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Picture of Deer Prosciutto

Americans are missing out on dry aged meats. For whatever reason, we can't walk into a grocery store and pick up a high quality cut of aged meats. Sure, there are pre-packaged prosciutto and salami, but it's nothing compare to what is available in most of Europe. Cultural melting pots like New York City have a better selection, but they're few and far between.

This is what got me thinking, can I make prosciutto from deer?

This Instructable is designed to show you how make Deer Prosciutto.

Processing Deer Prosciutto is basically the same as traditional Pork Prosciutto, but the fact that deer is a significantly leaner meat means it doesn't have to age nearly as long. However, this is still a year-long process, so don't go starting it if you plan on moving any time soon.

Timing is really important in long-term dry aging if you don't have a temperature and humidity controlled environment dedicated to the process. Traditionally, aging meat was done by salting or smoking it and storing it for the winter when meat was less plentiful. The process used here is incredibly similar to how it was done hundreds of years ago, before refrigeration was an option.

Achieving a 33-37 F temperature while salting the meat is pretty easy because you can store it in the refrigerator, but you probably don't want to do that for a full year. Starting the aging process in the fall and storing it in a root cellar is ideal. The cellar temperature should be around 50 F while hanging, and by the time summer rolls around the higher cellar temperatures shouldn't have a negative affect on the meat that has already undergone most of the curing process.

Step 1: Meat Selection

Picture of Meat Selection

First of all, it's important to pick the right meat for this process. Obviously, I chose deer. I did it for a couple reasons: 1 - it's easy for me to get a whole deer leg; and 2 - I can control how the meat is processed. This second reason is more important than you might think.

If you go to a grocery store and pick up a chunk of beef or pork to dry age, there is no telling how it was already processed. Was it hung in the butcher's shop or immediately frozen?

Hanging an animal prior to processing is important to the quality of meat. It's a form of short-term dry aging, and it helps to add flavor, texture, and resistance to negative effects from freezing. Many commercial butchers don't hang meat, or they don't hang it for long enough. Depending on how old the animal was, the hanging process should take as much as two weeks at a temperature of 33-37 F. During that time, it should lose weight due to evaporation of water held in the meat. This can cut into a commercial butchers profit because it eats up valuable floor space and produces less end product.

Freezing meat prior to dry aging is a no-no, but sometimes can't be avoided. Really, it's just going to lessen the quality of meat, but it shouldn't have any health or safety issues associated with it. When meat freezes, the water trapped in the proteins crystallize and can rupture cell walls and break down protein structures. This will result in meat with a mushier texture. If freezing is required, it's best to freeze as quickly as possible with as cold of temperatures as possible. This will create the smallest possible water crystals in the meat and affect the quality less. Dry ice (but not in direct contact with the meat) is a good option for those of us without a commercial freezer.

When making Prosciutto, how you cut the meat is important. You want smooth surfaces, not a bunch of nooks and crannies created by making too many cuts into the meat. You're going to have to rub salt into each and every one of those cuts for every day for two weeks, so don't make your life more difficult than it needs to be.

I selected a whole bone-in hind leg, cut at the ankle joint and the hip joint. This leaves the smooth upper and lower leg with zero cuts into the meat. The only difficult part to get salt into would be the hip end. But there's no way around that...