The concentration of mouth-filling, meaty glutamic acid rises ten- to twenty-fold, and as in cheese, so much of the amino acid tyrosine is freed that it may form small white crystals… The unsaturated fats in pig muscle break apart and react to form hundreds of volatile compounds, some of them characteristic of the aroma of melon, apple, citrus, flowers, freshly cut grass, and butter.
~ Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking
It’s a charming accident of our language that the word ‘cure’ has come to refer both to a method of preserving meat and to regaining physical or mental health after a period of sickness. Curing meat is a process of dehydration, and when the theory of humors still held in medicine bloodletting and emetics were prescribed to drain excess fluids and return the patient to healthful semi-aridity. Heraclitus cautioned against a moist soul and called a dry soul “a gleam of light…wisest and best.” The secret of both sublime hams and the dry-cured soul is therefore the removal of excess moisture. One of the oldest methods for curing meat is by prolonged exposure to smoke. Smoking my pipe in the evenings I wonder if I’m not curing my soul a little. There’s something almost alchemical about it: firing (cured) tobacco leaves in the retort of the bowl to release all the volatile compounds of the day and summon buttery golden aromas of the philosophic mind.