why we love cured meats.
we love cured meats! especially traditionally prepared cured meats. we are NOT talking about deli chicken breast or turkey breast or roast beef. we ARE talking about cured and fermented traditional meats such as pepperoni, salami, prosciutto and others.
not all meats are created equal.
- many lunch meats such as chicken breasts, turkey breast, and roast beef may come from leftover parts of the animal that have then been ground up, cooked, and pushed into casings. these are NOT the quality cured meats we are talking about here.
- traditionally prepared, cured, and fermented meats go through a special curing process, which we find to be beneficial and healthful as part of a balanced overall way of eating.
most cured meats have some things in common.
- they usually contain parts of the animal that most people would consider “scraps” but that we find very beneficial. remember we like to eat animals nose-to-tail. that most p dont’ like but we love.
- then they are seasoned for preservation or curing or fermentation.
- the curing process takes the place of cooking, although many of them can be smoked or cooked after curing.
these are good things.
untreated meat goes bad fast.
a lot of it has to do with temperature, humidity, and water presence in the meat itself. most meats cannot be kept at room temperature in excess of a few days without spoiling.
curing is meat preservation. it involves drying and slight fermentation.
- drying happens using combinations of salt, nitrates, nitrites, and sugar, these ingredients draw moisture out of the meats (which makes it less likely to spoil and be overtaken by bad bacteria), inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria, and add a unique flavor.
- sugar is usually added, not for flavor, but to balance out the harshness of the salt and to provide glucose for beneficial bacteria. this induces a slight fermentation process. remember, controlled fermentation is beneficial in most situations because it preserves and enhances the bioavailability of nutrients.
curing can significantly extend the life of meat before it spoils, by making it inhospitable to the growth of spoilage microbes. curing is ancestral and it was a way to extend the shelf life of meat for long trips and periods of time when there wasn’t much game. in today’s modern world, it’s used more for taste, and also has the fringe benefits of preserving and fermenting the meat.
- traditionally cured meats are ancestral and healthful, especially if they come from quality animals.
- the curing process extends shelf life by drying out the meat. the sugar added contributes to a mild fermentation process.
- sugar as an ingredient in a cured meat is not a problem and is actually beneficial. as long as the meat doesn’t taste like candy, its’ good quality, and all the other ingredients check out, it’s good to go! you’ll notice with Wellshire’s black forest bacon and Christiansen’s Family Farm bacon (which is amazing), both use sugar and salt, but neither taste sweet.
the most common types of healthful, traditionally prepared, cured meats include:
- coppa or capocollo is a traditional Italian and Corsican pork cured meat made from the dry-cured muscle running from the neck to the fourth or fifth rib of the pork shoulder or neck. it is similar to prosciutto.
- cervelat. a traditionally cured and prepared meat that comes from Switzerland. it used to use a mixture of beef brains and meat. today it can include a mix of bacon, beef, and pork, along with spices and seasonings. although dry-cured, this sausage is usually cooked before serving.
- spanish chorizo. not to be confused with Mexican chorizo, which is usually purchased raw before cooking. Spanish chorizo traditionally uses natural casings made from intestines, a method used since Roman times. it is a fermented, cured, smoked sausage, which may be sliced and eaten without cooking, or added as an ingredient to add flavor to other dishes. other versions such as the Mexican chorizo may not be fermented and cured, and require cooking before eating.
- bacon. cured pork belly. probably the most consumed cured meat in the SHT community :)
- prosciutto. prosciutto is an Italian dry-cured ham that is usually thinly sliced and served uncooked.
- pepperoni is an American variety of salami, made from cured pork and beef mixed together and seasoned with paprika or other chili pepper. it’s mixed, ferment ted for a few days, then air dried for 6-8 weeks.
- salami is a type of cured sausage consisting of fermented and air-dried meat, typically beef or pork. the raw meat mixture is usually fermented for a day, then stuffed into an edible natural casing, and hung up to dry cure.
these are some of our favorite meats that contain organs. our favorite place to get these is U.S. Wellness Meats.
- we love head cheese. it’s made with flesh from the head of a calf or pig, or less commonly a sheep or cow, and often set in a loaf pan. most parts of the head are used. the brain, eyes, and ears are usually removed. the tongue, and sometimes the feet and heart, may be included. traditional head cheese is made from simmering the head of an animal, and then taking the stock and letting it congeal in a loaf pan. it’s usually eaten cold.
- liverwurst or liver sausage is a kind of sausage made from liver, usually combing liver with meat. other ingredients are meat, fat, and spices including ground black pepper, marjoram, allspice, thyme, ground mustard seed, or nutmeg. it’s usually eaten cold and sometimes spread.
- braunschweiger refers to a type of pork liver sausage which, if stuffed in natural casings, is nearly always smoked. the USDA requires that the product contain a minimum of 30% liver. a typical formula is about 40% pork liver or scalded beef liver, 30% scalded pork jowl, 20% lean pork trimmings and 10% bacon ends and pieces. added seasonings include salt and often include white pepper, onion powder or chopped onion, and mace.
quality cured meat producers.
here are some great producers creating quality cured meats from sustainably and high quality raised animals: