General Questions and Comments:
About this site:
I began this blog with the intent of promoting my work but I quickly found I loved the connection and interaction with readers. I also liked a forum where I could voice my opinions about food and cooking and the food world generally. So that’s what this site is—a place where I can share news, opinion and cooking information to people who care about the same.
Contacting me by email:
I get a lot of email and like getting it. But sometimes I get buried and feel oppressed by it. I try to respond to every email I receive. If I don’t answer, please don’t take it personally. Sometimes emails get lost in a sudden avalanche or when I’m traveling and have less time to read and respond. I get a lot of charcuterie questions. Please try to answer your question with common sense before writing to me. Also, read my responses to the most commonly asked Charcuterie questions lower on this page.
Contact me at michael (atP ruhlman (dot) com
Comments by readers are one of the most important features of the blog.I love them and have been surprised and gratified by the intelligence and passion of those who do comment. I especially love the back-and-forth dialogue among readers. I try never to censor comments, I don’t mind profanity when it’s well used, and I welcome opinions differing from mine. I will censor gratuitous profanity, nastiness, or plain off-topic wordiness.
Why is there advertising on this site?
I apologize for having to include advertising but because blogging requires an increasing amount of time that I might otherwise use to make money for things like the monthly Visa bill, pork belly, education. In order to justify the time I spend writing for the blog and responding to comments, I have to off set the costs with the small amount of revenue I do get from advertising.It doesn’t compensate me completely but, since I enjoy blogging, it sure does help.
Questions about becoming a chef and writing about food:
I want to be a chef—should I go to culinary school or learn by working?
This is a hotly debated question, especially since culinary school can be so expensive and you get paid if you learn on the job. I am an advocate of culinary schools because of the breadth of information you can absorb in so short a time, and at a time when the amount of information to absorb grows daily. Some good chef bloggers have weighed in to the contrary and I urge you to read them (Shuna at eggbeater, for one; the primary reason is the high cost and concern about graduates entering a low-paying job market with too much debt–valid concerns). If you can afford culinary school, it can give you a broad base of knowledge systematically and quickly. It will expose you to numerous different chefs who have different passions of their own and their own areas of expertise. When you chose the learn-on-the-job route, the quality of your education will only be as good as the chef you work for—maybe he/she is a great chef and teacher, maybe not. In my opinion, you’d have to work for five or ten chefs to get the breadth of learning that’s available at the best culinary schools. I respond to this question more fully in an introduction to a new edition of The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America.
Anthony Bourdain addresses the question in his book Medium Raw, reprinted here.
Which culinary school should I go to?
That’s a decision I can’t answer. I only know one well, the CIA, and I believe it’s excellent and I never hesitate to recommend it. But it’s very expensive. There are options out there. My friend and Charcuterie co-author teaches at Schoolcraft College outside Detroit. It has a small staff, but they are really good and I recommend their culinary program. Johnson & Wales has excellent programs in several cities. I have no first hand knowledge of any other schools. But most teach the basics well, which is the main thing you need from a culinary education. In the end much of the learning is simply up to your own aggressive pursuit of it.
I want to go to culinary school, but I’m 35 and have a family. Will I be able to support myself and my family by cooking if I make this career change?
That’s a tough one. The short answer is, not if you become a line cook. Most entry level jobs in cooking are very low paying. But if you’re 35, you’re not going to want to spend a lot of years on the line any way. And there are avenues to pursue beyond the line when you have a culinary education. Alton Brown went to New England Culinary Institute at age 34 specifically to use this knowledge in the field of television. His timing was fortuitous and he also happens to be very good at television. I went to the CIA at age 33 and it’s done more than anything else I’ve done to direct my course. But I owe much of my good fortune to plain good luck.
I want to be a food writer–can you give me any advice.
Write. That’s all there is to it. In my opinion you have to be able to write first–about anything. Once you can write, then you can turn your writing toward your passions for food.
My post On Food Writing.
I have a great idea for a cookbook–how do I get it published?
It’s my belief that there are too many cookbooks out there already and the unnecessary ones prevent the good ones from being seen. So before you even begin, you need to answer the question, “What will my book add that other cookbooks have not already said?” If you have an answer to this, then that is the beginning of your proposal. A proposal is a description of what your book will contain and the description must be so compelling that agents and publishers cannot say no to it. If it will include recipes, you should have a complete list of recipes the book will contain and three complete recipes in the style that all recipes will be written in. Contact agents through the reference book, Writer’s Market.
Questions and comments about Charcuterie, the book, and charcuterie, the craft:
First, a correction: on page 163 the amount of salt in the smoked kielbasa should be .75 ounces/1½ tablespoons/20 grams (not 1.5 ounces).
The Bactofrm issue and comments on working with live cultures:
Bactoferm F-RM-52 contains live beneficial bacteria that consume sugars and produce acid that prevents the growth of harmful bacteria and produces a desirable tanginess in dry-cured sausages. There are issues about how much one should use for 5 pounds/2.25 kilos of sausage given that a single package is enough for more than 220 pounds/100 kilos of sausage.
You must use at least ¼ of the packet or 6 or 7 grams no matter how little you are curing. Here is the rationale. Most of the powder in the Bactoferm packet is filler that carries the bacteria. In order to ensure you get enough bacteria in your sausage, you have to add at least ¼ of the packet. The bacteria are not harmful so adding too much won’t affect your sausage. The culture can be held in your freezer for six months.
There are other cultures available but I stick to the Bactoferm F-RM-52. Another excellent product I’ve tried that was not available when Brian and I wrote Charcuterie is the M-EK-4 Sausage Mould. The powder is dissolved in water then sprayed or even spooned over the sausage. The sausage will grow a healthy mold culture, chalky and white, which will prevent the growth of bad mold, the green and fuzzies.
These products are available at butcher-packer.com, where I recommend you buy all your curing salts, live cultures and other sausage making equipment you may need.
Can I use a wine refrigerator or other kind of device as a drying chamber?
I have successfully used a mini refrigerator set to it’s very warmest setting to dry cure sausages. I put a pan of salt water in there, too, to make sure there was good humidity. I’ve seen chefs dry cure sausages in their walk-in coolers. I don’t have first hand experience with curing in wine refrigerators but I don’t see why these wouldn’t work. This is a craft, so you must crafty in your efforts to control temperature, humidity and the growth of microorganisms.
There’s bad-looking mold growing on my pancetta? What should I do?
Rinse it off with cider vinegar or a standard brine, pat it dry and re-hang it, or simply wash it thoroughly, pat it dry and store it in your refrigerator. Don’t throw it out! You’re going to cook it thoroughly anyway so if there are any bad bugs remaining, they will be dispensed with in the cooking process.
There’s bad-looking mold growing on my dry-curing sausage? What should I do?
Rinse it off with cider vinegar or a standard brine, pat it dry, and re-hang it. Be thorough here. Some molds can dig into the interior of the sausage. If you are worried that too much mold has grown, then you may want to discard it, or at least cook it thoroughly (165 degrees F./75 degrees C.). Better safe than sorry with the dry-cured sausages.
I always recommend using the sausage mold culture mentioned above to prevent the growth of harmful mold on sausages.
How do I know if my bacon is fully cured (it’s still squishy, not firm, it didn’t release any liquid)? If it’s not fully cured will it be dangerous to eat?
If it’s been on the right amount of cure for a week, it’s cured. But you’re not eating this raw–you’re cooking it. So even if it weren’t cured, it would still be safe to eat.
What is the most valuable tool when practicing the craft of charcuterie?