Saturday, February 5, 2011

Charcutepalooza: The Bacon, pt. 1

Pink salt for curing finally arrived last Wednesday, so I was excited to start my weekend curing bacon for the first time. But the feeling as Saturday came nearer was more of apprehension rather than excitement. I guess it comes with making something traditionally seen or bought sealed in a packet, the production of which was a mystery to all except some guy named Oscar. I had no business making bacon, especially when I can just buy ready cut strips in the supermarket.

But after going grocery shopping for ingredients, I regained my excitement. Most of theingredients are fairly common, except I had to communicate what I want and know the words for things in Italian. But having to do so was both challenging and enlightening in that it made me realize that I actually kind of know Italian, albeit a little broken.

First, I had to order the meat. I went up to the counter and asked “se vende il stomaco di suino...per fa pancetta?” Did it make any sense? I have no clue. But the butcher said yes, and pointed me to another butcher. (It's Italy, after all.) I repeated the same request to the second butcher. A few seconds of misunderstanding and he said something like “pancetta”, picked up a piece of pork belly (which is also called “pancia”), to which I nodded in approval, and the thing was wrapped up in a jiffy. I guess “pancetta” applies to the cured as well as the raw version, unlike in the US where pancetta mainly refers to the cured and rolled type. Who knew.

Second were the spices. At first, I was going to stick to the list, but realized I didn't have any juniper berries, at which point I just said, screw it. I picked up green peppercorn in brine, which I had to soak for a few minutes to get all the acid out. I picked up thyme, not without a minute of panic: what is “thyme” in Italian? After a few seconds of looking, I decided to make it simple: thyme must be thyme-o, because everyone knows foreign words are merely English words with a forced vowel ending. And lo, I found “timo”.

I also picked up mostarda veneta. It looked like equal parts mustard and raw honey, so I decided to see if it will work. After looking it up online, I learned that mostarda doesn't actually have much to do with what we would consider mustard. Besides using mustard oil for taste, mostarda is mostly a sweet jam made of pears or quince that has an odd kick due to the spiciness of the mustard. I remembered trying something similar in Cremona, except the fruits were left whole instead of pureed into a marmellata. It's a weird combination, but after a good tasting with some crackers and cheese I decided that the mustard will go into the cure.

The preparation itself was a breeze. Since the meat was already trimmed and the skin removed, there was not a whole lot to do with it. (I could have trimmed it so that one side isn't thicker than the other, but I didn't really know what is the point of doing that.) The rest of the spices were mixed then rubbed onto the bacon. Bacon is placed in a dish, wrapped, tagged, then popped into the fridge to chill out and marinate.

Stay tuned next week, as signor Pancia gets a couple more rubdowns, roasted, then chilled for one more day before slicing and frying. I'm excited. Will it take on the sharp kick of the mustard? The sweetness of the honey? Or will it just taste like absolute garbage? We will see!


  1. Good Luck, John.
    We love mostarda! It's great with certain cheeses, and at Christmastime we serve it with panettone and marscapone -- learned that tip from a local.
    Good stuff.

  2. Thanks, Dana! I think that spicy kick in mostarda is perfect for Christmas and winter. I must try that ASAP. (although, do they sell panettone after Christmas??)