Dreaming of Bella Italia - but Living & Cooking in Bella Saratoga Springs
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Welcome to the world of Charcutepalooza – a year-long celebration of the craft of meat – salting, smoking and curing. Charcutepalooza is the creation of food bloggers Mrs. Wheelbarrow and The Yummy Mummy (http://theyummymummy.blogspot.com/). They lay down a monthly meat challenge for participants, taken from recipes and guidance in Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. Information about the challenges, “ruhls” and bloggers are on Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s blog site (http://www.mrswheelbarrow.com/).
A couple of things attracted me to Charcutepalooza. The first is my nearly complete lack of knowledge of meat (only surpassed by my complete lack of knowledge of seafood). What a better way to learn? I participated in Tuesdays with Dorie to teach myself more about baking and pastry and this suits my style of learning by doing. Michael Ruhlman is one of my favorite non-fiction writers and food bloggers so using his book as the guide also was a draw. I love French charcuterie – smoked meats, cornichons and sour onions, Dijon mustard and a fresh baguette. This is my entre to making it rather than gathering it!
The February challenge was the Salt Cure and was broken into an Apprentice Challenge – making cured and roasted bacon – and a Charcuterie Challenge – making pancetta. Before I could begin the challenge, I needed to gather a few things. The first was the Ruhlman and Polcyn bible which came very quickly from my used bookseller. The salt cure itself had a few new ingredients—including cure salt and juniper berries. Living in the Capital District, I have access to some terrific food suppliers and was able to get both items locally from Adventures in Food Trading (http://www.adventureinfood.com/). We had a couple of days of blizzard conditions which slowed me in attacking the challenge. The last and most important item was the meat. One of the Charcutepalooza “ruhls” is to source meat as locally as possible from farms that humanely raise the animals. Again, this area is rich in farms and I am lucky to have Flying Pigs Farm in nearby Shushan, New York (http://flyingpigsfarm.com/). Flying Pigs raises heritage breeds and is a major vendor at New York’s Greenmarket – yes, they travel weekly from Shushan to New York City. When I picked up my pork bellies at the farm, the manager knew all about Charcutepalooza and had already filled several orders for pork bellies.
With all my ingredients, I mixed my basic salt cure (by weight, not volume). For the Apprentice Challenge I processed two pork bellies. To one, I added extra brown sugar and to the other, I added maple syrup, of course, local NYS syrup. At the same time, I mixed the savory salt cure for the pancetta. Being rubbed with their cures, they went into the refrigerator in individual plastic bags. Every few days, the bags were flipped until the bellies were firm. At that point, they were brought out of the refrigerator and the salt cure washed off. The bacon bellies were roasted in a very slow oven until their internal temperature reached 150 degrees F. The pancetta belly was wrapped in cheesecloth because it was too small to roll and it’s currently hanging in my cool and humid back room.
Bacon, bacon, bacon!
Cured & Roasted
Today I cooked and tasted my first slice of bacon (brown sugar cured) in an open-face BLT. The sandwich was served on homemade bread from Zoe Francois’ Artisan Bread cookbook. The tomato was one that I bought on the vine (and tasted pretty close to how a tomato tastes in the summer). I found it challenging to slice the bacon thinly, used a single slice of my homemade bacon on my BLT which was more like 2-3 slices of commercially bought bacon and found it very filling. It was delicious. I’m planning to use a few more slices in the next few days to make Amatriciana sauce (Divina Cucina’s recipe) and then slice and freeze the remainder. The pancetta has 5-6 days more to dry. When it’s done, I’ll make carbonara and write a post to the blog.
Bello Cioccolato is the name of my artisan chocolate business. I made the chocolate bonbons in the title picture. The blog name refers to my love of chocolate and love of Italy.
I have lived in Italy and dream of spending more time there some day. For now, live in Saratoga Springs and travel frequently for work across the US.