Friday, 6 April 2012
After yesterday’s excitement and too large a scotch late at night I am feeling a little fragile this morning. Still, it’s nothing several cups of tea can’t cure.
So I decided there would be no heavy lifting today, for me that is, but with all this wood lying around salvaged from the old huts, I had to do something.
The Jango is, as I think I have already mentioned, the perfect place for air curing hams. The thick thatch keeps it surprisingly cool inside and the sea breeze is fairly constant. The sight of all those hams hanging in the rafters would also look quite nice, lending a rustic air to the place and then there would be the anticipation. It takes months to cure so it will be a lesson in patience for me.
Stage one, then, was to make my salt boxes. Wine cases would be ideal but I can’t get them here but I have plenty of African teak. Now I don’t know whether any of you have tried sawing through a plank of African Teak but I can tell you that it isn’t easy. A cross cut saw seems to glide over the wood hardly making an impression. The wood heats up the blade and seems to pinch it. Even a hefty circular saw makes heavy weather of it, the blade red hot in seconds and great clouds of smoke issuing from the cut. What was supposed to be a bit of gentle and therapeutic relaxation was turning into a real labour of love. So I called the boys over and told them to get on with it. I love work, I can watch it all day. There was only one bit of confusion. The lads just could not understand why the lid had to be fractionally smaller than the inside of the box. The lid will just fall inside the box, they pointed out. Exactly, I said. I then went on to explain in detail the uncomplicated process of curing a ham, the meat surrounded by salt in the box and the lid, with a weight on it, applying pressure. They were astonished that Presunto, as it is called here, was so easy to make yet so expensive. Well that’s because it takes such a long time, months before you can get your money back with the finished product I continued. They seemed so genuinely interested that as soon as I find a source of muslin, I am going to show them how to do it.
Dead easy. Cut the bits to size and nail em together
Might need to planee the lid a bit just so it slides in and out easy
I am also going to try making Bresaola. That cures in a marinade before air drying rather than salt and is ready after only a couple of weeks. I must have eaten it sometime during my life but I honestly cannot recall when, but it certainly looks appetizing in Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall’s The River Cottage Meat Book. In the same book, HFW also states that the very best air dried ham is called Pata Negra, is fiendishly expensive and is made from small semi wild Iberian pigs. Well those are exactly the sort of pigs I have running around the forest here. Originally, the pigs here will have been introduced by the Portuguese and these must be their descendants. They look exactly like Cerdos Ibericus and, since they live wild, I am hoping the flavour of the cured ham will be exceptional. Since I am not allowed to hunt them, catching them will be a bit of a bugger but I’ll think of something. With the three dogs I have finding them will be easy. These dogs have hunting in their genes and when we go for walks you can see them working together as a team and they always manage to flush something out of the undergrowth. Still, they are not as good as the dog Julian told me about which is on a farm near to his timber concession. There you can buy chickens. Usually, catching a chicken involves a lot of swift legwork as they are very free range. On this farm however, you point out the chicken you want and then the farmer shouts, ‘Dog! That chicken!’ and his dog hurtles after the chicken and pins it to the ground in seconds. That must be pretty cool to see.
With everything on the cards suggesting I could have a world class product within my grasp I suppose I had best think of a name. I can’t call it any of the established names, nor would I want to. If this stuff turns out to be really good then it will stand with its own identity.
Here piggy piggy...Mine look just like these
So, I have my heavy teak boxes, salt, spices and herbs and the main ingredient is only an illegal shot away. All I need is the muslin and then in about eight or ten months, I will have Presunto Flordita. Made from the wild descendants (and probably purer line) of Iberian pigs, cured in natural sea salt and locally grown herbs in African Teak boxes and air dried in a cool Atlantic breeze. It’d be a no brainer for the marketing department. With all that going for the product, only I could fuck it up so I would have no one else to blame. Still, I am really looking forward to giving it a go. I might send one to HFW packed in straw in a beautifully hand crafted teak box. After all, his excellent River Cottage series played no small part in my decision to drop out of the mainstream and go and live on a beach next to a river.