and so it won't dehumidify!

In such a situation, if excess humidity is detected, you could turn on a heater (inside the fridge), which will cause the fridge to run to try to cool the chamber, thereby knocking out moisture and dehumidifying... The "heater" could be as simple as the fridge's lightbulb. (This assumes that the condensation on the elements is drained to the outside of the fridge, or remains locked up as frost.)

If you need to increase the humidity under automatic control, one option to achieve the increased humidity might be an ultrasonic home humidifier. These seem to cost about $45 or so in the US (Amazon.) They are fairly large though. Too big for most converted fridges. Perhaps an ultrasonic "fogger" would help for small chambers.

There is a low-tech, cheap and approximate technique that might be useful to post a reminder of.

The humidity just above a saturated (common salt) brine is close to 75%. (As the solution becomes more dilute, so the humidity rises, up to 100% at zero salt of course!)

The easiest way to have a saturated brine that *stays* saturated (even while it takes in moisture) is to have it as "wet salt" rather than basically liquid. The salt content in an unsaturated brine can easily vary - "stratifying" so that the surface is very dilute, and thus only controlling to a very high humidity. Hence the importance of using "wet salt" rather than a conventional brine.

But it is NOT a fast controller; it doesn't respond quickly to changes in moisture (like the door opening - probably drying, and a load of wet meat being introduced - causing the humidity to jump.) And its control point is a bit high - so its probably best used fighting back (slowly) against a dehumidifier, like the fridge's cold elements.

The "power" of a wet salt control can be increased by increasing its surface area (a bigger pile of wet salt) and increasing the airflow over it - harking back to the use of a small fan...

A useful bit of vocabulary is that while a temperature controller is called a thermostat, a humidity controller is often called a "hygrostat" rather than a humistat or humidistat. (But all are useful words for eBay searching!)

And a note that most temperature/humidity measurement devices with a remote probe do NOT give readings of humidity from the remote probe.

That functionality needs to be *explicitly* looked for in specifications!

Nevertheless humidity measurement is much cheaper than automatic humidity control.


Edited by dougal (log)

"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch ... you must first invent the universe." - Carl Sagan

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Hi all,

Very happy about this thread!

I just bought a used wine fridge for the purpose of converting it to a curing box (gotta love Craig's List). It's a Haier dorm-size model with precision temp control (55 degrees is no problem) and a switch for the light on the outside (so I can check in on my creations without opening the door and disturbing the environment). I'm not planning on doing more charcuterie than my husband and I and dinner guests can eat, so I think the size will work out (or I'll just add another).

We do actually have a fairly decent (temp-wise) environment in the basement (around 60-65 degrees) which works out pretty good for our wine, but due to our dogs, cat, occasional mice, creepy-crawlies, and the like (it's a 130-plus-year-old house), I'm not comfortable just hanging the meat out in the open.

As far as regulating the humidity, I was thinking of using a combo of silica gel and those humidor thingys that you soak in water and use for cigars, wooden musical instruments, etc. I'm guessing however that the issue is more going to be controlling excess humidity rather than needing to add moisture.

I believe you can get silica gel (or other dessicants) pegged for a particular humidity range, but I haven't completely looked into this yet. Anyone experimented with silica gel or other similar products to control humidity?

Thanks!

Anna

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Dougal, good recap. I do in fact use a lightbulb sometimes in my curing box forcing the fridge to cycle more often. It is a balancing act between the bulb, temp, hygrostat.

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Hello again,

One more thing--what do folks use to sterilize the insides of their curing boxes/fridges/environments? I'm a bit worried about using bleach because of the smell getting into the final product.

Anna

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Hello again,

One more thing--what do folks use to sterilize the insides of their curing boxes/fridges/environments? I'm a bit worried about using bleach because of the smell getting into the final product.

Anna

Check into your local Home Brew supplier's stocks - there are food-grade contact sanitising solutions such as 'Starsan' which are effective at concentrations low enough to permit 'no-rinse' use in direct contact with the beer. They work well for me as a general purpose charcuterie sanitiser too :smile:

cheers

Derek

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does anyone know of sites in Europe for all these controls? i am trying to search online but everything i have found so far is 110v, and i need 220v.

also, since i am using an underground chamber, keeping a sterile environment is the most difficult challenge. i have found some antibacterial paints that are used for sterile rooms (thanks to a friend in the pharmaceutical manufacturing business) but is that enough? or is a closed fridge still a better idea?

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does anyone know of sites in Europe for all these controls? i am trying to search online but everything i have found so far is 110v, and i need 220v.

also, since i am using an underground chamber, keeping a sterile environment is the most difficult challenge. i have found some antibacterial paints that are used for sterile rooms (thanks to a friend in the pharmaceutical manufacturing business) but is that enough? or is a closed fridge still a better idea?

These are controls that come from the heating /ventilation and airconditioning industry. I am sure you can find them there.

IMHO, antibacterial paint is a bit of overkill. A container, be it a fridge or a wooden/plastic cabinet is fine.

I use ordinary kitchen upper cabinets that are located in my photographic darkroom ,in a basement that is about 3M below ground level.

Good luck,

Bud

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does anyone know of sites in Europe for all these controls? i am trying to search online but everything i have found so far is 110v, and i need 220v.

You could start Here - the remote probe temperature controller I use is a Ranco. As Bud notes, these are a commonplace industrial item. Where are you?.

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does anyone know of sites in Europe for all these controls? i am trying to search online but everything i have found so far is 110v, and i need 220v.

You could start Here - the remote probe temperature controller I use is a Ranco. As Bud notes, these are a commonplace industrial item. Where are you?.

Im in Jordan, which makes sourcing specialist items a bit of a challenge, but i have been looking for these items in the UK mainly as it is easier to pick them up there.

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does anyone know of sites in Europe for all these controls? i am trying to search online but everything i have found so far is 110v, and i need 220v.

...

The cheapest/simplest controls (for heat and humidity) are effectively mechanically operated (rather than electronic) electricity switches. These won't be limited so much by the voltage that they can handle as by the current that they can switch. So 110 or 220 no matter. They are not electrically operated.

If you are using such things to switch mains electricity inside your enclosure, do consider electrical safety in the neighbourhood of water/dampness. A safety device of the RCD (or "ELCB") type really isn't a luxury.

I found a Rittal hygrostat (intended for electronic equipment enclosure dampness prevention) on eBay UK for way less than its new price from RS. Its just a changeover switch that operates at (about) the humidity level set on its dial. However, constantly changing priorities have meant that it hasn't been employed yet... :rolleyes:

Nevertheless, more-or-less integrated plug-in-and-go controller systems may well need a specific mains voltage.

Some such systems are available in Europe. I've noticed that humidity controllers are principally marketed towards the home hydroponics grower, or home reptile keepers. (Reptile keepers would seem to have lower budgets!) There may well be many other markets for such products.

Here is one 220v eBay terrarium (reptile) humidity controller. It seems to be usable to control either a humidifier or dehumidifier.

This 220v temperature controller (from the same chinese manufacturer) looks pretty much ideal for £35. ATC-800 It seems to be principally employed for stabilising aquarium temperatures. I'd expect that it might be found at other suppliers.

However do note that most reptile/fish temperature controllers are only capable of controlling *heaters* and not the coolers we mostly require... The ATC-800 can handle both, at the same time (with a nice cooler compressor start delay) - IMHO it looks ideal for a temperate climate!

Fans.

A touch of clarification to my previous comment.

If you have an enclosure with excessive humidity, and a lower humidity in the atmosphere outside, then an extractor fan (dumping damp air, causing drier air to enter) will lower the humidity. If you can guarantee low external humidity, then an exhaust fan on your enclosure will indeed lower the enclosure's humidity, but its the air change, rather than the air movement, that's doing it.

Oftentimes, the dehumidifier control terminal may just be referred to as the 'fan' terminal.


"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch ... you must first invent the universe." - Carl Sagan

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does anyone know of sites in Europe for all these controls? i am trying to search online but everything i have found so far is 110v, and i need 220v.

...

The cheapest/simplest controls (for heat and humidity) are effectively mechanically operated (rather than electronic) electricity switches. These won't be limited so much by the voltage that they can handle as by the current that they can switch. So 110 or 220 no matter. They are not electrically operated.

If you are using such things to switch mains electricity inside your enclosure, do consider electrical safety in the neighbourhood of water/dampness. A safety device of the RCD (or "ELCB") type really isn't a luxury.

I found a Rittal hygrostat (intended for electronic equipment enclosure dampness prevention) on eBay UK for way less than its new price from RS. Its just a changeover switch that operates at (about) the humidity level set on its dial. However, constantly changing priorities have meant that it hasn't been employed yet... :rolleyes:

Nevertheless, more-or-less integrated plug-in-and-go controller systems may well need a specific mains voltage.

Some such systems are available in Europe. I've noticed that humidity controllers are principally marketed towards the home hydroponics grower, or home reptile keepers. (Reptile keepers would seem to have lower budgets!) There may well be many other markets for such products.

Here is one 220v eBay terrarium (reptile) humidity controller. It seems to be usable to control either a humidifier or dehumidifier.

This 220v temperature controller (from the same chinese manufacturer) looks pretty much ideal for £35. ATC-800 It seems to be principally employed for stabilising aquarium temperatures. I'd expect that it might be found at other suppliers.

However do note that most reptile/fish temperature controllers are only capable of controlling *heaters* and not the coolers we mostly require... The ATC-800 can handle both, at the same time (with a nice cooler compressor start delay) - IMHO it looks ideal for a temperate climate!

Fans.

A touch of clarification to my previous comment.

If you have an enclosure with excessive humidity, and a lower humidity in the atmosphere outside, then an extractor fan (dumping damp air, causing drier air to enter) will lower the humidity. If you can guarantee low external humidity, then an exhaust fan on your enclosure will indeed lower the enclosure's humidity, but its the air change, rather than the air movement, that's doing it.

Oftentimes, the dehumidifier control terminal may just be referred to as the 'fan' terminal.

thanks Dougal. i can [pretty much guarantee low external humidity. i have now installed an extractor fan and i am monitoring to see what that does. i have it on a timer switch that cycles on for 15 minutes every three hours. i will start with that simple setup and work my way on from there. this setup works fine for my wine collection, since it is rather more forgiving of small variances than cheese. Judging from the replies to this thread im guessing it will be ok for curing hams and such as well. I dont know whether it is good enough for cheese but at least that is the item that is cheapest/easiest to experiment with.

im going to keep a temp/humidity log for a month and see what it looks like (if i can only find enough time where i am not travelling to do that it will be perfect)

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I finally have the space to put in a small curing chamber in my kitchen: I bought two of the Vinotemp 28 Bottle Thermo-Electric Wine Coolers, one for wine and one for Charcuterie, and stacked them on top of each other in the corner. I am going to black out the window of the Charcuterie chamber with something removable. I figure that way I can take the cover off to look in on things without affecting the temperature or humidity. I also put a pan of salt and water in the bottom and removed all but the top and bottom wine racks. I am going to get some Guanciale going in there pretty soon, so hopefully it works out!


Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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I finally have the space to put in a small curing chamber in my kitchen: I bought two of the Vinotemp 28 Bottle Thermo-Electric Wine Coolers, one for wine and one for Charcuterie, and stacked them on top of each other in the corner. I am going to black out the window of the Charcuterie chamber with something removable. I figure that way I can take the cover off to look in on things without affecting the temperature or humidity. I also put a pan of salt and water in the bottom and removed all but the top and bottom wine racks. I am going to get some Guanciale going in there pretty soon, so hopefully it works out!

thats sounds promising Chris, please keep us posted

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Hello again,

One more thing--what do folks use to sterilize the insides of their curing boxes/fridges/environments? I'm a bit worried about using bleach because of the smell getting into the final product.

Anna

Doesn't a UV light serve this purpose?

I recently visited Salumi in Seattle and it looked like their chamber was lit with UV lights to keep the microbes at bay.

Edited because I responded to the wrong post initially.


Edited by Tsulli1 (log)

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