Genuine Charcuterie, a Meaty Primer from the Rock

Thomas and his Biltong, a south African jerky that is even better “wet,” or not taken full term.

We have some seriously meaty situations going on in the Genuine kitchens right now, and all the chefs have their hands in somehow.  From MGFD Miami’s chef de cuisine Bradley Herron’s fruitful aftermath of a class he took with chef Danny at Harry’s Pizzeria (who gets their own action through pop-up chef leftovers,) down to MGFD Grand Cayman, where chef Thomas Tennant has already cured one and is onto his second leg of prosciutto.  That’s where we focus today,  curious about the salty, sometimes spicy details of how our island-ensconced chef  cures these meats into my favorite snacks, from biltong to ‘nduja.  I sat down with chef Thomas to learn about water loss, humidity and other meat-curing technicalities that make the finished products so delicious.

How long did you cure the prosciutto?

It was packed in salt for just over 2 weeks. Then hung in the wine room, where the conditions are near perfect (Ideally 60 degrees Fahrenheit with 60% – 70% humidity). Because of the size and the fact that it is boneless, these 3 pieces of pig legs will hang for 1 year. I will be spraying them with a mold that will encourage other molds to stay off and develop flavor. It happens to be in the same family as the molds you find on Brie cheese.

Did it differ from the first time?

This will be the second prosciutto that I will have done, both using local pork legs. The first one was almost a shot in the dark. I did it bone-in and hung in the walk-in cooler for 14 months. The result was a success. The second attempt was a more educated trial. I read up on it a bit more during the time the first one was hanging

How did you update your method?

After the first try, I decided to change it a bit by going boneless, this will give a less wasteful product and I will be using molds to encourage the right mold to develop.

How did it taste? And how pleased were you with the result?

Its taste was very similar to a moist Italian prosciutto, sweet, slightly salty, balanced, and a pronounced local pork taste. I was very pleased from the first result and actually a bit surprised, it was a complete shot in the dark. I just hope that this next one will be better than the first. Only time will tell.

Was this the first time you made peperone?

The peperone that I made was the first ever dry-cured sausage.

What is it made of?  

It’s made of 100% local beef, as well as fennel seed, allspice, cayenne, and paprika.

How did you do it?

It was mixed together with curing salts and specific bacteria to prevent any botulism and drops the ph level to less than 5.0, which gives it a pronounced sourness.

Were you pleased with the flavor?

The result was actually amazing! Eating it is very much an experience for me, first a full flavored salted beef flavor came through, then the spices kicked in, and the finish was that of eating sourdough bread.

A selection from Thomas’ meat closet of what’s currently curing…

How did you become interested in charcuterie?

No pun intended, but I’ve been a big fan of sausages. When I was very young, I was introduced to bratwurst of many forms. Then salami growing up was a favorite deli meat. In culinary school, I spent extra time in the garde manger and butchery classes. I loved making the intricate inlay terrines, and all sorts of pates. But in the meat class, we got the chance to make the sausage. It was at first exciting to work with hog casings. We didn’t get the chance to work with middles or synthetic casings. While working in the MGFD_MIA restaurant, there were more opportunities to make terrines, pates and sausages. I had almost free-range on the recipes. Now here in Grand Cayman, I am able to have the time, space and audience to practice the craft. As a result, I have good products, an almost ideal room to ferment/dry in, and kitchen staff that are eager to learn more about it. Honestly, it’s an exciting program to work on, just like bread, always things to try.

Is there anyone else doing charcuterie on island?

Funny you should ask. I got the attention of a few Ritz and Italian chefs on island. They heard about it via Facebook and were eager to taste it. When they did, they were completely surprised of how great it tasted. They asked how did I do it, and I showed them, in limited capacity, the room and method. As far as I know, no one else is doing this. It tastes a lot of time and patience. But I am probably not the first to do it, just the current one.

Meat-in-progress.

I put the peperone with wood roasted local pumpkin and burrata. The pumpkin is roasted and then gets tossed with the peperone, so that it heats up the meat but doesn’t cook it. The prosciutto and pancetta I put with grilled peaches, avocado and mizuna.

What is the most out of the box flavor you’ve served them with?

I cannot really think of any setup that I served those products in that would “out of the box,” but I cannot deny that I have refused to put my homemade peperone on a pizza out of principle that it was such an effort to make the peperone. I currently also had biltong, a South African dried beef that is spiced with coriander and black pepper. The biltong was featured in the Grand Cayman Michael’s Genuine Home Brew beer launch dinner on September 8th and was a hit.

How do you plan on/or have you implemented them on the menu?

These products have made their way onto the menu periodically. Peperone with roasted pumpkin and burrata, biltong with avocado and 7-minute local egg, pancetta with grilled peaches, and salami with … well im not sure yet for that one. We shall see when the time is right.

What’s your next cured meat endeavor?

I currently have in the works, biltong, peperone, salami, season pepper salami, coppa, lamb coppa, dried merguez, chorizo, and the prosciutto. I have planned for a goat salami, nduja, and landjager. The big plan is to make this a continuous production, much like our bacon, so that it can be a regular item on the menu. Imagine a homemade spicy salami sandwich with seasonal ingredients, avocado, egg, roasted fennel, etc; or a charcuterie plate. The focus at this point is to find the recipe that works consistently well and sells well to the culture of the area.

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