It’s Thanksgiving, the time to give thanks for and enjoy the fruits of the land. Perhaps, like me, you’re not much of a turkey person. Maybe you’d like to sit down with some American farm raised, expertly crafted sausage or salumi instead. Too bad, friend. In this country you just can’t do it.
Yesterday’s New York Time’s features an op-ed by chef Peter Hoffman about how the USDA is strangling artisinal meat production, forcing industrial standards on time-tested curing techniques that have been preserving meat safely and deliciously for thousands of years.
If I really am dedicated to cooking by the seasons and supporting local agriculture, I thought, now would be the obvious time to buy a whole pig. Ideally, I would break it down into primal cuts, put the hams in salt for the next month, and then hang them at room temperature for two years, allowing them to slowly dry into prosciutto. And why not grind up the dark, fatty shoulders with salt, pepper and juniper, stuff the mixture into casings, and then leave the sausages in a cool room for six weeks to naturally ferment, developing delicious, tangy porcine flavors?
I can’t, because the United States Department of Agriculture and the local health departments do not allow commercial processing of meat without refrigeration.
This is astonishing, because since Neolithic times, people have safely cured and preserved meats without refrigeration. Europeans have turned curing into an art, and the best processors are revered craftsmen who earn national medals of honor. Salt, time and a good dose of fresh air are the only additions needed to produce salsicce, culatello and 24-month-old prosciutto or serrano — foods that Americans smuggle home from Europe in their luggage…
What we need is to invert the logic now applied to meat safety. Rather than apply refrigeration standards to an ancient and safe method of preservation, we need an alternative set of standards that take into account what salting and drying can do to discourage the growth of bacteria. Federal and local health officials should recognize artisanal methods as an alternative to refrigeration.
Happy Turkey Day, everyone!