cucina bene; mangia bene (for the preservation of fat)
So I just bought a pork belly from a local butcher and a hunk of fatback from a local farmer. I’ve been making my own pancetta since my return from Italy in 2010 and am planning to make more with the belly. Pancetta is really easy to make: just cure the belly (I use half at a time) with salt, sugar, herbs and spices for a week in the fridge; then roll it, tie it and hang it somewhere so it can cure for 2 plus weeks. I use a bathroom shower for the curing as it’s nice and dark and has plenty of air circulation. Don’t worry, I have another shower so I can sacrifice this one for the cause. I check the pancetta every other day to make sure there is no green mold growing on it. While no mold is desirable, white mold is tolerated while green must be contained. White mold means flavor and green mold means ROT! I dip a cotton swab in white vinegar and apply it to the afflicted area when I do find it as the acid in the vinegar chases the mold away. Anyway, after two weeks in the shower, the pancetta is ready and it is delicious! You can find the recipe I use here:
This is what the last one looked like:
Here it is in the shower:
Before I make another pancetta, I am going to try to make lardo. Lardo is cured fatback which is sliced very thin and put on warm bread or pizza. It is made anywhere in Italy pork is eaten, but it is most famous in two places: Toscana (Colonnata), where they use marble or alabaster boxes to cure the lardo, and Valle d’Aosta (Arnad). Both are still produced today in very limited quantities and are D.O.P. products. D.O.P. or Denominazione di Origine Protetta is one of several categories in a legal framework developed to protect and guarantee many traditional Italian agricultural products. D.O.P. helps to avoid confusion between products, protect producers, and guarantees the product’s integrity. Essentially, it is a type of labeling for agricultural products whose characteristics and nature are highly linked to a specific, defined geographic area where that product is produced, processed.
I was lucky enough to try lardo on several occasions while in Italy during my time in culinary school and I can tell you that it is incredible and why I’ve decided to try to make it myself. I already make a spreadable lardo (lardo battuto) from rendered lard that has chopped rosemary, salt, pepper and garlic in it. It can be used in place of butter and is also very delicious.
My piece of fatback is 4 lbs. and has some meat still attached to it, so I will have to trim it up a bit. I just ordered a glass container for curing so I should be able to get started next week. In Italy, it can take up to 6 months to cure lardo, but I’ll probably go about 2 months for my first batch to see how it tastes. The longer you leave it in the brine, the saltier it gets so it’s best to undercure the first time around. I want that ‘melt in the mouth’ texture and can’t wait for Bruce to make a pizza with it.
Many countries besides Italy preserve pork fat. When an animal was slaughtered in the past, it was used in its entirety including the fat. Over time, these practices have diminished, but there has been a resurgence of late to bring back the ‘old ways’ (think of the nose-to-tail term) and making lardo is one of them. I would much rather consume a fat that is free of GMO’s, preservatives, hydrogen, or anything that isn’t natural. I’ll be back with another post once I get curing. In the meantime, try making lardo battuto……you’ll be so happy you did. Buon appetito!
1 cup rendered lard (preferably from a drug free pig)
1-2 tsp. chopped garlic
1-2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary and sage
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients together and serve with warm bread, on crackers, or on pizza crust. Try frying an egg or potatoes in it. Add a spoonful to bean soup or to mashed potatoes. The possibilities are endless.