Mocetta Inspired Venison Dried ham
It's something magical about transforming a whole hind leg into a salted, cured, and dried ham. Mocetta is a Northern Italian "prosciutto" like ham made from goat or deer. Hank Shaw - the hunter-forager chef that is a shining beacon of culinary inspiration, wrote a piece that inspired me to try this out. Some traditional mocetta are submerged in red wine for a good week and later spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg, among other herbs. I have tried this flavor profile, and while it's traditional, it's not a flavor profile of my liking. Sticking to the other, lighter herbs are more to my liking, and this write-up follows my taste preference.
After several years of experimenting and evaluating many flavor profiles, aging, and maturing processes, I think I've nailed down a variant of the mocetta that is an absolute crowd pleaser.
After salting, spicing, and equilibrium curing the whole hind leg of a deer, it gets to rest and dry with moderate airflow in cool temperatures and in a humidity-controlled space. This drying time will take 3-5 months, depending on the size of the hind leg.
Contrary to Hank's recommendation, I think the mocetta works amazingly with an older deer. Give it extra time to rest and mature in a vacuum bag once it is finished drying, and you will not be disappointed. The spices will continue penetrating throughout the leg, given enough time. At a recent party, I took out a significant-sized mocetta that had been maturing for 2+ years in my aging space. It was an absolute crowd pleaser and inspired many present hunters to start thinking about making their own, first, mocetta.
Equilibrium curing and % measurements.
Make sure you use a spice scale for precise measurements when you prepare the ingredients. A cheap pocket scale such as this will give you the spice weight in tenths of a gram.
After salting, cure salt and spices are applied, and the meat will rest and cure in cool temperatures in a vacuum bag. During this curing period, an equilibrium cure will move salt, curing salt, and spices into the meat. A good guideline is that for every inch thickness, the meat needs at least 2 weeks to cure and move the salt and cure #2 through the meat.
To truly make your mocetta shine, you should at least double the minimum time in the vacuum bag. The longer it sits, the deeper the spices will penetrate the meat. A fawn's hind leg should likely sit for 1+ months. A medium-sized deer 2+ months and a giant deer 3+ months. You can't leave it too long in the vacuum bag if the temperatures stay within a cool fridge temperature. I once left an equilibrium curing meat for around 6 months, and it just became better for it. Here's your patience is your biggest challenge.
The equilibrium curing method is based on the percent of the weight of the meat. You don't have to worry about a long curing time that will give you too salty meat. You will get the salt content in the meat you decide on. This recipe suggests using a 2.25% salt content, which I think is spot on for venison. You could go as high as 2.5% if you prefer saltier meat, but beyond that, it'll likely taste much too salty.
One deer hind leg. Trimmed of silverskin and fat. All gram percentages below are based on the gram weight of the trimmed hind leg.
2.25% iodine-free salt (kosher, pickling, or rock salt)
1% maple sugar
0.25% cure #2
0.25% black pepper
0.25% juniper berries
0.35% garlic powder
0.06% bay leaves
A coppiette spiced mocetta is being prepared for months of equilibrium cure.
After trimming the leg, write down the weight (grams) and base all percent ingredients on this weight. Don't lose this number, as you will use it later to decide when the leg is finished hanging.
Measure all the ingredients carefully with your spice pocket scale. Grind bigger spices such as rosemary and juniper berries. Crumble the sage leaves.
Mix all the spices, salt, and curing salt together. Then rub the hind leg with the spices, reaching into any nooks and crannies of the leg, especially around the ball joint.
Use a large-sized vacuum bag. This food saver expandable bag will make it possible to vacuum-pack the leg even if you have a smaller type of food saver. Pour any excess salt-spice mixture inside the bag on top of the leg.
The bag should rest in a fridge cool temperature for a substantial time. See my earlier notes about equilibrium curing time, but it'll likely be between 1-3 months. Mark the bag with the equilibrium end date, and put a note in your calendar for when to wake up your curing hind leg.
You should turn the bag over at least once every week.
Once done curing, wash the hind leg of all the spices and pat dry.
Measure out all the spices again, this time without the salt, sugar, and cure #2. Reapply the spices again on the leg.
Hang the leg in whatever cool, temperature, and humidity-controlled space you have available. If you are lucky to have such a space without special equipment, it should be a cool fridge temperature up to 10F and humidity of 75-80 RH.
Write the weight of the leg [step 1] on a paper note together with the wanted finished weight of the leg, which should be around 40% weight loss. [calculation formula in case your math is rusty: Use the trimmed leg weight in grams x 0.60 ==> desired end result weight]. Attach the note with a string to the leg, so you don't lose it.
Unless you have natural airflow in your space, let some fresh air in once in a while.
Mostly white, and some green mold might form. While this shouldn't cause you to worry, you can wipe it off with a mild vegetable oil such as canola or plain water. I've understood that the traditional approach has a flavor of walnut oil. While I am not entirely sure, I suspect the traditional method involves an occasional rub-down with the flavorful walnut oil [From Wikipedia: Italian Motsetta].
Any other mold color should be wiped off immediately with vinegar, and you should adjust your humidity down to 75 RH.
After a couple of months of drying, you should start to weigh the leg regularly. Once it has reached the desired weight loss, the leg is finished drying. While the leg is ready to be enjoyed, it can continue to improve if you have the patience to take it all the way.
Wet them with water for easy removal if you use collagen wraps. Most of the white mold should be removed with the collagen wrap. You can give the leg a quick rinse and paper towel rub if you want to remove additional excess white mold. Pat the leg dry.
If you still have patience after sampling the leg, you can once again store the leg in a vacuum-sealed bag. This will let it continue to mature and improve in flavor without drying out more. My longest resting mocetta improved in flavor for well over two years, and it was pure flavor ecstasy. Once we had eaten a substantial part of it, we vacuum-sealed it anew, where it can continue to develop until the next time.
You can, at this time, add a 2nd layer of flavor or strengthen the existing flavor profile with the same spices. I'm not going into how to do this here apart from mentioning that it would involve giving the meat a liquor addition that will continue to help impart flavor to the now dried meat.
A vacuum-packed Mocetta a la Coppiette is ready for the equilibrium cure.
Slicing venison mocetta