In 2005, writer Michael Ruhlman and chef Brian Polcyn published “Charcuterie,” a master-level seminar in cured meats, terrines and French-style pâtés masquerading as a “how to” volume.
The book that launched a million pancettas has become a seminal work in the growing American home curing movement. Its clear instructions, built on savvy discussions of meat’s technical side, hit the spot with food hobbyists.
Then came “Salumi,” their recently released primer on Italian-style dry cured meats. If only there was a way for “Also Sprach Zarathustra” to soar as you read, “This is a book about meat, mostly pork, and fat and what it can become when you salt and season it and let it dry slowly.”
“Salumi” isn’t satisfied with merely showing you how to make the Big Eight of Italian salumi: guanciale (jowl), coppa (neck/shoulder/loin), spalla (shoulder), lardo (back fat), lonza (loin), pancetta (belly), prosciutto (ham).
It goes a whole order of magnitude deeper into the magic of cured meats. It takes meat nerds to the last frontier: butchering their own pig carcass. It starts with a detailed discussion of the Italian way to break down a pig, following the animal’s muscles as much as possible, versus the American style, “sawing the hog into rectangles.” Detailed line drawings illustrate the steps and variations.
You want to do it yourself so you can best take advantage of the animal’s value, they explain. You want a heritage breed pig, probably raised locally, they explain. “We find it difficult to recommend you put in the time and effort to cure your own meat if it comes from a factory hog, which is about all that’s available in most grocery stores.”
As long as you start with good meat and can follow directions, practically anyone should be able to fashion salumi, the book implies. Pancetta tesa, cured belly, requires a dredging in spices and salt, five days’ curing time in the refrigerator, and two or three weeks hanging to dry. Presto, pancetta.
So get together with some friends and break up a pig into bacon, pork chops, hams and sausage, the authors suggest. “You’ll need at least three people who share your work ethic and desire to do this; six is better and more fun.” It will take several days of work, and then weeks and even months of monitoring and curing, but the reward will be a symphony of fine pork. That’s the promise of “Salumi.”
On the Web: See the Pancetta Tesa recipe from “Salumi” at blogs.buffalonews.com/hungryformore