In the Beginning – There Was Gabagool
In my search for purpose and a new career as an urban farmstead type, I’ve recently rekindled an interest in the art and science of curing meats. I was inspired last month when I started poking around into the possibility of acquiring a small, but well-respected artisan meat company. While that deal did not go through it set off a spark in my brain that has me thinking about becoming the next Sausage King of Seattle. Could I be a 21st century Abe Froman perhaps? Anyway, since late February I’ve studied all types of things like HAACP plans, knives, hygrometers, ph meters, good vs. bad mold and, most importantly, meat purveyors.
Over the past 2 years I’ve made bacon and pancetta at home with pretty good success. Although my wife doesn’t like the salty-ness of some of the bacon; I have been pretty happy with as have friends I have shared with. During a recent conversation with Mike Easton from the esteemed Il Corvo in Seattle, I was told to essentially ‘throw out’ the first Charcuterie book by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn in favor of their second book, Salumi and Cooking by Hand by Paul Bertolli. In Mike’s words, ‘those recipes are just too damned salty!’ So, on I went to get my new books and try my hand at a new style of old world cuisine.
Her Name Was Lola the Coppa
After sampling my dad’s (Don Stefano) coppa down in California in January, I decided to try my hand at making a couple of my own. The recipe and process are quite simple for coppa. Coppa is made from a muscle that runs from the neck of a pig down to the 2nd or 3rd rib bone along the back. The problem is, in this country you typically buy whole USDA pork shoulder/butt which in which the coppa is cut before the desired point on the rib.
So, you get about 2/3 of the coppa instead of the whole muscle on a European style shoulder cut. You also need to trim it out of the shoulder so you have to figure out which muscle it is and put your butchery skills to work. It’s not that hard to do but I did need to refer to the Salumi book for illustrative help. Some butchers will cut a whole coppa out for you if they are working with a whole or half hog – but this seems to be a rare occasion.
I started out with 2 pork shoulders that I trimmed out the coppa on. I’ll call them Lola and Rico. I photo-documented the process step by step for those of you scoring at home:
Step 1 – Trimming the coppa from the butt
The sort of triangular piece of meat on the left side of the shoulder is the coppa. So, we must separate it from the rest of the shoulder to do our work.
His Name was Rico
Of course, as the story by Barry Manilow goes, Lola met Rico at the Copa. So, here’s Rico pre-dressage…
And now Rico being trimmed – in a little better fashion than Lola now that I have practice…
And now for Lola and Rico side by side, all trimmed and weighed out:
Step 2: The Cure
No, I’m not going to integrate Robert Smith into this mess. But, we have to cure Lola and Rico now. So, here’s the process. I used Diamond Crystal kosher salt at 3% of the weight of the coppa. If you want to get fancy, you can use Trapani sea salt as any good Italian would do. I used no nitrates here as this level of salt will inhibit the growth of any undesirable bacteria.
This is not to say you should not use #1 cure – you can if you want an added level of safety to prevent the growth of Clostridium botulinum and other undesirable bacteria.
They Fell in Love
Now that both Lola and Rico have been salt boxed, it’s time to add the desired herbs and spices. For Rico, I chose to do a cure with Black Pepper, sliced garlic and ground fennel. For the 2.75 pound coppa I used about 1.5 Tablespoons of each spice with 2 cloves of thinly sliced garlic.
I toasted both the black pepper and fennel seed to release the oils and aromatics. Then I cracked the black pepper with the back of a skillet and put the fennel seed in a grinder for a moment to give me this:
For Lola, I chose to do a juniper and bay cure. For the ingredients in this cure, I used:
- 5 bay leaves – cracked by hand
- 1 Tbsp of toasted, cracked black pepper
- 1 Tbsp dried thyme
- 1 Tbsp crushed juniper berries
Step 3: Bagged and Pressed
Now that Lola and Rico have been properly seasoned, they need a couple of days on the cure.
For this, I sealed each bag and then put about 8# of weight in the form of landscaping cinder from my backyard (washed of course).
This is a faster curing process than many would prescribe. The weight of the bricks placed on top of each coppa help to distribute the cure more rapidly by speeding up osmosis. If you are not weighing down the coppa then you may want to increase your curing time to anywhere from 2-3 days/pound of meat.
And Now We Wait…
The coppa stay refrigerated in this state for 2 days (1 day for each kilo of meat) – flipping halfway through the process while redistributing the cure between flips. Once they have been through the first cure, they’ll be rinsed and encased in beef bung with more herbs to dry for at least 4 weeks up to 12 months while they lose 30-40% of their weight. Drying time will vary based on many factors including the fat and water content of the pork as well as ambient temperature and humidity in your room or chamber.
To read part two of this story on curing coppa please click here.
I’ll also be writing more about charcuterie and salumi going forward trying various Mediterranean techniques on different cuts of meat. Here’s another one of my favorites – How to Make Tonno di Maiale. Stay tuned!
Dad, are we there yet?
Hi Jason. This is Tony Bartlett from south Africa..
Please could you explain what you mean by Beef bung. Many thanks
Hi Tony – thanks for reading and good question. Before I started doing this I had no idea what one was. Beef Bung, also known as beef cap, is the terminal end of the large intestine in a cow. They typically come in 4.5″ or 5″ diameter sizes and are ideal for coppa, mortadella and bologna. Here’s a good link with a diagram to show you what’s what inside the cow: http://www.fao.org/docrep/003/x6556e/x6556e03.htm
Hello on your ing you have 1# kosher salt, 8 oz sugar, 2oz pink/cure #1. Then you say 2 c curing salt mix. I’m not sure what you mean. Can you please explain it. Thanks for your time. Joan
Hi Joan – I’m not sure I follow you. Can you specify what part of the post you are referring to?
I left an 800 and 1000g piece of coppa in salt/pink salt/spice mix for 3 days. I’m worried it wasn’t long enough as I am seeing that folks leave them for 10-14 days. After about 7 days, they are still softer than the lomo and bresaola I salt cured for 12-14 days. I weighed the 800 g and it has lost about 100 g of weight. Is it possible to place them back in salt if they didn’t cure long enough?
If you’ve removed it from the cure and rinsed it already I would not suggest putting it back into a salt cure. For 3 days you should be good to go if you used weight to compress the coppa during the curing process.
How long do you leave the meat in the salt? Do you just put it in the box ?
I do 1 day for every two pounds of meat. Flip every other day.
Hi Jason, I have followed you recipe and have had my coppa hanging for about 3 weeks now. I have two questions for you:
1. There is mold that is growing on the outside of the beef bung, is this typical or did I do something wrong? How do you characterize bad mold juju from good mold if there is such a thing?
2. Is the 30% weight loss goal taken from before or after you put it in the salt cure?
Hi Todd – thanks for the note.
The mold is typical and you did nothing wrong. If it’s white mold then just leave it. If it’s dark mold (green or black) then take a damp cloth soaked with white wine and wipe it down.
As far as weight loss goes – you want to measure from the point after you’ve taken it off the cure.
Jason — Well, I began the cure to my first salumi before my bung arrived (that just sounds so wrong on so many lower levels). So I went with the Youtube where the guy wraps the meat in a paper bag. I wanted to use your rub ingredients, but must say that since no one had juniper berries, I bought a Christmas wreath at the Fred Meyer here in Newport and dehydrated them slightly before crushing and applying. I unwrapped the meat and sliced it so thin on my commercial Fleetwood™ that I could almost read your blog post through the slices. IT TURNED OUT WONDERFULLY! I now have my bung, elastic sock and a big bottle full of juniper berries. All set for the next neck muscles. Thank you so much for your posts. Now I need to find a way to make the guanciale for my bucatini all’amastriciana and I’ll be set! Ciao4niao, Jacob
That’s awesome – I love the urban foraging aspect of your juniper berry acquisition!
Can you clarify what the “salt box” cure is and provide instructions for that? Basically just coat it in salt??
Hi Jerry – yes, it’s basically coating the meat with the cure. However, you want to brush off any excess as too much will leave you with a very salty product.
Hi there. I am using 1 tablespoon of Morton’s salt per pound of pork. How long do you think I should leave the pork curing in the fridge for? (I am not applying any weight; just put the pork in a zip lock).
After the dry curing, can I dry the cured pork in the fridge (using cheese cloth) and if ok: for how long?
Thanks a bunch!
Hi Alex –
First off – I wouldn’t recommend using Morton’s table salt. It will absorb more rapidly into the meat due to the grain size and will create a much saltier product than desired. Depending on the size of the coppa, I’d recommend leaving it on the cure for 2-3 days/pound up to 14 days at most.
For drying – I do not recommend you dry in the fridge. Both the cold temperatures and the humidity levels will leave you with an end product that will likely have significant case hardening and a soft interior. You’ll need to find a space to hang the coppa with a temp range of 50-65 degrees and a humidity level of 60-70 percent ideally.
As for duration – you are looking at weight loss percentages. There are a number of factors that influence this including temp, humidity, fat content, etc. I’d recommend going for a 35% weight loss between the weight of the meat when you remove and rinse the cure to the point at which you’d consider the coppa ‘done’.
You can read the second part of this post for additional details.
Hope that helps – happy curing!
Thanks for your response Jason. (actually I am using Morton’s tenderquick)
Finding the right temp may be difficult as I live in the tropics.
I will find a way 🙂
Keep up with the good work. Looking forward to seeing more of your cold cuts on your blog!