The Salt Cure

I don’t join a lot of clubs or groups. Most of the time, I am perfectly happy to hang out in the garden and the kitchen with my husband and the pups. But I did become a little bit enchanted with one group I ran across on Twitter, #Charcutepalooza. Charcutepalooza, the Year of Meat, was started by a couple of creative food bloggers, Mrs. Wheelbarrow and the Yummy Mummy. They are famous now.  Charcutepalooza has been featured in The Washington Post, CNN, the New York Times, and tons of foodie blogs. There are awesome prizes and discounts for participating. Anyway, what started out as a little lark of theirs has become a really big deal for foodies.  Mrs. Wheelbarrow and the Yummy Mummy decided to work their way through Michael Ruhlman’s wonderful book, Charcuterie, The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing, and tackle a different meat-curing project each month. They also decided to blog about their experiences and invite other foodies to join in. Once I saw what folks were doing with duck proscuitto, I was hooked. I still need to catch up with the duck proscuitto, but I jumped in this month by making two of my favorite charcuterie temptations…home-cured bacon and pancetta.  Sounds really difficult and complicated, doesn’t it? It’s not! Following the instructions in Michael’s book makes it fun and easy. Let’s start with bacon. One of the greatest inventions of humankind.

You only need a few ingredients to make amazing home-cured bacon: Great quality pork belly, sugar and salt. Actually, you need Kosher salt and curing salt, which preserve the meat, flavor it, and prevent bacteria from growing. Mixing the correct measurements of the salts and sugar together creates a rub, or cure, that is pressed into the pork belly. After a week of curing in the fridge, Voila!…the best damn bacon you’ve ever, ever eaten. And it costs less than what you buy in the supermarket. And it doesn’t have those scary chemicals in it either. What’s not to love? I made a big batch of basic curing salt, because it lasts forever, and I have a feeling that we won’t be buying storebought bacon any more.

Basic Salt Cure for Bacon

One of the rules of Charcutepalooza is that you do your best to purchase locally grown and humanely raised meats. I special-ordered my pork bellies from Caw Caw Creek Farm in South Carolina. They treat their pigs with love and care, just like I treat my garden. Their mission is provide the best-tasting pork ever. That’s a nice mission, isn’t it? Oh, they treat their customers as nicely as their pigs, which I mean as a compliment. I received a personal phone call, we talked pork for a few minutes, and I got my very well-packed pork bellies in just a couple of days, delivered to my gate. Meanwhile, I will search for a local devoted pig farmer to save the cost of shipping. I think I’m going to need one! 

Fresh, Humanely Raised Pork Belly

To make pancetta, you need to gather a symphony of wonderful herbs and spices to mix with the salt and some dark brown sugar to create the special, magical cure. I’m sworn to secrecy about the ingredients, but you will find them in Michael’s book. Does hand grinding herbs sound like a chore to you? Banish that thought! Have you ever inhaled the scent of freshly cracked black peppercorns, or crushed juniper berries, or crumbled fresh bay leaves? There’s a reason it’s called a cure! Just taking in the lyrical scents of the herbs and spices cures the winter blues, or boredom, or most other things. I loved it! I’m considering bathing in it.

Grinding Fresh Spices for Pancetta

Once the pancetta cure is well mixed, you simply massage it into the fresh pork belly, making sure the belly is really well-coated on all sides. It’s a beautiful thing. It makes you feel smart and creative. It connects you to the thousands of cooks that have preserved meats since the beginning of mankind. It makes your family feel loved and cherished, unless you decide to hide it, and eat it all yourself. I won’t tell.

Pork Belly Rubbed with Pancetta Cure

Now the bacon and pancetta are carefully placed in plastic bags put into the fridge for a week. I’ll turn them every other day, to make sure they are curing evenly. Tune in next weekend…the bacon will be ready to cook and eat, and the pancetta will move on to its next stage of curing. I can hardly stand the anticipation.

If you are interested in learning more about charcuterie, I recommend you join Charcutepalooza and buy Michael Ruhlman’s book! It’s a wonderful way to rediscover an important part of cooking, and it’s a lot of fun, too. Make some bacon!

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Cowlick Cottage Farm Welcome to CCF. I’m Carolyn Binder, a passionate writer, avid photographer, cook and gardener. My love of gardening and writing have transformed my cooking and our lifestyle (...more)

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