OK, the pig itself was not 500 years old. But my pancetta project started 5 centuries ago, give or take.
Pancetta, for the uninitiated, is an Italian version of “bacon”. It starts with a pork belly, but unlike American bacon, it is salt-cured (along with garlic, pepper and other spices), not smoked. Pancetta is typically cubed and rendered to provide flavor for any number of dishes, and to my taste is more enjoyable than American bacon, mainly because it tastes more “porky”.
Before I became determined to make pancetta, I became infatuated with a hog. Not just any hog, an Ossabaw Island hog. These pigs are descendants of the legendary Iberica swine, and were deposited by the Spaniards on Ossabaw Island, off the coast of Georgia, in the 1500’s. As an isolated, feral herd, they are now the most genetically pure European swine on the planet. These are not your ordinary industrial hogs.
Fortunately for me (who lacks a farm), I have a friend as crazy as I am. Bruce is the fourth generation on his Hillsborough, NC farm, and he agreed to raise a some Ossabaws. We bought some gilts from Cane Creek Farm in Snowcamp, NC, later found a boar from another farmer, and soon enough we had piglets. Bruce’s young son took care of the piglets, and in October we harvested the pig that was subject of this post.
While our piglets were bulking up, a couple of food bloggers created the Charcutapalooza Challenge. The gist of it is that they proposed one charcuterie challenge per month, and dangled a big prize for the person who completed all the projects in an exemplary way. They managed to get Michael Ruhlman, author of the amazing book Charcuterie, to be a consultant to the project. As soon as I saw the project I knew I needed to be involved.
Sadly, however, I’ve only had time for one challenge – duck prosciutto – till now. I posted on that one several months ago. In some ways, knowing that I can’t compete for the prize was liberating. I am now free to focus on my art, the way I want to. And I thought that it would be pretty unusual for anyone to make Ossabaw pancetta, let alone from a pig they’ve grown. In addition, I decided I would do the hog processing myself. Here’s the photo tutorial.
Now that you see how to make the pancetta, let’s do something with it: pasta carbonara.
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So I’m hopelessly behind on the Charcutepalooza challenge. I accept that. I will not finish all 12 challenges this year. My goal, then, is to make the challenges I do complete worthwhile.
The duck prosciutto challenge is now in the rear-view mirror, and I can say without a doubt it was a smashing success. The curing took a bit longer than expected – 2 weeks instead of one to achieve the 30% weight loss desired – but the result was so worthwhile. The prosciutto is slightly salty, but not so much that its “duckness” is lost. It has a smooth, almost creamy texture. We ate a little tonight with some beautiful cheese from the Hillsborough Cheese Co., and some nice wines. Fabulous.
With this one behind me, I’m looking forward to starting on one of the newer challenges.
It’s been 24 hours since I broke down my duck and salted the breast for proscuitto. It’s time clean it, dry it, wrap it, tie it and hang it. This is one of those times I miss my dad (more than other times) – that man was an idiot savant with ropes and cords, there was nothing he couldn’t lash, secure, bind and make beg for mercy. Me, I’m not so good with knots and ropes. So I checked my volumes of books (no luck), but found a good video on how to tie a roast HERE.
Here’s my pictorial on step 2 of the process:
Update in about one week!
Better late than never, I always say. Right before I left for Nicaragua at the beginning of February, I learned of an incredible… “movement” I think is the word. Mrs. Wheelbarrow, of Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen fame, along with her pal at the Yummy Mummy, dreamed up a contest. A wonderful contest they call Charcutepalooza. The gist of it is that they lay out a charcuterie challenge every month, which is then taken up by food bloggers all over the country. We blog about the results, and somebody wins a trip to France. A trip to France… for making cured meat. Is that great, or what?
Well, to win the prize, you have to do the challenge every month, and blog about it by the 15th of the month. Since I found out about the thing on February 1st, and was out of the country till the 14th, I missed the February challenge. For me, this is a blessing in disguise. Since I no longer qualify for the prize, I can just enjoy participating. I kinda like it that way, especially since I already spend a lot of time in France.
This past Friday, I looked at the 10-day weather forecast. Rainy and cool, the weatherman said. And as I thought about it, I realized this would be the perfect week for me to make the January challenge: Duck prosciutto. Prosciutto is a simple salt cured, air-dryed meat, but you do need temps in the 50-60 range, and it helps if the humidity is high. I do not have (or want to build) a curing chamber to make charcuterie, and in North Carolina, we don’t get a lot of weeks like that, so the timing is great. Also, I recently traded a customer some coffee for one of her locally-raised Muscovy ducks, so I even had the starting materials.
So this afternoon, a rainy Sunday, I tackled step 1 – break down the duck and salt a breast. Here’s the pictorial:
Tomorrow, I’ll rinse it, wrap it, tie it and hang it. I have between now and then to learn how to respectably tie the thing.