The new home of my Bresaola

December 29, 2008


I have been working on this Bresaola now for, er, 7 weeks in total. That is the longest time, by a country mile, I have worked on any one piece of food.

Each day, I would go down to the garage and check it. Check temperature, check humidity. Heck, most days I would do it twice.

But, alas. It was not enough. The bresaola now resides in the trash can.

And here is the kicker… It is most likely completely safe to eat. However, most likely isn’t good enough for me when I run the risk of either poisoning or killing myself or guests.

So what happened? What went wrong?

Well. A couple of weeks ago I noticed what looked like black mold on it. During the course of its curing (hanging) it has had white fuzzy, and green mold. These can be wiped off with vinegar, without too much alarm.

Black stuff however is nasty. Puke your guts up, or kill you nasty. The problem is, that it was so bloody hard to tell. The outside of the meat turns really dark during curing (those areas not covered in the white powder mold) – so was these round black areas in the middle of white mold just meat, or something more sinister?

For me, the novice at curing, it just wasn’t worth the risk. I did seek some advice. Some nutters just said cut it out and it will be fine. Others said junk it. Some said “cut it open when it is done, and sniff it – if it smells bad, throw it out”.

I just don’t want to risk it. As one friendly help said “It isn’t a sin to bin”. How right they are.

But that wasn’t it.

The bresaola developed what is called “case hardening”. During the first few days of hanging the meat, the humidity was pretty low. Down at 50%. Ideally you want the humidity between 60-70%. Too low humidity means that the outside of the meat dries out quickly, forming a crust – trapping the moisture in in the inside of the meat in – meaning the inside of the meat won’t dry out properly.

This is obviously completely my fault. I didn’t realise how important the right humidity was.

I fixed the humidity problem by wrapping that rodent cage surrounding the meat in plastic wrap, and putting a pan of salt water under the meat. But it was too late, the damage had been done.

This was meant to hang for about 3 weeks – it would then be pretty hard to the touch. Even after 5 weeks it still wasn’t that hard – the outside felt hard, but when you squeezed it the inside seemed soft. Not good.

Home Cured Bresaola

Before throwing out the bresaola I cut into it, just to take a look at it.   This is it above. Looks bloody fantastic doesn’t it? Well, it was obvious that there was some case hardening. Most of the slices showed a really dark ring around the outside (where the meat had really dried out, forming that crust I was talking about), and the inside was still too squishy – not quite raw meat squishy, but not cured meat texture either.

I so badly wanted to taste it. But no. Not risking it.

So, there lies the end of my bresaola experiment.

I am not going to bullshit you, I am sad. This was a really fun experiment, and I was so hoping it would come out right. It wasn’t even the money spent on the meat to be honest.. I just really wanted this to turn out – from a cook’s perspective – how awesome is it that you can just bathe some meat in salt (and a few other things), hang it in air for a while, and its flavor and texture is completely changed?

This failure however hasn’t quenched my desire to cure meat.. Heck, it has fueled it if anything. But, I am going to invest in some more equipment to help out.

Namely, a fridge. To go into my garage. With an external temperature controller, I can create the near perfect environment in a small fridge to cure meat.

My next experiment? DUCK PROSCUITTO.

I am going to try two different duck breasts – one from a natural grocery store, and one Magret duck breast – the breast of a fat duck (the breed raised for foie gras). The magret should give a far deeper flavor I would think – but only one way to find out. It should be fun.

Anyone have a mini fridge they don’t want? (and live in Seattle..)

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  • Alex December 29, 2008 at 9:47 am


    That’s a real kicker

  • sue bette December 29, 2008 at 12:28 pm

    Bummer!!! But I am happy to hear that you are giving it another go! Can’t wait to hear about the duck prosciutto plans and looking forward to the updates.

  • Alejandro December 29, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    I was looking forward to a success story with the bresaola….alas there is no point in risking such a thing, “if in doubt, throw it out”. As I write this I’m staring at my hanging Pancetta and hoping I rolled it tight enough. Good temp and humidity though (55F, 70%). I just hung it in our laundry room with a $40 humidifier and it works like a charm…so far.

  • Allison Day December 29, 2008 at 7:59 pm

    Oh no! I was really looking forward to seeing how your bresaola turned out. Still, better safe than sorry.

    Then again… duck proscuitto? Sounds fantastic! 😀

  • mike December 29, 2008 at 8:31 pm

    That’s a shame. Good luck with the duck prosciutto!

  • Judy December 29, 2008 at 8:53 pm

    Awwww! I had such high hopes for the bresaola! But you were right to toss it if you were unsure at all!

  • helen December 30, 2008 at 12:49 am

    My grandmother would’ve just wiped it off with a wet towel, at best; she’s strong as an ox and will be the oldest person alive one day…

    Keep up with the experiments. They’re fun to read. Good luck with the duck prosciutto!

  • Nick December 30, 2008 at 2:38 am

    That’s a real shame. I ate some thin slices of the one I attempted. It seemed good, and I’ve suffered no ill effects so far, but I never got any fuzzy mold growing on mine. If it’s any consolation, your bresaola looks much better, with a nice even coating of the white mold. I believe I may try some dry cured goose myself in the new year.

  • Hank December 30, 2008 at 6:35 am

    Bummer, Matt. I’ve screwed up bresaola, too — including one from an elk I shot, which REALLY pissed me off, as you can’t just run down to the store to get another eye round of elk…

    Remember, the thicker the meat, the more humid you need it. And time is a relative thing: I have hung guanciale or soppressata for, oh, 6 months and it was fine. Better, even.

    Bresaola can hang for a year, although I have never hung one so long. Humidity is key.

    How to get it right all the time? Buy a $40 “personal humidifier” and a $10 humidity gauge. Stick gauge in fridge the farthest away from the humidifier. Turn humidifier on low. Close fridge. Enjoy life…

  • brilynn December 30, 2008 at 6:36 am

    Noooooo!!! How sad…. But I look forward to seeing the duck….

  • Elan December 30, 2008 at 10:01 am

    Oh, that is a tragedy! It’s not just food that goes into the bin when that happens, but seven weeks of accumulated hope. And they can’t even recycle hope, it just goes into the landfill in great heaps to be buried under broken dreams and used cheesecloth.

    If in the future you find yourself worrying and curious about black mold in equal measure, you can actually do a tape lift or an agar culture and identify it under a microscope. Or use this as an excuse to get that gas chromatograph that every molecular gastronomist wants under their tree!

  • mattwright December 30, 2008 at 5:39 pm

    Hank – that sucks! I am taking your suggestion and getting a fridge. I will use a pan of water for now, but as I get into this more, a humidifier in there is a certainty.

    Brilynn: me too 😀
    Elan: Mate, there you go again! If I had a microscope, I wouldn’t know what to look for with the mold anyhow!!

  • Helen December 30, 2008 at 8:19 pm

    i’m so sorry to hear about your bresaola! It must be very disappointing but definitely the right decision I think. I am looking forward to the duck experiment!

  • Y December 30, 2008 at 9:29 pm

    Bummer Matt! I so wanted that bresaola to work for you too, after all that effort you put into it! But I would have done the same.. when in doubt, toss it out, I say!

  • brittany December 30, 2008 at 9:52 pm

    Oh Matt! I’m so sorry! I know how much tlc you’ve put into this. But I have to say, you’ve done the right thing. We want to keep you around ; ) Your family and the bogging communtiy needs you!

  • brittany December 30, 2008 at 9:54 pm

    PS- The good news is duck proscuitto is a piece of cake. We make it @ the restaurants all the time.
    I predict success…

  • matt December 31, 2008 at 1:26 am

    I so would have been your guinea pig.

    Oh well, better safe than sorry.

  • Heather December 31, 2008 at 6:17 am

    Send it to me! I’ll test it out for you. Can’t you cook it? Or send it to the lab for testing? What, you don’t have a “the lab”?

  • Rhiannon December 31, 2008 at 7:19 pm

    No! That sucks Matt – your baby went to the bin. Our saurkraut is smelling up our entire house… I’m afraid to try it out…

  • mattwright December 31, 2008 at 9:38 pm

    Thanks everyone!

    Brittany – you know, I still have to stop by Betty. And Crow, I haven’t been there for ever. Well, no pressure for these to come out good now, since you said it was easy and all.

    Matt – I like you too much to risk it mate!

    Heather – same as above. Cooking it would really ruin the delicate nature of it. A lab aint worth it.. I could cure another one for the price it would cost me.. heck I could most likely cure 10.

    Rhiannon – Saurkraut is pretty stinky stuff. Not quite my cuppa.

  • White On Rice Couple January 1, 2009 at 2:36 am

    It might be R.I.P for the Bresaola, but it was a valuable and entertaining experience for all of us! Valuable in all the lessons that you shared and entertaining in seeing this hunk of meat hang in front of your treadmill!
    Thanks for your commitment to great food and cooking. All you fans here are looking forward to the next food project!!

    Happy New Year guys!

  • matt wright January 1, 2009 at 6:33 pm

    WoRC – that is actually the really great thing about it. YES, I am pissed this bresaola didn’t turn out.. however if it had worked perfectly, I wouldn’t have learnt so much from the whole thing!

    Happy New Year to you guys too!

  • Leah Greenstein January 1, 2009 at 9:13 pm

    Nooooooo! I’m so sorry to hear about your bresaola tragedy. But I’m so proud of you for experimenting. You’re an inspiration, Matt. Happy New Year!

    XO, Leah

  • Food Woolf January 5, 2009 at 1:46 am

    Well break my heart into a million tiny pieces. I think that since I am not a parent I would volunteered myself as a guinea pig and tasted the thing–but I totally understand why you would be so cautious. The black mold part of the story did have me a little concerned…I’m happy to hear the tragic end of the bresaola hasn’t dampened your cooking gusto!

    cheers to your valiant effort!

  • we are never full January 7, 2009 at 3:24 am

    i gotta say, i just got really sad for you. here’s one for my homey (spilled a bit of my beer on the floor for that bresaola)…

  • jaden January 10, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    awwww poor bresaola!

  • shayne January 17, 2009 at 8:02 pm

    yep this is my fear, to put all that work and have to dump it. good foy for knowing when to say when and I am happy to see you try again. I hope it turns out for you this time. I will be watching.

  • Anticiplate January 18, 2009 at 10:09 pm

    Thank you so much for dinner last night! It was stunning. You and Danika are lovely and it was nice to finally put a name to a face:)