Notes on Dry-Curing Meat: Mold

When dry-curing, mold is inevitable, yet there’s little detailed information available to guide the beginner. I don’t know for sure why this is, but I have some theories:

  • mold is so variant and hard to describe,
  • mold-discussions might disgust customers, and
  • mold is a mystery of the charcutiers’ cult.

The general rule in charcuterie is that smooth, hard, white mold is “good.” I don’t think it affects the flavour of the meat in any way, but it discourages the growth of “bad” mold, that is, mold that is pathogenic or that somehow compromises the meat. Any type of fuzzy mold is said to be bad.

Luckily, undesirable mold can simply be cut away; it doesn’t taint the entire batch of meat. Some sources say that if fuzzy mold appears you can wipe it off, soak the meat in a brine solution, pat dry, and continue curing. I have now tried this twice, and the mold returned both times.

Pictured below is a piece of bresaola I cured this fall. Bresaola is a cured cut of beef hip, eye of round in this case, that is air-dried for several weeks until firm throughout. It is very common in northern Italy, especially Lombardia, though its roots are in Switzerland. This specimen has the ideal smooth, white mold, which is easy to identify. When drying meat, I come across countless other phenomena that I don’t know what to make of.

Sometimes when I make pancetta there is a pronounced, mucus-like fluid in the roll. When I squeeze the roll, it oozes out the end. The first time I saw this I waffled for hours on what to do. Was this simply liquid drawn from the meat? Was it pernicious mold? This sounds ridiculous, but ultimately I just started eating the meat. The fluid disappeared in the freezing/slicing/cooking process, and the pancetta was not only safe, but delicious.

A chunk of air-dried beef, or bresaola, from the cellar