lamb prosciutto

December 3, 2010

I love lamb. Absolutely love it. I will take a lamb chop over a steak any day of the week and don’t even get me started talking about legs of lamb. Oh, wait. Gonna have to, since this is a post all about curing them.

I have been wondering about curing lamb for a while now. A year ago I tried some lamb prosciutto from a local Seattle charcuterie company, and found it to be really quiet special indeed. The only bugger is really that you have a limited market for it. You have to LOVE lamb to like lamb prosciutto – the game flavors get condensed, and with curing you notice the quality of lamb very much – precisely the same way you do with curing pork. Crap goes in and crap will surely come out the other side.

I should mention that I am extremely picky about my lamb. I would rather it didn’t travel from an island half way round the world on a plane just so I munch on it. Sure, New Zealand has some decent enough lamb – but so too does the US, if you focus on small family run farms.

When we talk about prosciutto we automatically think about the pig. I say heck to that.. bloody discrimination that is!. Lambs have back legs too, why don’t we have a go at curing those. Turns out apparently it is a really good idea. I know a few people that are very successful at curing it, and they have really loved the condensed lamby goodness that a few months of drying brings.

My original plans for my good ole leg of lamb was to cure it bone in, classic prosicutto style. When I got the joint in the mail (more on that in a minute), from looking at how the leg was cut, it seemed to make more sense to bone the leg out, and roll it, pancetta style, into a neat bundle. When carefully trimming out the bone, you could see three distinct muscle groups that were really just held together by a thin layer of fat and silverskin, and when these were cleaned up with got three very distinct muscle bundles to cure.

This, as it turns out, was a bit of luck. If I had rolled the leg up, it would have been bloody huge, and a little bit of a nightmare to cure – having three smaller pieces made the whole job much easier, and they should dry a little faster too. This is another good thing, since I lack any kind of patience whatsoever.. (is charcuterie really the best hobby for me then?)

Because juvenile meat tying jokes are far better with a friend, and because she is darn skilled at what she does, Becky Sellengut came over to lend a hand tying up these pieces – and to laugh at how slowly I tie up meat (those chef types you know..). I wish I had got a photograph of Becky hitting one of the pieces with a saucepan, trying to flatten it out to tie better.. but alas I didn’t have a camera in my hand, just some string and a piece of lamb.

So these three muscle bundles got tied up, and they are now in the curing chamber, sitting pretty. I reckon they will take a couple of months to dry out enough to slice and eat. Thankfully not having the bone in the meat will also make this much easier to slice.

Now to talk about where the lamb is from. I like to get all my meat from small farms that do a very good job of animal welfare, and stay clear of hormones and antibiotics. This unfortunately raises the cost of making charcuterie a great deal, but it is something I choose to do, so I don’t bitch about it (I just make less charcuterie, but of a higher quality).

I got an email from Lava Lake Lamb a few months ago, thanks to a tip off from the lovely Jen of Use Real Butter. They asked if I wanted to have a go curing some of their lamb. My naturally picky self immediately looked up everything to do with them, because honestly, I don’t like taking freebies, even if it is top shelf lamb.

So it turns out they are an organic lamb farm over in Idaho. I guess my theory that Idaho is just potato fields and white supremacy groups is now out the window – apparently there is a lamb farm too! Not just any lamb farm I must add. From everything I have read about them (and no, not just their website..) I seriously cannot see how I could agree with their principles any more. They move their lambs around almost a million acres of protected ranch land, giving those little gems an extremely varied diet – not to mention a fantastically healthy lifestyle. Further to this the business is totally non-profit – any profit they do make they put back in to habitat conservation in Idaho. In short, I wouldn’t talk about them on my blog if I didn’t completely believe in what they are doing. And I do.

“How does their lamb taste?” you ask No idea.. this leg is curing, I will hopefully find out in a couple of months!

Home cured lamb prosciutto recipe:

Note: no weights are given because you will have a different weight of meat to me – everything is a percentage of the meat weight, after trimming. For example – say the meat weighs 1226g and we want to find out the amount of salt we need in grams – 1126/100 x 3.8 = 46g

1 half leg of lamb

kosher salt: 3.8%

sugar: 3%

freshly ground black pepper: 1.4%

freshly chopped rosemary: 1%

cure #2: 0.25%

crushed juniper berry:  0.4%

If the leg is bone-in you need to remove the bone. Run your fingers over the meat to work out the direction of the bone. Cut along the line of the bone, where it feels closest to the surface of the meat. Open the meat up with your fingers, and make another cut in to the opening, just to one side of the bone. Keep going all the way round till you trim the bone out.

Trim away anything that doesn’t look too tasty – large pieces of silver skin, large pieces of fat and any glands you see can all go in the trash. If some of the large muscle groups are only held together by a thin piece of silverskin or fat, trim them into separate pieces.

Weigh all the meat.

Mix up your cure ingredients, based on the weight of the meat.

Rub the cure ingredients into the meat, all over. I find this easiest to do in a large zip lock bag – that way you don’t loose any of the cure on the counter top.

Seal up the bag, and bung it in the fridge for 15 days or so.

Rinse off the cure ingredients, and pat dry with paper towels. Let the meat sit on a rack at room temp for 30 minutes to an hour.

If the leg is in separate pieces, deal with each piece separately. Roll the meat into a very tight tube, making sure you have no air gaps in the middle of the meat. Tie this extremely tightly. I cannot stress enough how important it is to make sure there are no air voids inside the roll, and it is tied tightly. Air pockets will breed bacteria, and spoil the meat.

For information on how to tie up a whole muscle like this – you can watch this video I took of me tying up the recent lonzino. Exactly the same process!

Hang at 50F and about 75% rH for two months, or until the meat feels firm throughout.

Photography setup:

Just thought I would post a quick picture showing my setup for the shot at the start of this post. Observe the dumbell holding up a piece of wood, holding up the backdrop. Not sexy, but it works!

Next post I will do a total breakdown of this shot, including the post production work!

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  • Tokyo Terrace December 3, 2010 at 7:02 am

    I think its really amazing that you make so many cured meats at home the way you do- I love seeing the process & results! I’m not quite brave enough to venture into that world yet. Maybe one day!

  • Sharon Miro December 3, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    Lovely–like you I prefer a good lamb steak grilled anyday! Since my guanciale has turned out so well, I am going to try some lonzino next. Bacon has become a snap.
    But lamb is up after that.
    I once researched making prosciutto as they do in Italy–one haunch takes about 18 months!
    Thinking about that frying pan in Becky’s hand makes me smile–but she may have a point-My granpa always used a heavy pan to tenderize meat before cooking–why wouldn’t it have impact on curing meats?

  • matt December 3, 2010 at 7:16 pm

    Sharon – Once I get a third fridge to hold meat as it is curing in salt, I totally plan on making whole pig leg prosciutto. 18months is a serious commitment, but a worthwhile one!

  • Sebastien Tavel December 3, 2010 at 10:45 pm

    I made a goat prociutto that is pretty tasty. Same technique, with a de-boned leg.
    That’s apparently an old traditionnal Itralian recipe from the Alps area where they used to cure ibex goat legs.

  • Tamra December 4, 2010 at 2:51 am

    I really, really, really want to know how this turns out and tasts in two months because I (might) want to try doing one. I raise my own lambs for our freezer just a wee bit north of you, and I would love to do this with a leg IF its really good. I’ll watch for an update.

  • Debs December 4, 2010 at 11:25 am

    Great blog. gonna try your lamb.

    I love the photography pic at the end !!!!


  • Karen December 4, 2010 at 1:11 pm

    I just wanted to say I love your pictures!

  • Neel | Food Photography Blog December 5, 2010 at 12:41 am

    Matt thats a great photo. Can’t wait to read about the photo shoot and post production. Would love to know about the gear as well. Like, What tripod is it? and your lighting equipment.

    Thanks for sharing this with us.

    – Neel

  • whatstrubyeating December 5, 2010 at 2:36 am

    it looks soooo good! again! My prosciutto was about 5 months in… and its furry and green. It just went to compost, a sad day. But on a bright note, ive got some wooly pig face hanging in a freshly santitized fridge!

  • Matt December 5, 2010 at 6:16 am

    Neel – the tripod is a manfrotto with a 3axis head. I like to be able to adjust each axis independently. Tripods are a personal preference really – spend money on a good stable one.

    Ruby – too bad for even a vinegar wash huh? Sorry to hear you had to trash it. Happens to professional prosciutto curers too from what I hear.

  • Alex December 6, 2010 at 10:07 am


  • Annie December 6, 2010 at 8:52 pm

    Matt, absolutely love the post and can’t wait to see the final result of this curing project. For readers of Matt’s blog, use this promo code (LLLblog12) in your shopping cart to save 10% off all orders over $150 at Lava Lake Lamb. Remember, your purchase supports conservation efforts in the West!

  • retro sweets December 7, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    Lovely post! I was reading seriously when I came by this: When we talk about prosciutto we automatically think about the pig. I say heck to that.. bloody discrimination that is!- Cracked me up! Lol!

    Never tried lamb prosciutto myself. Never even thought it’s possible for lambs. But now that I know, maybe I’ll try to be fancy and ask for it sometime. 🙂

  • Kathleen December 15, 2010 at 5:35 am

    I love your work.
    All of it.

  • Guillermo B. December 17, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    Hi Matt!
    It´s amazing this conection. For the last months I have dryed meats, My techniques are similar to yours. I am in Argentina, phisically far but we are moving in the same direction. I do not know what you mean when you say you use “Cure #2” please let me know what it is or even better let me know what components it has.
    I will start doing photos so as to share them with you.
    Hoping to hear from u soon I wish you all the best

    • mattwright December 20, 2010 at 4:37 am

      Cure 2 is a special mix of salt, sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite. The nitrate and nitrite give protection against botulism. Nitrite does the work. Nitrate over time converts to nitrite, which makes sure there is a constant supply of nitrite to combat the rare but deadly botulism.

  • melora December 21, 2010 at 5:45 pm

    What a great idea. We’ve been co-op farming with friends in the Puyallup Valley and have cured our own bacon, ham, pancetta, guanciale, and salt pork from our piggles (cheers to Michael Ruhlman!). We also have lambs (and various foul and eggs and a huge garden – such generous friends!) and have been talking about experimenting with curing their meat as well as freezer cuts and sausage – I’m totally sold now!

  • zenchef December 23, 2010 at 3:34 am

    I haven’t visited for a while (busy w/ new job) but i can see you keep producing quality posts with mind-boggling photography. At least it shows me how far i have to go to become an awesome food blogger like yourself. 🙂 “Wow” at the lamb proscuitto.

  • kamran siddiqi December 27, 2010 at 5:36 am

    I agree with the lamb chop over a steak statement. I absolutely love lamb and this post has me salivating. BTW, the first photo is absolutely wonderful- the lighting is gorgeous.

  • Jan January 2, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    What an interesting and informative blog! And a very well done instructional photography video. I will bookmark and enjoy! Thank you.

  • Chris Edwards January 30, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    First of all, I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to document and post your efforts. I’m in the process of reducing my copy of Ruhlman/Polcyn’s book into tatters and a second perspective on the processes is invaluable.

    My specific question with regard to the lamb prosciutto is whether it really has to be rolled tightly in the drying phase (Polcyn leaves rolling as an option in his Pancetta recipe)? It seems that if the objective is simply drying, then rolling and tying them slows things down and doesn’t really add value. If the objective is chemical action during the drying phase then I can see that slowing things down makes sense. The reason I’m wondering is because the rolling/tying step seems to add the risk of bacterial entrapment.


    • mattwright January 31, 2011 at 5:50 am

      With pancetta the rolling is totally optional. I personally hardly ever roll a pancetta these days. The reason for rolling more often than not is to create a uniform thickness across the product – meaning that it will cure more evenly. This is really apparent in a boned out lamb leg. Some sections might have 1/8″ thickness, other parts 1″. Once rolled up tightly however you form a pretty decent cylinder shape, and those differences are negated, making a more evenly dried product.

  • Eliza Flanagan February 28, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    I am loving your site!
    I have just spent a fantastic 3 hours perusing your various charcuterie projects, all of which are making me very hungry!
    I am just about to embark on my first attempts at charcuterie making and your blog is going to be my bible.

    Photo’s are really beautiful too..

  • Nano May 26, 2011 at 7:49 am

    Please i need to know, why we can’t cure a whole leg of lamb with bone in? i want to make country style leg of lamb, is there any issue with it? i can have access to fresh lamb and i can choose how to cut it. thanks for answering, and do u recommend the brine method

    • mattwright May 27, 2011 at 5:26 pm

      you can certainly cure the whole leg bone in Nano. I have been advised however that slicing it is pretty tricky, and you end up with more waste.