#1 – Freshly cured, unwrapped from the cheesecloth. Thinly slice this and toss it on the stove for a minute, or cube it and mix it with scrambled eggs or as a sub for guanciale in your carbonara. (FYI, pancetta is often rolled then cured, but you can also hang it flat and it’s still perfection)
Here at Beloved Farms, we’re definitely fan of the home-butchered piggy, and with that, there’s always something curing. We’ve got 2 prosciuttos hanging in our pantry (our first one will be ready in May, the other in spring/summer of 2021), a Genoa salami in our new curing chamber until March, a lomo in its first week of curing in the kitchen fridge, and Dan smoked hot links this past weekend which he’s got in his lunch today 🙂
No, we’re not total carnivores, actually! We choose to treat the sustainable, humanely-raised meat in our diet as a Side Dish instead of a Main Course. Where meat used to be the center of the plate, now it’s a stylish accessory, if at all. As Michael Pollan said, “To the extent we push meat a little bit to the side and move vegetables to the center of our diet, we’re also going to be a lot healthier.” Along with butchering our own pork and raising our own meat chickens, we’ve bought our Alaskan wild salmon from a sustainable share program for years (ironically, not local as we’ve found it very difficult – without catching it ourselves – to procure sustainably Not to mention the fact that it’s easier on the planet.)
All that being said, not everyone has the interest and/or time to spend on lengthier charcuterie projects, so I wanted to share what I consider to be one of the easiest meats to cure, and a few of the ways we like our pancetta (it’s SO much more than “Italian bacon”, y’all…).
#2 – Our new favorite obsession is making homemade pizza (helps when you don’t have delivery in your neck of the woods!) – pancetta, kale and red onion – total YUM, y’all.
So, here’s the basics of homemade pancetta, adapted from one of our many charcuterie books at home…PS – most recipes want you to use a 5 lb slab of pork belly, but we prefer to diversify what we use our piggy for, and so this is the halved version.
2.5 lb pork belly, skin removed (the butcher can do this for you – but keep the skin and fry it up with some salt, OR give it to your dog, (s)he’ll love you for it…)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp pink curing salt (NOT Himalayan salt…also known as InstaCure or Prague Powder, you can buy it here, it’ll last forever…FYI this is what makes bacon and ham pink)
1/8 cup kosher salt
2 Tbsp pepper (bulk aisle!)
1 Tbsp juniper berries, crushed (these can be found in most bulk aisles’ spice section, costs almost nothing)
2 bay leaves, crumbled (get in the bulk aisle for next to nothing, OR keep a potted bay plant like we do and harvest/dehydrate the leaves!)
1/2 tsp nutmeg (always a better deal to buy the whole nutmegs in the bulk aisle and grate it yourself!)
2 sprigs fresh thyme
Mix all the cure in a small bowl, then rub all over all sides of the pork belly. Place in a casserole dish with a lid (or a Ziploc bag, but please consider minimizing disposable plastic!) and refrigerate 7 days, flipping each morning (note it on your phone so you don’t forget – this is what allows it to soak up the flavors!). Remove from the fridge, rinse thoroughly with cold water, pat dry, then wrap in cheesecloth and hang in a cool, humid place to dry for 2 weeks (basement closets are perfect for this if you have one – we don’t anymore, so just hang it in our pantry as it’s on the north side of the house out of the sun and is always a bit too chilly in there!). At the end the pancetta should be firm but pliable (not hard!).
Slice off a thin bit and fry it (don’t eat this raw!). Store wrapped in the fridge up to 3 weeks, or freeze up to 4 months.
#3 – Add to a plate of thinly sliced cured meats, making sure to include some good quality cheeses, fresh and dried fruits, pickled goodies, crackers, nuts, and even a dollop of honey…and you’ve got a dreamy charcuterie plate!