Pancetta Attempt 3: Berkshires and Flavour Combos

When reading about other charcuterie enthusiasts’ posts about the meat that they are curing, one main prevailing theme pops up; using good breeds of pig. Now, for the lucky few that have access to their own farms (whether here in the West Coast or the East Coast), getting fresh, heritage breeds of pork isn’t difficult. For us city dwellers though, heritage breeds are slightly harder to come by. So, when I saw an opportunity to pick up some Berkshire cross pork bellies, I didn’t hesitate. Belly meat = pancetta!

I was curious about the Berkshires, especially about the qualities they would have over commercial pork breeds. Doing a brief bit of research, it seems that they are a rare breed of pigs that have a very high fat content with great marbling. I think the approach I will take here is to do two different versions of pancetta; one with lighter spice levels to taste the quality of the meat, and another with heavier spice levels to penetrate the high level of fat in the belly.

Since patience is not one of my many virtues, I will make pancetta tesa, which is a flat dried belly. Drying the pancetta flat will take a shorter amount of timeto reach the 35% weight loss I am looking for.

Since I can only afford a smaller piece of Berkshire cross belly, I cut it in half to follow through with my earlier plan of making two different flavours of pancetta.

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The marbling on this belly is insane!

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The heavier spiced version I decided will have hot paprika, smoked paprika, black pepper, and garlic.

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Note about the paprika; don’t use the type that has been sitting in your cupboard for years… they taste like cardboard. Honestly, I did a taste test, literally was like chewing cardboard. I used some fresher Hungarian paprika that I picked up especially for this cure. Its rreealll good stuff!

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For the second piece, I used a tried and classic recipe: Black pepper, oregano, fennel, bay leaf, and garlic.

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I rubbed the ingredients onto the bellies, and leave them in a ziploc bag in the fridge to cure. As always, I’m using an equilibrium cure. This means I can leave it for as long as I like in the curing stage. I usually leave it for about a week to ensure that the cure has penetrated the belly.

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After a week, I pulled them out of the bag and rinsed the cure off in some cold water. This is what they look like!

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I rubbed an extra layer of sweet paprika over the paprika cured belly in an attempt to get more flavour into the meat. I repeated the same process with black pepper for the Italian herb pork belly.

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Then, it’s into the curing chamber for a quick hang… about 4-6 weeks (or whatever time it takes to lose 30% of the weight of the bellies). During this time, contemplate life, do whatever people do to forget about the delicious meat you have hanging in a meat fridge. Then, you might get rewarded with this:

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There’s some beautiful marbling on the paprika pancetta. The fat was sweet, and a little bit smoky, and you can really taste the character of the pork through the fat. The hot paprika was mostly lost though, which I believe is a result of the high fat content of the belly. It’s hard for flavours to fully penetrate that much fat.

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Of course we can’t forget about the other piece of pancetta, which doesn’t shine any less brightly than the paprika cured version.

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Both pieces of pancetta tastes great; one with strong bright flavours that compliments the sweetness of the pork, and the other with light herbal flavours that allow the natural taste of the pork to shine through. I am amazed at how little effort this takes especially considering how great the results turn out. Go try it out! It’s actually incredibly hard to fail if you can follow basic instructions. Putting a little bit of time and effort in to charcuterie is really something that is personally rewarding for me, and I’m sure for you too.

Until next time,

-K

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