Air-Dried Beef

Air-dried beef goes by many different names in many different places.  The most famous, I think is bresaola, from northern Italy.  In adjacent Switzerland air-dried beef is pressed into a unique block shape and called Bündnerfleisch, after the Swiss canton of Graubünden.  Nearby in eastern France it is often lightly smoked, and called brési.  In all of these alpine regions it is a common accompaniment for fondue.

Eye of round is one of the best cuts to use for air-dried beef.  It is a single muscle, with very little internal fat, easily trimmed to a convenient size.  First remove any silverskin and fat.

Beef eye of round, with silverskin and fat

The cleaned eye of round:

Beef eye of round, cleaned of all silverskin and fat

The clean muscle is then rubbed with salt, pepper, herbs, and spices…

Rubbing the round down with herbs, salt, and pepper

…and left in a covered container to cure for maybe two weeks.  After curing the meat is rinsed and patted dry.

The meat can be strung up in the cellar as is, or it can be stuffed into a casing to help moderate moisture loss.  I have used beef bungs and cheesecloth.

Two rounds, one wrapped in cheesecloth, the other in a beef bung

Ideally a bit of mold will grow on the surface.  “Friendly mold” like this takes up the prime real estate and prevents pathogens from moving into the neighbourhood.

Air-dried beef from the cellar with lots of good mold

Traditionally the meat was dried so thoroughly that it was inedible unless sliced paper thin.  Nowadays, since we’re curing and drying for flavour and mouthfeel more than true preservation, air-dried beef doesn’t need to be taken that far.  It will loose about one third of its weight in the cellar.  In the picture below you can see the vibrant red colour of the finished meat.  Note there is very little marbling.

A bright red slice of air-dried beef

Below you can see the air-dried beef on a charcuterie plate.  Clockwise from top right is the dried beef, elk jerky, grilled bread, pickles, pickled peppers, fresh pork sausage, and dried pork sausage.

A charcuterie plate with air-dried beef in the top right.