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UMAi Dry - Charcuterie Without a Curing Chamber?


IndyRob
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This is a product that has been mentioned in various threads here, but I don't think it's ever had one of it's own.  This is a shame, because it seems intriguing.  It promises the ability to do charcuterie and/or dry aging of steaks without a specialized room or curing chamber - just bags - all in your refrigerator.

 

However like many products, their marketing lacks detail and it's difficult to discern exactly what is being claimed.  But basically, the main product consists of specialized bags that will allow moisture out, but nothing else in (like oxygen).  And another thing called a VacMouse - which is important in some way that is never totally explained.  But the basic idea is that you're going to cure your meat in a standard way for 1-2 weeks and then vacuum pack it in the Dry Bag with the help of the VacMouse using a typical FoodSaver device.  Then you just put it in the refrigerator on a rack and wait for weeks or months.  Then you have bresaola, capicola, prosciutinni, lonzino, etc.

 

After watching some online videos and doing some web searches, it appears that this may be a very useful thing - with some caveats....

 

First, dry aging of steaks seems to be a major marketing focus.  But it looks like they're taking some criticism from dry aging enthusiasts who point out that without the exposure to oxygen, dry aging isn't really taking place.  They are aging, and they're drying, but not with all the benefits of the traditional process.  Yet, they do have some support in the form of positive reviews on various sites.

 

For the same reasons, no one is going to challenge Parma for the best cured ham bites using this product.  That's just a given.  But it could offer something in between.  And I'm not ready to build my curing chamber just yet.  So I ordered a kit and it arrived today.

 

It will probably be months before I know anything further, but I thought I'd relate what I've found so far.  And I hope people who have used it will chime in.  I'll have some waiting to do.

 

The particular charcuterie kit I ordered from Amazon (I was using Amazon bucks) was 24.99 plus $8.99(!) shipping.  For this I received 5 dry bags, 6 VacMouses, a packet of Instacure #2, and a packet of juniper berries - all packaged frugally, but practically, stored in an elongated ziplock bag between a cardboard brochure.  It hardly seemed to justify an $8.99 shipping charge (although perhaps that was Amazon).  Anyway, the good news is that after I examined everything, it all went back into it's original packaging without any fuss and awaits its call to duty.

 

So, besides the cure and the spice, we have plastic bags and VacMouses.  The plastic bags are apparently special because they will let the moisture out with out letting any of bad stuff from your refrigerator in.  The VacMouses appear to be some sort of plastic fabric that make up for the fact that the bags do not have the channeling that FoodSaver bags do.  Apparently, they will (along with the recommended crinkling of the neck of the bag) will take the place of those channels until they are sealed shut by the heat of the element. (and again by the recommended second sealing).

 

It all seems plausible, and I feel supported by many wonderful pics on unaffiliated forums of beautifully sliced meats.  But then again, I paid nearly $7.00/bag (including spice, and cure, and shipping).  If you buy meat at $2/lb and put in a $5 bag, some calculations have to occur.  But, of course, we're competing with the cost of high price specialty items or investments in curing chambers.

 

Well, I guess we'll see....

 

(sorry for the long post, but I wanted to include all the information I wish I'd found upon learning of this product - as opposed to having to all the searching myself.  And, also, I could be wrong in anything I have said.  I haven't actually used the product.)

 

 

 

 

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am very interested Rob, as I haven't the skills to wire a curing chamber. let m'know. 

“Do you not find that bacon, sausage, egg, chips, black pudding, beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, fried bread and a cup of tea; is a meal in itself really?” Hovis Presley.

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am very interested Rob, as I haven't the skills to wire a curing chamber. let m'know. 

 

I will try to keep this thread updated, but it will involve a lot of waiting.  But I am happy to say that the process is underway.  I was able to find a beef bottom round roast and a pork loin for right around $2/pound.  I love the idea of turning cheap cuts into expensive cuts. 

 

So far I have made mixtures of salt, Cure #2, sugar, various herbs and spices, and rubbed the cuts and stored them in reclosable bags in the refrigerator.  Both are a bit over 1400 grams.  As a starting point, I am using the exact UMAi recipes to make bresaola (should be eye of round and not bottom round, but whatever) and ;lonzino.  There are YouTube videos that cover what I've done so far. Here's one.

 

On my mind right now are two things....

 

1) How am I going to slice this stuff?  Many years ago I but a cheap meat slicer which left me terribly disappointed and now collects dust on top of a cabinet.  It's possible that I may be able to add some structural reinforcement to make it useful.  I've also been searching craigslist for real slicers.  But the whole exercise if buying an expensive slicer works against the idea of economical meat.  I'm also looking at those sexy long slicing knives like they use on Iberico ham in Spain.  But that seems slow.  Loving perhaps, but slow.

 

2) I'd like to get a prosciutto like texture.  But I suspect that I'm going to get a texture more like dry salami in the end.  The recommendation is to go for 35%-40% reduction in weight.. I don't feel inclined to modify the procedure on my first attempt.  I think I'll just aim for the lower end of weight reduction and see what the results are like.

 

So anyway, I have about two weeks to go before the next major steps.  Then it will be 6-8 weeks for the final product.

Edited by IndyRob (log)
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I have a friend who uses these bags to dry age whole ribeyes. He's been using it for a few years and is very happy with the out come. At the time I thought the product/website was just called Dry Bags. Same website as far as I can tell.

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I have a friend who uses these bags to dry age whole ribeyes. He's been using it for a few years and is very happy with the out come. At the time I thought the product/website was just called Dry Bags. Same website as far as I can tell.

 

I would like to see a debate on this as there appears to be the beginnings of one online - but in disparate places (like blog comments).  I think the short version is that yes, you are drying the meat, but you're also blocking the enzymatic action which results in the flavor enhancement.

Edited by IndyRob (log)
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  • 2 weeks later...

Okay, two weeks in and a milestone has been crossed.  The bresaola and lonzino are out of the initial cure and into the UMAi drying bags. 

 

After they came out of the bags there were no odors to speak of.  Just a hint of herbs.  Very subtle once they were rinsed off.  I did decide to trim off some fat from the lonzino at this point.  That invalidated my weight comparisons, but they're both at around 1.35 KG now.

 

After aggressively strangling the neck of the bag as recommended, and inserting the VacMouse, I started the vacuum sealing process.  My FoodSaver gasket is getting a bit tired now so I had to go from the recommended 'moist' setting to 'dry' to get a satisfactory vacuum (along with some manual manipulation of the bag).  I think I've got enough vacuum, but I must admit the vacuum level is less than brilliant - there is a nook and/or cranny in both bags that have a tiny bit of air in them.  But hopefully. if this all works out, that could serve as some solace to a future reader with a similar problem.

 

I'd like to address the VacMouse further now that I've used it.  It's very much like a dryer sheet that has been folded in thirds like a letter.  And then heat sealed at one end.  It allows air to escape the bag but pretty much disappears (along the seal) during the sealing phase.  An experienced user might cut it in half lengthwise and get double the use.

 

Okay, well, it's just about waiting now.  I'll be periodically weighing the cuts waiting for the magic 35%-40% reduction.  Anecdotally, that's a process that will begin quickly and will slow significantly over time.

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Please keep us informed, Rob, as I'm interested in this product, as well. I'm entering the final phase of a new restaurant, and would like to utilize these bags as a part of my menu design. Your experience is trusted, and needed!

I'm a lifelong professional chef. If that doesn't explain some of my mental and emotional quirks, maybe you should see a doctor, and have some of yours examined...

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will it do chorizo?

“Do you not find that bacon, sausage, egg, chips, black pudding, beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, fried bread and a cup of tea; is a meal in itself really?” Hovis Presley.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Any progress on the products, Rob? I'm drooling, and waiting...lol

I'm a lifelong professional chef. If that doesn't explain some of my mental and emotional quirks, maybe you should see a doctor, and have some of yours examined...

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  • 3 weeks later...

Okay, after 4 weeks and 5 days in the UMAi bags I can report a result.  The Bresaola is at 68% of its original weight.  While this is less than the UMAi recommended 35-40% weight loss, I reasoned that it was more than the 30% loss that is generally recommended for charcuterie.  So I declared myself bored, and it done.

 

I was also getting a bit concerned about case hardening.  The ends are really hard.  The middle seems more compliant, but I was still worried about getting beef jerky.

 

So I took it out of the bag and smelled it.  Nothing but a faint whiff of herbs.  I cut it with a santoku right through the middle which revealed a lovely red center inside a case of blackened beef jerky.  Again, no off smells whatsoever.

 

I sliced it as thin as I was capable with the santoku and tasted.  A bit chewy (need a thinner slice probably - or the correct cut).  Maybe a bit too much rosemary (which tasted of soap to me).  Surprisingly unsalty compared to prosciutto.

 

A pic is here: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:WP_20150715_015.jpg (click pic for hi-res).

 

Then I vacuum packed both pieces with normal Foodsaver tech to go back into the fridge for two months as suggested by this blog: http://gatherwithme.com/review-umai-charcuterie-bags/.  Hopefully this will retrieve some of the beef jerky area and even out the moisture a bit.  But really, it's as much about keeping these pieces on ice until I find a more suitable slicing solution.  So I really hope to get some responses to my Home Slicers thread.

 

The lonzino (pork loin) seems to be progressing at a decidedly slower pace.  The only thing I can point to is 25% less salt in original the recipe.  Both cuts were very similar in weight, size and shape.  But lonzino is not showing the same case hardening as the beef.  In the end, I think it's going to be the better example.

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will it do chorizo?

 

Yes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eaq7UsRcDvs.

 

Salumi seems to be much more finicky, but I think I'd like to try pepperoni next.  As a beginner to charcuterie I find it slightly humorous that we must expend so much effort in the beginning to keeping the meat mixture well chilled, only to hang it at room temp for three days.  I think I know why that is, but it just seems a strange sort of the magic.

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so you recommending them as a worthwhile investment?

“Do you not find that bacon, sausage, egg, chips, black pudding, beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, fried bread and a cup of tea; is a meal in itself really?” Hovis Presley.

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so you recommending them as a worthwhile investment?

 

Well, I'd say I'm not quite done playing with them yet, but a recommendation would probably come with some caveats.  And certainly not as an investment, as they are a consumable item.

 

If, like me, you're interested trying your hand at dry curing, but are not ready to build or acquire a curing chamber, and have no suitable cellars or caves you can use, and you already own a vacuum sealer, then I would highly recommend the bags with few reservations.

 

However, if you are willing to build/find a suitable curing chamber, then these things would be rendered pointless.

 

If your goal is to save money on dry-cured meats then it's really, probably, a dead end.  By the time you factor in the price of the meat, the bags, the vacuum sealer, a deli slicer, and all the waiting time, you'd probably do nicely by spending an afternoon exploring the commercial offerings of your nearest metropolitan area for the best deals on the finished product.

 

I also have an increased level of skepticism for their suitability for dry aging meats.  Having had a large piece of beef in one of these bags for many weeks, I wouldn't call the end result 'aged'.  Rather, I'd say it was somewhat miraculously un-aged.  Dried somewhat, but otherwise unaffected.

 

If the prices of these bags ever reach commodity levels, I really think our thinking about storing meat could change dramatically.  This could result in many things that we haven't really imagined yet.  But it will require a price-point that doesn't penalize failure.  In my two initial experiments, the bag was almost, if not more expensive than the meat I put in them.

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