Two months had passed, and the doe’s leg wasn’t losing any more weight. It was time for a taste-test and the final stages of curing.
February 27th – The attic temperature had been generally in the low-mid 40s, and humidity between 35%-55%. It had been a warm winter, so no need for a heater, nor the fan and bowl of water. The ham weighed in at 8.8# (including sugna), meaning it hadn’t lost any weight in well over a month. It even looked the same as it did a month ago, with no mold growing on it. I decided to give it a try.
I apprehensively cut a thin slice from the ham. Placing it in my mouth, my anxiety at tasting my first attempt at charcuterie quickly subsided as I was treated to a uniquely bold sort of deliciousness. The outer part was quite salty, but that dissipated as I carved into the meat–think Serrano ham more than prosciutto. The flavor was salty, meaty, buttery, and not overly gamey, but there was no mistaking that it was venison. The sugna was not pleasant at all, so I wiped as much of it off as I could.
After carving a few slices for myself and to share, I set about coating the leg in beeswax to age further. First, I removed all of the sugna and trussed the ham up with some new butcher’s twine. Then I melted the beeswax (which I had purchased at Michael’s Crafts for a small fortune) in a double-boiler. After covering the counter with wax paper, I used a pastry brush to paint the entire ham with about a 1/8″-thick layer of the wax. It was then returned to the attic, but after a few days increasing temperatures forced me to bring it down into the cooler, damper basement.
March 27th – The ham had been hanging in the basement for most of a month. The temperature was around 55°-62°F degrees in there, and humidity around 35%. I cut into the wax and peeled it from a portion of the leg. The fresh slices were extremely mellow in flavor, much more so than they were a month ago. The wax imparted a small bit of its flavor to the outermost portion of the meat, but it was pleasant. I shared some of it with friends and family, and they thought the meat was great. Fine by itself, it also went really well with strawberries and blueberries.
After the sampling was done, I re-covered the de-waxed portion of the leg with some fresh wax and hung it back up in the basement.
May 12th – Nearly six months after I killed the doe in the Ohio woods, the prosciutto experiment came to a successful conclusion. Encased in beeswax, it had been hanging in the basement since early March. The temperature down there hovered between 55°F-62°F, and the humidity climbed to around 45%. I broke open the wax, which was somewhat of a challenge because it had stuck to a few areas of the meat. Wax removed, I found a tiny spot of greenish mold near the top of the leg (the fatter part, the animal’s hip) and I wiped it off with some apple cider vinegar. Then I tasted the meat.
Buttery, mild, meaty, with a hint of the spices I originally coated it in–it was absolutely phenomenal. It had mellowed out substantially since last tasting it in March. The saltiness was perfect, at around the same level as store-bought prosciutto di Parma. The meat was soft and velvety, and even the thicker slices seemed to melt upon your tongue.
That evening my family from Miami came into town and I laid out most of the prosciutto as part of an appetizer spread. The Floridians eagerly indulged in it, and gave it high praises. Their smiles as they tried something delightful for the first time were the ultimate reward for the several months of work. Well… the smiles and the several pounds of tasty venison prosciutto.
The next time I have the opportunity to cure my own venison prosciutto, I’ll do a few things differently. First off, I may not bother with the secondary spice cure after initially salting it. This really didn’t seem to add much flavor to the meat. Secondly, I’ll watch the temperature and humidity a bit better. There was one portion of the ham that was basically inedible from drying out too much early in the process. A higher humidity level could have prevented that.
One thing I will absolutely do again, however, is allow the meat to rest in beeswax. The change in flavor from February to May was outstanding. I don’t know whether this could have been done by simply aging it in sugna, but I liked knowing the ham was sealed pretty tightly as it aged in the slightly warmer basement.
I hope you found my documentation of this process informative, and get to try your own hand at charcuterie. As I mentioned before, I am a nobody. This was simply the first attempt at curing meat performed by a guy who loves food, can cook reasonably well, and did a fair amount of online research. If you embark on a similar journey please do your research, and be sure to share your results with me. Best wishes.