The Agrarian Kitchen – a lesson in making salumi

Tasmania put on quite a show last week – between the Agrarian Kitchen and MONA in Hobart, I don’t think I could have asked for a better itinerary or weather. I had booked a 2-day charcuterie (“salumi” making in Italian) class with several friends about 9 months earlier, and the sun was shining when we arrived at the cooking school in the Derwent Valley, not far from Hobart. The Agrarian Kitchen cooking school is in a converted primary school set amongst acres of farmland.

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A warning for the vegetarian readers – there will be photos of meat preparation in this post! The two day course involved a 130kg Berkshire pig, that had enjoyed life in the yard for about 2 years. She had been fed a diet of barley, acorns, peas and apples. In contrast, in intensive piggeries, animals are kept in tiny pens, fattened quickly and fed grains such as soybeans and proteins such as meat and bone meal. I avoid eating meat from animals that have been treated this way as much as possible. It was for me a real privilege to have been involved in making an array of salumi from such a fine, healthy and happy animal.

The Agrarian Kitchen website describes how they offer a paddock to plate experience and this is indeed what it was. There were nine of us in total in the class and our teacher was Rodney Dunn, a trained chef who has run the cooking school with his wife Severine since 2008. The school has a lovely homey feel – rustic, stylish, roomy and jam-packed full of kitchen equipment.

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The class involved preparing various salumi: cotechino, chorizo, salami, pancetta, capocollo, lardo, guanciale and everyone’s favorite, prosciutto. Rodney is a born teacher – he showed us how to cut, mince, cure and stuff as required. After we had sectioned half the animal (this took around 4 hours), I was horrified when I realised there was another half to go! This time around, Rodney let us do it ourselves (though he was there to help) so we got busy cutting and mincing.

Day 2 was devoted to making salami and curing the whole muscle meats. The names of the products demonstrate exactly where they derive from (eg. guanciale comes from guancia meaning ‘cheek’, pancetta comes from pancia meaning belly, capocollo comes from collo meaning ‘neck’). Prosciutto was the hardest to prepare – the cut surface has to be even and smooth and there should be a nice circle of fat all around. The skin side of the prosciutto is beaten with a wooden stick to tenderise it and the meat side massaged to remove any remaining blood before rubbing in the curing mixture.

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Salami and chorizo was fun to make because we all got our hands in the 26kg of meat/fat, as it needs to be mixed very well. In total, we made around 80 kg of products, not including the ribs which we rubbed in a curing mixture and will be ideal for soups. Rodney will make sure all the salumi we prepared will be looked after the way they need to be during the curing process. For example, the prosciutto needs to be pressed for five days under weight then refrigerated for ten days to draw the salt further into the meat, after which time it is hung in a dark cool place for at least six months.

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We will be receiving some of the goods that we made around Christmas time (except the prosciutto which will need further ageing). I know exactly what I will be contributing to the family Christmas this year!

On both days there were superb meals – cakes for morning tea, accompanied by teas (grown on the property) or coffee and terrific lunches, served with Tasmanian wines (or home made beer) – all prepared by either Rodney or his staff. Lunch on day 2 started with a plate of salumi made during last year’s classes – guanciale, prosciutto, pancetta, lardo and a wagyu beef bresaola. Then we had the cotechino we had prepared the day earlier, cooked and served with creamy polenta (made with corn grown on the farm) and a green tomato relish (tomatoes grown on the property). Rodney had taken us on a tour of the garden and hot houses before lunch and he collected a selection of leaves for a super-fresh green salad to balance the rich cotechino.

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I enjoyed my two days at the Agrarian Kitchen so much that I will be going back again at the end of the year to enjoy a one day class called “the Agrarian Experience”. And a couple of friends have booked in a salumi weekend next winter where we will try to recreate what we learnt in Tasmania.

If you are interested in knowing more about making salumi, here is some reading material, all recommended by Rodney:
Meat and sausages website
“Charcuteria” by Jeffrey Weiss
“Salumi” by Michael J Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn

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