From the Ground Up: Making your own pancetta
by Ann M. Evans and Georgeanne Brennan
Special to the Winters Express
The year 2011 is shaping up to be the year of charcuterie, or cured meats. Home or house-style food preservation is going to a whole new level as bloggers, butchers, restaurateurs, homemakers, farmers, office workers and more are curing meat.
Georgeanne and I have decided to enter the national craze. Inspired by the book “Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing,” food bloggers Cathy Barrow and Kim Foster have launched a year-long challenge called Charcutepalooza. Each month participants will participate in the challenge, making 12 different cured meats. (Find the details of charcutepalooza at www.MrsWheelbarrow.com.) We’re participating.
Georgeanne and I have been home food preservationists for over 35 years each. We enjoy year round the process of taking the harvest and putting it up into special fruit jams, tomato sauces, pickled fruits and vegetables, red wine vinegar, fruit conserves and even alcoholic drinks such as quince digestif (for an after dinner drink).
Georgeanne and her husband Jim have made charcuterie at their farmhouse outside of Winters, such as pancetta, prosciutto, pâtés and terrines. She learned the art and craft of charcuterie from friends and neighbors in France long ago. Several weeks ago, I decided it was my turn. I called Davis resident, friend and pancetta maker, Jamie Buffington. Over the past two weeks, using local pig farmer John Bledsoe’s pork bellies, Jamie, Joy Patterson and I prepared pancetta.
The first step in preparing the pancetta, after securing the pork belly, takes about three hours. You are cutting the skin off the pork belly (the same place bacon comes from), evening the 10 inch by 8 inch slab of fat and meat, making and spreading the cure on it and putting it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator with a heavy book on it took four hours a week ago Saturday. The scraps from the evening out process are in our freezers to make pork sausage later. We turned the package each day for a week.
On a Sunday last month, we met for two hours. The second step in preparing the pancetta is washing off the cure, drying the slab, rubbing it with fresh cracked pepper, rolling the slab very tightly, and tying it off with a series of macramé style moves with cotton butcher’s twine. Learning to tie a butcher’s knot was the hardest part of the whole process. Our pancetta rolls are now hanging high and dry in our refrigerators. After about three weeks, when the meat is dried and firm, hard on the outside, we’ll cut the 10 inch rolls of pancetta down from their perch in our refrigerators, cut them into thirds, and freeze two portions until we are ready to use them.
Jamie was gracious enough to cook up some slices of her home made pancetta so I, a novice, could taste it. Joy had made pancetta once before and knew the flavor. As we probed for words to describe the profusion of flavors, none of us could find a single word other than complex. No single ingredient from the cure stands out, like bay leaf, rosemary, juniper berries, garlic, sage, or coriander seed. And this is precisely what adding home cured pancetta to your cooking will do, create a layer of flavors for your dish, like a classic perfect dish for pancetta, Spaghetti alla carbonara (spaghetti with pancetta and eggs.)
Jamie taught herself how to make pancetta by reading books, studying websites, and just doing it several times, a step for which there is no substitute. She recommended two web sources to Joy and me, which describe pancetta making and are listed below. We suggest you consult both to make your pancetta. Sources for pork belly and twine are provided at the end of the column, as well as some reference books Jamie, Georgeanne and I like.
~ chow.com/food-news/53527/make-your-own-pancetta/ for step-by-step on the process, complete with videos, a recipe for the pancetta cure; and,
~ theingredientstore.com/amescomplany/knotway.html for information on how to tie a butcher’s knot, and to create a hand-made almost macramé-style netting with cooking string to keep the rolled pancetta tight and together while it is hanging.
If you decide you like the process, think about becoming a part of Charcutepalooza. February’s challenge is salt cure: bacon, pancetta or guanciale. Like Nugget Store Director Dave Welch at Oak Tree Plaza who just made his first pancetta, you’ll find out just how easy and fun making your own pancetta can be.
Roasted Butternut Squash with Pancetta and Sage
Pancetta will go well with just about any vegetables. Here butternut squash is used in an easy to make, quick recipe developed by Jamie Buffington for the winter season. The flavors are intensified with the roasting of home made pancetta, which is easily substituted for store bought pancetta, sold by all of the stores listed below that will also sell you the pork belly to make your own.
One large butternut squash, peeled and cubed (seeded)
One quarter cup California Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Four tablespoons Balsamic Vinegar, or to taste
Sea salt (to taste)
Black pepper, freshly crushed in mortar pestle (to taste)
One stem of green garlic, or two or three cloves or garlic
Five fresh sage leaves, chopped (can substitute fresh thyme sprigs)
One quarter pound Pancetta, diced
Putting it together
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss all ingredients together in a large bowl. Place in a roasting pan or glass dish such that all the squash is touching the bottom of the pan. Roast for 25-30 minutes, or until squash is easy to pierce with a fork. Serves 8-10 as a side dish.
Twine, pork belly sources
~ Bledsoe & Son; special order only. Available through the Davis Farmers Market (Saturday). Email order ahead to John Bledsoe [firstname.lastname@example.org]. Pork sourced from John Bledsoe’s ranch in Yolo County.
~ Nugget Markets (Oak Tree Plaza, Davis; other locations in Woodland and West Sacramento may be able to do so.) Special order only, available within several days. Call meat department, 750-3800
~ Davis Food Co-op; special order only, may take up to two weeks. Pork sourced from Niman Ranch. Must buy complete belly (2 sides). Call Meat Department at 758-2667
~ Lorenzo’s Town & Country Market, Winters. Special order only, available within several days. Call meat department, 795-3214
~ For cotton butcher’s twine: Davis ACE Hardware at 240 G Street in Davis has several sizes, including the cone or spool, in house wares.
Books on curing and cured meats
~ “Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing,” by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn, 2005, W.W. Norton and Company
~ “Complete Book of Pork,” by Bruce Aidells, 2004, Harper Collins Publishers
~ “Primal Cuts: Cooking with America’s Best Butchers,” by Marissa Guggiana, 2010, Random House
~ “Salumi: Savory Recipes and Serving Ideas for Salame, Proscuitto, and More,” by John Piccetti and François Vecchio with Joyce Goldstein, 2008, Chronicle Books
(Ann Evans and Georgeanne Brennan have a food and marketing consulting firm, Evans & Brennan, LLC, specializing in farm fresh food in school lunch. They co-lead Slow Food Yolo. Reach Georgeanne at email@example.com and Ann at firstname.lastname@example.org. Their column is also featured at www.ipinion.us)