Sunday, June 27, 2010

Home-Cured Pancetta Part I

Purchasing the book, Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn has opened a lot of culinary doors that I would have never opened without the book. I highly recommend it to those to want to improve and challenge themselves in the world of aging/curing meats.

I've tried a few recipes and all have been satisfactory. I will make my own fresh bacon from now on because of their recipe and that experience influenced me to try curing pancetta.

Pancetta, Italian bacon,  is similar to fresh bacon where it comes from the pork belly. Cured with salt and seasonings, rolled into a log, it is hung to dry for several weeks. It does not involve smoking but you do need to cook it after it has been cured. It is unlike salami where it is ready to eat after curing. 

Pancetta can be used like bacon in dishes but it has its own distinct flavor which separates itself from bacon.

Begin by trimming the belly of its outer skin and clean up its edges so it is nice and square.

Next, combine all the seasonings for the cure. The dry cure consists of:
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 2 tsp pink salt
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 2 tbs dark brown sugar
  • 4 tbs ground black pepper, 2 tbs reserved
  • 2 tbs crushed juniper berries
  • 4 crumbled bay leaves
  • 1 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 4 springs fresh thyme

Evenly distribute the ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Rub the mixture all over the pork belly.

The smell of the dry cure is amazing. Like fresh bacon, place the pork belly in a Ziploc bag and refrigerated for 7 days. Flip the belly over every other day and redistribute the seasonings by rubbing it.

After a week, check it for firmness. If it is firm at its thickest point, the pork belly is cured.

Remove from bag and rinse it thoroughly under cold water and pat dry. Sprinkle the meat side with the reserved 2 tbs black pepper. Starting from the long side, roll the pork belly up tightly trying to avoid any air pockets inside the roll. Tie tightly with butcher's twine every 1 to 2 inches.

This process took me a few times to get it right. It does take some practice. I added a few extra tied loops to secure it better. Now it is ready to be hung.

Hang the pancetta in a cool, humid place. Ruhlman stated that 50 to 60 degrees with 60% humidity is ideal but that a cool, humid basements works just fine. I hung mine in the basement.

Pancetta can be hung to dry for 2 weeks but the more time you dry it, the more flavors intensify. I chose to hang it for three weeks. Check it daily for firmness. If it gets too hard that means it is drying out and you must wrap it and refridgerate it. It should be firm but pliable, not rock hard.

Here is the pancetta after one week.

The colors are darkening yet the pancetta is still firm and not hard. But something else has developed, mold. This is getting me a little nervous. Some types of mold are not harmful but Ruhlman's rule of thumb regarding mold is that fuzzy mold, no matter the color, is bad, as is any mold that is not white.

Here are some photos of my pancetta mold. I'm sorry that they look unappealing. Some are fuzzy and some are not. I have no idea if this is a non-harmful mold or bad mold.

This section of the pancetta has me worried. Right by the cross section of the twine appears to be green fuzzy mold. This type of mold can damage the interior and to be cautious, Ruhlman recommends to throw away the meat.

You can see the speckled white mold on the top of the pancetta. This to me appears to be the 'good' mold which prevents bad mold from growing.

I am not very experienced in drying meats and sausages and at this point, I am not sure what to do. Ruhlman suggested wiping down the pancetta with a clean cloth that has been soaked in a brining liquid.

I cleaned off the moldy areas and it looks better but I am not sure if cleaning it recified the problem. I will continue to monitor it daily and clean it if need be. I have two more weeks of drying to do so I'll see what happens.

If anyone has dried meats or sausages and has some helpful tips, please let me know. Thank you. Stay tuned to Part II of Home-Cured Pancetta.


  1. Hi, We've made pancetta a couple times and had similar mold problems once -- a few spots of white and a little green near the top at the hanging strings. To remove it, I dabbed several times with red wine vinegar (used a Q-Tip around the strings). The mold never really came back, but like you I was worried about the green, so when it was done (~2 weeks) we cut off about an inch of that end and discarded it. We didn't see any green inside the rolled meat and the remainder seemed unaffected, so I think we won - it looked good, smelled good, and tasted great. If you've rolled the pancetta tightly (and it appears you have), I think that goes a long way toward keeping molds out of the interior. Good luck - I look forward to reading Part II!

  2. Great Post! I'm in the process of making my own pancetta too and this was helpful. I've added a link to your blog on mine as well. Check it out when you have a chance:

  3. Loved the photo's, it looked just like mine. I have made a few dozen pancettas and they all had mold. I just cut that part out. A friend of mine made a few and for reasons I don't understand, didn't have any mold. The pancetta didn't taste as good though. I had a funny problem with my last pancetta and I was wondering if anyone else has had a similar problem. After curing, it was so stiff that I couldn't roll it. Same curing time etc, but this thing was really firm! I hung it wrapped in cheese cloth to dry and it was fine, but I don't know why it happened. Anyone have any suggestions?

  4. I'm on day 5 of curing in the fridge. As a CA resident I'm not sure what I'm going to do about the drying phase scheduled for this Sunday given my subterranean-challenged ranch home. Don't think any rooms in this place are under 72 degrees and, well, LA is the desert, so humidity is hard to come by. I may have to create a drying chamber out of an old fridge or find a friend with a wine cellar. If anyone has ideas I'd love to hear it. As for the challenge of rolling the cure, I've been told that the Florence style of pancetta is hung as it cured - flat. That makes for a nice "dice cut" as opposed to the more common thin sliced round. That's what I prefer to cook with anyway so I intended to 86 the rolling process. Again, this is my first home cured pork too so if I'm way off base I'd love to know about it. Ultiamtely if I can't find a way to dry the cure out anywhere, I'm pretty sure I can simply roast it in the oven and make traditional bacon out of it, am I right?

  5. Anonymous- Perhaps you cured the pork belly too long in the fridge? If it goes too long in fridge, it could dry out or harden as you know. Maybe your fridge temp is too cold? you did right by wrapping it in cheese cloth though.

    Ira-I do not live in CA or deal with those type of conditions but you don't want it to be real hot when you are drying the meat. I think a drying chamber would be key here. You can regulate the temp and the humidity. If you dry it in real warm temps, you could jepordize the meat with bacteria, etc...

    If you can't dry it, yes you could smoke it and make bacon. That would taste good!

    Thanks for the comments all!

  6. Well, I decided to canvass my network out here and chef I know has a chamber specifically for such a purpose, so since I'll be on day 9 of the fridge cure by tomorrow when I make the drop, I hope it wont be over-cured, hard etc. As much as I love bacon, and who doesn't really, it would seem to be a short sell to go that route since I really wanted that Euro-mold taste. Not brag but figured those posting here might appreciate that the same chef who'll host my pancetta is buying a whole Iberico, of which I'm chipping in for a 1/4 of the beast. For about $100, I'll get a bevy of cuts including butts, ribs, loins etc and, here's the kicker - I'll be watching the butchering and sausage making for a down-home education!