Catholic Joy and Adventures in Pork; Prudence and Prosciutto

20140815_092614_AndroidRecently we were happy to invite to dinner a couple who are friends of our friend Fr. A. Since we were meeting them for the first time, all that we knew was that (a) they are both Italian and (b) they are newlyweds and (c) they are visiting California and staying with Fr. A.

I was a little intimidated by the idea of hosting Italians from Rome, but I decided that I would have to take the risk, which included getting the second prosciutto from Salumi ready for cutting and service.

The risk was calculated. At the very least, I’d get an impartial assessment; hopefully they wouldn’t care too much about hurting my feelings and they would know real prosciutto. How could any Italian person not know prosciutto? I’m sure it’s possible, but odds are not at my house.

I would find out if I’m crazy for trying.

If I had known that these newlyweds were also gourmands (the husband works in purchasing and sales for a company that distributes gourmet foods from Italy) I would have understood a bit better the gravity of my risk-taking.

Friday Night Menu

house-cured “prosciutto” with honeydew melon

Spaghetti alla carbonara (house-cured guinciale)

Salad with grilled peaches, lavender, blue cheese and arugula

Caprese salad (Mr. Karl’s garden tomatoes, my basil, Deacon D’s olive oil)

Braised beef with polenta and fresh sweet corn

Chocolate mousse with fresh berries

New Clairvaux wines, Quartermaster’s beer, homemade lemoncello

photo 2The dinner went well. Everyone ate, even the littles (who were well behaved, considering that dinner started at 8:30). If everyone eats everything, it usually means it’s okay.

It’s been a whole year since we began this project with the first pig that we purchased, curing the hams in the style of prosciutto — a simple salt cure (not brine) followed by a coating in lard and cracked pepper, wrapping in cheesecloth and hanging in the Curebrewzer for nearly twelve months.

About four months ago, I unwrapped and tested the first of the two prosciuttos, which went to a friend. I wondered whether our friends like it, and learned on another recent evening that it was used to make panini (with aioli, shaved onion, and a bunch of other good stuff) — lunches (and late-night snacks) for a Catholic retreat group. A well loved ham brings much happiness.

20140815_094147_AndroidI’d say the prosciutto was even better with an additional four months of aging. The rind was a bit firmer, the ham itself was just as tender, but flavors were more concentrated, more porky, especially the fat had a sweeter, more buttery flavor. I’m pleased with the outcome for this first attempt. I have some ideas for the next two hams that began the air-drying process in the Curebrewzer last week. I plan to hang them for 18 months, and remove the cheesecloth after 9 or 10 months to let the air harden the rind more directly.

The Italian gourmet food dealer took a turn with the knife to slice the prosciutto, which I had rigged up on an oven roasting rack (maybe I do need a better solution). For twenty minutes he patiently (I need a different knife for this) replenished the tray of shaved paper thin slices of ham (like he’d done it a few times before), enjoyed with a slice of melon. We ate well over a pound of the thin slices. When the couple said their thank-you’s and good-bye’s, the husband shook my hand and told me (in his charming Italian accent), “You made me very happy as an Italian man tonight! Thank you!”

So Adventures in Pork continues, with renewed vigor. We have another pig waiting at the butcher right now, which means two more hams going in to cure in the near future. We have friends raise these pigs for us, and it turns out to be an affordable way to buy high quality meat. And, it’s fun to do something special like this prosciutto project.

20140805_103004_AndroidIncidentally, I was at Costco recently and came across a display — not for prosciutto — but for Spanish Iberico ham, a close relative of prosciutto.

The hams from Spain have their own following, and it’s well deserved. Iberico is a very robust flavor that I really like, in part due to the special breed of pigs raised for the ham, and their diet, which, includes feasting upon acorns. The hams are also cured a bit longer than prosciutto. There are certain Iberico hams that are aged up to three years, and in that time develop a concentrated porky flavor.

Displays like this at a warehouse store signify that Americans are developing a more mainstream interest in foods that come from time-honored, traditional preparation methods. And it also says that there’s money to spend in this area of cuisine. Or it says salt plus pork plus fat equals good.

Things like diet and space for the hogs, and things like time and care in the process are what make items like Iberico ham (or prosciutto, or artisan cheese, etc.) so expensive. To save money, and because it’s more fun than a plastic package from the warehouse store, we’re making our own prosciutto-style locally-sourced ham, and sharing it with family and friends — whether new, old, or Italian. It’s a tiny little Catholic joy for me.


18 thoughts on “Catholic Joy and Adventures in Pork; Prudence and Prosciutto

  1. This callous and selfish attitude toward animals is one of the reasons why I seriously question the validity of the vaunted “Christian charity”. Buddhism is so much more compassionate in this respect.

    • What’s callous and selfish is anthropomorphizing an animal so that it becomes about what a person thinks the animal wants. What’s callous and selfish is denying a pig his God-given path to pork glory — his chance to be a part of eternity, to be remembered as a noble animal whose Purpose was fully realized. That you would deny an animal its Purpose and call others callous and selfish is just sad, and backwards.

      • Prosciuto can’t touch Jamón Serrano, even the standard jamón puts prosciutto to shame.
        Animal rights philosophy has more to do with denigrating human beings than holding animals in a higher regard. Its adherents have no clue of the glory of Man.

      • It has nothing to do with anthropomorphizing and everything to to with compassion and charity. Animals feel fear and pain just like humans. But I am not surprised – yours is a typical Christian response. This is one of the reasons that I’m no longer a Christian.

      • Animals may feel “fear and pain”, but it’s a pretty big mistake to say they do so, “just like humans”. The Catechism says that we must treat animals with kindness (CCC 2416). Nothing I’ve said or described in any way means that animals should be treated unkindly. There is nothing right about being cruel to animals, or unnecessarily harming them, causing them pain, etc. One of the reasons I’m pleased with our Adventures in Pork project is that we know how the pigs are treated: in a word, they are treated WELL. They are kept in clean pens, given room to roam and plenty to eat. They are treated kindly, but that does not change the fact that they are animals given by God for a specific purpose: FOOD.

        The word “compassion” comes from the Latin “compati”, which means to “suffer with”. A person cannot authentically “suffer with” an animal because a person is not an animal. A person who THINKS they know what an animal is experiencing is not the same as a person who KNOWS what another PERSON is experiencing. The word “charity” comes from the Latin “caritas”, which means “Christian love of one’s fellows”. Again, this is not a word that can be used in connection with animals. So yeah, I’d say you’re doing a fair amount of anthropomorphizing, since you’re using words to express feelings that are reserved strictly for humans.

        Humans and animals do not share the same dignity; that is central to Christian teaching, and it’s a fact that I’m not ashamed to admit. Jesus came not as a turtle or giraffe, but as a person, which should tell us something about our role in Creation, and the fact that our focus should always FIRST be on being of service to other PEOPLE; animal welfare never supersedes care and concern for, and the dignity owed to, our human brothers and sisters.

      • Doubt it. St. Francis wasn’t even a vegetarian, according to Fr. Augustine Thompson’s “Francis of Assisi: A New Biography” (Cornell, 2012).

  2. Very interesting. I smoke a lot of meat. But this could add a whole new dimension. Curious about the whole. Using process. What is a curebrewzer?

    • A “curebrewzer” is what I call my tall freezer in my brew house. I have a temperature regulator on it that allows me to set any temp between 0-80F. And I also control the humidity. For hanging prosciutto I try to get as close to 60F and 60% humidity as possible.

  3. Even though I follow your blog on WordPress, I saw this post today on New Advent. Cool!
    I’m realizing that I need to explore the world of cooking a bit more…
    God bless!

  4. Since I don’t seem to be able anymore to reply to specific posts, here’s my general answer:
    So far, I have seen nothing here but the usual obfuscation, theological casuistry and linguistic nitpicking. As I have said before – I’m not surprised, that’s the kind of response this subject usually triggers among Catholics (and Christians in general). The simple fact is that there is nothing in Christianity that would forbid charity towards animals (yes, it is a human word because I am a human and I don’t speak cow, pig, dog or cat) but many Christians are (1) simply too fond of meat-eating, (2) automatically prejudiced toward vegetarianism because it is popular in the secular(ist) world. What I simply cannot understand is the fact that the supposedly “pro-life” religion of “love” sees nothing wrong in breeding sentient beings for the sole purpose of being killed. I find this not only inconsistent but also hypocritical and no amount of convoluted arguing can obscure this basic absurdity.
    As for St. Francis of Assisi being vegetarian, this is not important. What we know for sure is that he did not like animals being killed. But, sure, go ahead and question his compassion. There are already too few people like him in the history of Christianity and if you remove him from that tiny group, Christianity will only lose another feeble excuse for being “the religion of love”.

    • You’ve made a lot of presumptions to roll your dung-ball of an argument over the hill.

      Animals do not have the same rights, nor do they share the same consciousness, nor do they have the same sentience, as human beings. St. Francis of Assisi never suggested otherwise. He loved animals, BECAUSE he saw in animals the beauty of God’s creation. God expects that we treat all of Creation with kindness and care, including (especially) animals with feelings.

      However, I do not accept that a pig’s “sole purpose” is to be killed (a fallacious premise that conveniently allows you to reduce this to a “Christianity” = “animal-killing and torture” argument, which is completely without merit). Rather, a pig’s purpose is to provide nourishment for human bodies, to allow humanity to take pleasure in God’s abundant creation, and to give humans greater insight into God’s great love for us. Only a warped ideology that elevates animals to co-equal status with people provides a basis to call that hypocritical.

      I have no prejudice against vegetarianism; people who want to subsist totally on vegetables are free to do that, without any judgment from me. My prejudice is against vegetables: I don’t like them as much as sausage. I eat them only because they are good for me. But I suppose according to your lexicon that makes me a bigot too, for hurting the poor broccoli’s feelings.

  5. I applaud your encouragement of humane care of animals intended for meat. I ask you, though, to take care in replying to those whose concerns for those animals’ welfare extends beyond your own. I highly recommend _Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy_, by Matthew Scully, for a very thorough description of the horrors of commercial pig raising, for one thing; which, once any person with a functioning heart is aware of, will make EVERYONE who wants to continue to eat meat seek more humane alternatives, such as what you describe here. I thought I knew what was going on in factory farms, and I thought I knew it was “unfortunate,” even “bad,” for the animals. In truth, I had no idea. If some deeply evil and twisted person had wanted to purposefully design the worst possible torture for these highly intelligent and social animals, they could not do better than what is happening, unseen, to hundreds of thousands of pigs behind the walls of these meat factories (they are certainly not “farms” in ANY sense of the word anymore) right now, every day. I implore anyone who wishes to eat meat to read that book, and consider carefully whether and how they will continue to do so. Even if one cares not at all for the suffering of the animals involved, the fact is that (as a neuroscientist, I can tell you with confidence) eating meat of animals that have spent their entire lives in horrific distress WILL cause significant harm to YOUR health. If for no other reason than to respect your own body, the temple of the Holy Spirit, you should not eat such tainted fare. Again, I applaud your sharing how your family is taking a different, and far preferable (both from a human health standpoint, and from an environmental health standpoint (factory “farms” are horrible for the environment), as well as out of a desire to be proper and caring stewards of the animals who are at our mercy. Most people don’t even think about the fact that you COULD do something like this at home; it’s lovely to see how straightforward and completely possible it is, and to hear how it is even economical, to boot! REAL food: a definite joy!

    • Thanks, and for the record, I agree that the industrialization of raising meat animals is in many cases horrific and cruel, and not especially healthy for humans.

  6. On a different note, I sincerely applaud you for posting my replies – this kind of honest objectivity is not often found among unaffiliated bloggers, Catholic or otherwise. Let’s make a new start, shall we? All I’m asking for is for Christians to extend their charity and mercy over what used to be called “the animal kingdom”. The stress is on “charity and mercy”, not on “rights” or “emancipation” or any such extreme nonsense. Since animal souls are mortal, the only thing they really possess is life. They are clearly afraid of dying and they clearly feel pain (and it is completely immaterial whether they do it in the same way as humans.) Shouldn’t thus we, as the crown of creation and the stewards of it, seriously consider eliminating this suffering? Is this not what’s called “a Christian attitude”? However, every time this subject is brought up in a Christian audience, the opposition to it is immediate and unrelenting. Why?

    • I can see that my positive opinion about you was premature. Well, what can I say? I am really glad that I have left the Church, that’s all.

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