Remaking Christine

42, jobless, standing in the kitchen

There is a good reason for that breast in my basement

My breast is wrapped in cheese cloth, hanging in the dark, damp side of the cellar on a hook directly in front of a bear’s bum sticking out of a honey tree.

Should I have been clearer about my imagery here? Ok, for those of you with overactive sexual imaginations, let me explain.

The bear’s bottom is the backside of rather high-class pair book ends (it’s the proper British Winnie-the-Pooh, folks) that were exiled to a basement shelf when Eliza updated the décor of her bedroom to a purple Parisian theme last summer.

The hanging breast is a nearly one-pound boneless beauty – a d’Artagnan Moulard Duck Magret — on its way to prosciutto (hopefully, that is). It’s my stab at the first challenge of Charcutepalooza, the brainchild of food bloggers Mrs.Wheelbarrow and TheYummyMummy. These ladies have challenged food bloggers everywhere to conquer their fears of home-made cured meats by collectively working their way through Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn.

Each month will bring a new charcuterie challenge and we all plan to write posts about both trials and triumphs. Since I missed the charcuterie course in cooking school last year – a move that puts an embarrassing hole in my culinary training – I joined the effort that at last count had over 50 bloggers on board.

Duck breast coming out of its 24-hour salt case

Even as a complete novice, I found that the step to making duck ham easy. You submerge a breast in kosher salt for 24 hours, rinse it off, season it with white pepper, wrap it up and hang it to dry. When it’s done, it’s supposed to yield thick creamy slices of cured dark red meat to either be eaten privately — simply wrapped around a grissini (thin Italian bread sticks) — or as an elegant stunner at your next dinner party, topped like its beef cousin, bresaola, with arugula, shaved parmigiano reggiano, good olive oil and lemon.

This first challenge highlights my inner struggle between an expensive palate and what we’ve declared in my house to be the “Year of Austerity” as I work slowly, but in earnest, toward building a successful freelance food writing business.

So I bought only half a breast, not a whole one like the recipe calls for, appeasing the fat devil on my right shoulder (“Yes, Christine, you love $12/pound meats.” and the gaunt angel on my left (“You should practice more restraint, dear.”)

I apologize to my next dinner party guests in advance. I’ll be eating this one privately. If you have complaints, talk to the angel.

I’d be lying by ommission if I didn’t cop to being worried about the potential failure of my duck prosciutto project.

What if temperature of the basement dips or spikes (Ruhlman says 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit is best) and some horrible foodborne illness carrying beastie burrows its way through the layers of cheese cloth and manifests itself in my breast?

What if it gets contaminated from hanging directly below the asbestos covered lead pipes that were common place – and still in place — when they built this basement back in 1916?

Or horrors of all horrors, what if it doesn’t taste good? Shameful.

These worries will certainly haunt me in my sleep for the next seven nights, the time in which the experts tell me it should lose half its water weight (a feat I’d welcome in my own physique, actually) and be ready for consumption.

I’ll keep you posted.

UPDATE:  Four days in and the duck has lost 33 grams!

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6 Responses to “There is a good reason for that breast in my basement”

  1. This is so great…

    I have all those worries by the way – dampness, humidity, temperature.
    Gah! My children might be easier to care for. But it’s worth the drama. The breasts are ridiculous. RIDICULOUS!!! So good. You’ll be happy you did it.

    I love Pooh’s butt.


  2. Alejandra says:

    I love you Christine lol

  3. Christine says:

    Thanks, Alejandra. The feeling is mutual!

  4. Christine says:


    Thanks for the encouragement! But do you want to hear about RIDICULOUS? I just bought HUGE breasts from a local Mennonite farmer. I’m talking Dolly Parton. And it was from a male. Its the breed — Moscovy — and his breeding practices — they grow slowly that make them so large. I told him about the project and he was tickled and asked if I woudl bring some for him to try. SO if the current breast is not as good as promised, I’ve got a Plan B now.

    Thanks for spearheading this effort. It is fabulously adventurous!

  5. Sharon Miro says:

    Hey, Christine: I like the pooh’s butt too. Very appropriate.

    Where are you that you have a Mennonite with Moscovies that close–they make the best “duck ham” becasue of the fat. Does he ship? :)

    I have been curing meat for over a year now, but have not worked with duck, so this is a first for me. My breasts go into my basement tomorrow–late for posting by the 15th, but still will be good for eating.

    Good luck on the austerity plan–maybe we need a Year of Slimming Finances!

  6. Christine says:

    Hi Sharon,
    I am so pleased that learn that Moscovy ducks will make duck ham!!! I am in Central PA, near Harrisburg. Daniel is quite enterprising in that he’s widely selling to local restuarants, but I don’t know if he ships. I’ll ask him at the next market — it’s only monthly during the winter, I am afraid. Where are you located?

    As for slimming, I could use a year of that in many parts of my life!

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