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.