As I've mentioned in a previous post, we moved to Michigan about a year ago and purchased a farm where we've been raising our own animals, including pigs, for both ourselves and to sell. With the farm keeping us busy, making any sort of cured products right now is a limited proposition. That being said, with such beautiful pork, we did want to get to curing some of it so that we can taste the fruits of our labor. In addition to the longer term products I mentioned in the previous post, one of the items I wanted to do was Noix de Jambon. After Kate got back from Grrls Meat Camp and spending time with Kate Hill, she shared some of this product that they made at camp with me. I had to try and make it. Simply, it translates to "Ham Nuts". They are small little pieces cut from the ham (you can also use the shoulder I suppose) that are simply cured, lightly smoked and hung to dry. They are a very classic preparation and a way to preserve the fantastic flavor and marbling of the ham without a long curing period. It's about as simple as you can get with the process, however, as with all curing, the devil is in the details. The length of smoke, the length of age, the quality of the meat, etc.
In France they tend to use much older animals, as they do in most of europe, and specifically in the videos below, you'll see that they use a 12month old sow. In this country, our pigs are usually sent to slaughter at about 6 months of age, and a hanging weight of roughly 180 - 200lbs. This old sow was 200kg, or roughly 440lbs. As you can see, it's much larger than what a leg seen in this country would look like. The flavor development in the slow and lengthy growth is significantly better and the marbling is much more intense. On our farm we follow a similar method of growing our animals, slow, good diets and older animals. Our pigs, not being sows, were roughly 250lbs hanging weight, finished on apples and walnuts. The flavor is ridiculous.
So, technique in curing. Well, heh, it's pretty simple. The method I used is not that of equilibrium curing, but rather a rough application of salt and pepper. As it's explained in the video " As much as the meat will hold. ". As you might expect, this is the area where it can go horribly wrong if you force too much salt into the meat. If I were to guess as to the percentage, you're probably in the 2.5% range, perhaps a bit lower. After you apply the salt and pepper, I bagged them up and let sit in the fridge with frequent agitation to ensure adequate distribution of salt, for about 2 weeks. After that, I hung to dry. You might be wondering where the smoke step is. Well, it's been sub freezing temps for a long time here in Michigan and I did not want to go and smoke these things in the cold. What I used instead was a smoked black pepper that imparted a surprisingly close flavor to a light smoke. Here are some videos from Gascony, France on the whole process, from breakdown to hanging.
Now for drying. In talking with Kate Hill, she said that they prefer there Noix a little more "wet" and fresh ham like in nature. I personally prefer mine a little more dry, but this is where personal preference comes in. I've stopped weighing the end products, so I'm not sure of the exact weight loss, but a guess would be around 25% and hung for about 2 months or so. They were not cased but had a tremendous amount of fat and kept at a high humidity and low temp (40-45 degrees and 75 - 85% humidity) for the entire curing period.
The end product is, if I do say so myself, amazing. It blew our minds how good it was, how developed the flavor was and the prominence of the marbling. It exceeded all expectations, which were high to begin with. This is the way to see how good your pork is. No flavoring, no pretense, just salt, pepper and patience. You can taste the nuttiness and sweetness of our finish choices and the fat is soft and melts at room temp just like you'd see in an Iberico ham. These little ham nuts are absolutely fantastic for utilizing the leg or shoulder and, should you be willing to part with any of them, make great gifts. I'd encourage anyone who wants to learn to cure to try this and exercise restraint. Long live the ham nuts.