I present to you: mocetta. It is my first-ever dry-cured ham, and because I am generally abnormal, it does not come from a pig. Mocetta (MOE-chet-uh) is a Northern Italian air-dried goat ham.
I wish I could tell you I have an old recipe handed down by the nonnas from Alto Adige, but that’s be a lie. A good lie, yes, but a lie nonetheless. No mocetta recipe exists on the Internet, as best I can tell. I have looked through my charcuterie library and found nothing. I’ve even asked experts I know, such as Chris Cosentino of Incanto, and while they all said they’d heard of this odd ham, none said they’d made it.
Hmmm… With this sort of barrier, why bother to make it at all? Because I had two (yes, two) whole goats in my possession back in the spring and I wanted to cure or sausage-ify as much of one as I could. Hams just seemed appropriate.
Why mocetta? For starters, because it would be something most of my friends and guests would have never seen before; this is always a big attraction for me. Also because the pictures of mocetta that I’d seen were all skinless, as was my goat. Skinless hams cure easily but are tougher to age well because they can dry out fast. As you can see at the bottom of this picture, mine got a little too dry in places.
Back to the recipe, or lack thereof. Actually making mocetta became something of a detective job. I can read Italian well enough to read recipes, so I turned Google onto it and read scores of accounts about mocetta, product descriptions in Italian online catalogs, references to it in books, etc.
What I found is that mocetta always has “Alpine herbs and spices.” Um, what the hell does that mean? I decided to go with a piney, aromatic mix of juniper berries, rosemary, bay leaves, black pepper and garlic. Most of these ingredients are mentioned in someone’s mocetta description, so I figured I was close enough.
I then read up on an almost equally obscure product: lamb ham. Mario Batali’s dad Armandino makes lamb ham in Seattle, which, sadly, I have never tried, and I did know of a few recipes for it. Lambs and goats (and maresy dotes… Sorry. If you are old enough to get that one, welcome to your dotage.) are pretty similar, so I reckoned that a similar cure would work, adjusted for the goat leg’s smaller size.
So I did the standard two-step cure many of us use with big hunks o’meat: Rub half the cure mixture on the meat, put in the fridge for several weeks, then rinse and repeat. Yes, you will need to have a goat leg or two lurking in your refrigerator for the better part of a month. Get a big Tupperware or just deal with it…
Once it’s time to hang the mocetta, you will need a curing space with high humidity and pretty low temperatures. I started mine at 80 percent humidity and about 45 degrees. As the meat ages, the humidity needs to go down and the temperature needs to go up. At the end, my goat hams were at 60 percent humidity and 65 degrees.
Mocetta is not cured for very long, relatively speaking, because it is always skinless. Why? Because originally the Italo-Swiss who made it used wild ibex that lived in the Alps — not easy to haul a wild goat out of the mountains with skin on, only to scrape the fur off to preserve skin like you would a real prosciutto. I was very glad to hear that even in Italy, where some of their best products are massive pains in the asses (12 YEARS to make good balsamic? Mio dio!) they took the “easy” way out on this one.
Still, mocetta needs 2-5 months hanging. Better than the 12-18 months for a real prosciutto, but long enough to begin to develop those mysterious esthers and flavors that a truly old ham gets. Funky yet aromatic.
I decided to cut down my first-ever cured ham for my first-ever catering gig: A luncheon for the Krupp Bros. winery in Napa. This was the first time I’d ever cooked for people I did not know, and the event turned out to be a little like that TV show “Dinner: Impossible,” as there was no running water, it was hotter than Georgia asphalt in August, and six more people showed up than I had been told about. Oh, and did I mention the lunch was held on the top of a hill? Pretty, but a daunting challenge.
I did manage to pull it off, thank heaven! I got the impression everyone was happy, and had enough to eat. I heard lots of good things about my charcuterie platter, which had two kinds of salami, lonzino, sweet coppa and of course the mocetta. One guest even asked me if the ham was jamon iberico, which is the world’s greatest ham. I think I actually blushed. Nope, I said, it’s goat. From Sacramento.
Now don’t get me wrong: I do not think my goat ham tastes anywhere near as good as real jamon iberico. But when I can manage to slice it thin (I TOTALLY need a slicer!) it is pretty excellent: Good color, firm but still supple, meaty, fatty and with an aroma that is just this side of goaty. I like it a lot with a husky red wine. And if you come over my house anytime soon, I will definitely cut you a slice…
MOCETTA, an ITALIAN GOAT HAM
This is essentially a little prosciutto, without the skin. As such it will dry out faster and will be ready in far less time, even as little as three months. The longer you let it hang, the more humidity you will need to prevent the leg from becoming goat jerky. I aged mine four months and got a good balance of firmness, funkiness, color and flavor.
Keep in mind I have never found an authentic recipe for mocetta, but I have read scores of accounts of this meat and have come up with this approximation; if any of you have real recipes from Alto Adige or thereabouts, let me know so I can try them.
As with any cured meat product, the meat matters: Use only meat from small farmers who care about their product, or hunt it yourself. Hunters, use antelope legs or those of small deer — or a wild sheep or goat, if you can find one.
Makes 2 goat hams.
Prep Time: About 120 days
- 2 young goat legs
- 8 grams Instacure No. 2
- 1 cup Kosher salt
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 25 grams garlic powder
- 10 grams juniper berries
- 12 grams black pepper
- 5 grams dried thyme
- 12 grams fresh rosemary
- 15 bay leaves
- Grind the juniper berries, black pepper, thyme and bay leaves together until fine. Mince the rosemary. Combine all the spices with the salts and mix well. Divide this mixture in half. Put one part of the cure away in a sealed container.
- Carefully rub half the mixture into the goat legs, making sure to get lots into the ball joint that had connected the leg to the pelvis; this is where leg cuts often spoil. Massage the spices and salts into the meat.
- Put the legs into a large container and refrigerate for 2-3 weeks. Drain off any liquid that seeps out of the meat. You will know it’s about done when the meat has firmed up quite a bit.
- Rinse off the cure and pat the legs dry. Repeat Step 3 with the second half of the cure.
- Let the legs cure in the fridge for another 7-10 days. The longer you go, the saltier the meat will be — and the longer it will last without spoiling.
- When you are ready, rinse off the cure again and soak the legs in fresh water for an hour. This relieves a little of the saltiness and results in a moister cure — you needed to cure with so much salt for so long to make sure it penetrated all the way through to the bone. The water soak removes some of that salt so it won’t be overpowering when you ultimately serve the mocetta.
- Hang for 2-5 months. You want a temperature between 40 and 65 degrees (colder at the beginning, and warmer near the end), and a humidity starting at about 80 percent and slowly decreasing — say, 5 percent a week) until you are at about 60 percent humidity.
- Once it’s ready, you can cut the meat from the bone and slice thin, or slice bone-in. Serve at room temperature with cheese and a husky red wine. Wrap closely and store in the fridge, or seal it and freeze it.