As the interest in cured meats (broadly lumped under the heading of “charcuterie”) has grown and local butchers make more products it can be daunting to stand in front of a meat case.
Tails & Trotters wants to educate our customers about the wide array of whole muscle cured products Tails & Trotters makes from its hazelnut-finished pigs (as opposed to the much broader world of salami & cured sausages). We created the following brief guide for the main two categories based on the portions of the pig they are made from: bacon and salumi:
BACONS – generally cured from fatty cuts, and typically cooked before eating.
Belly – the predominant cut cured into bacon in the U.S. is pork belly
- Bacon: What most Americans know as “bacon” is sweet-cured and smoked belly. High quality bacon will have minimal water uptake during the curing process. In turn it will minimize the “wrinkling” effect during cooking.
- Pancetta: Italian-style herb-cured belly (herbs replacing sugars in the cure) and is typically not smoked. The best pancetta is aged for a period of 4-12 weeks, concentrating the flavors. Pancetta comes rolled (arrotolata) or flat (tesa). It can be in a slab or thinly sliced depending on how you intend to use it.
- Salt Pork:Traditionally, fatty belly pieces preserved in salt requiring lengthy soaking before use. Modern salt pork can be leaner belly and is lightly cured in salt, ready to use as a seasoning agent in beans, soups, and stews.
Jowl – Jowls are the cheeks of a pig and are generally very fatty with a single well-marbled layer of muscle. Although much fattier than belly, jowl fat is particularly light and rich, and especially good as a base for pasta dishes.
- Guanciale:Its name a derivation of “pillow” in Italian. This herb-cured jowl (think jowl pancetta) is most often cubed for pasta dishes (amatriciana, carbanora, etc.).
- Jowl Bacon: Guanciale’s American cousin, jowl bacon is jowl cured and smoked, just like belly bacon. Cubed it is a wonderful addition to greens or thinly sliced, a sweet and smoky pizza topping.
Loin – Loins are not as commonly cured in the U.S., but are the standard source for British bacons.
- Back Bacon:Also known as “Proper Bacon,” this is a center-portion loin, often with a tail of belly, that is brined but not smoked. For best flavor, back bacon is aged after curing for at least a month.
- Canadian Bacon:Loin that is typically trimmed to be leaner than back bacon and is cured using in a sweet brine and smoked.
SALUMI – the Italian word for salted and cured meats, especially pork. It is also the title of a great reference book by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. Salumi by definition includes bacons, but for classification we separate them based on whether the product needs to be cooked before eating. Salumi are generally cured then aged until they lose 20-30% of their original weight making them ready to eat.
- Prosciutto: The king of salumi, prosciutto, is a dry-cured and aged leg. Italian prosciuttos are produced by hand-salting legs, while Spanish legs are often cured layered with salt in large bunkers. The best prosciutto are produced from pigs that are fattened on nuts (acorns & chestnuts are traditional in Europe). This finishing diet changes the chemistry of the fat to enable it to age for long periods without going rancid. Like cheese and wine, prosciutto develops nuances of flavor reflecting its source, in this case the quality of the pig.
- Coppa: Also called cappicola or gabagoul, coppa is the dry-cured single muscle from the top of the shoulder known as the collar. Coppa’s distinctive appearance of chunks of lean meat and fat cured in a casing is actually the collar’s structure of generous fat between muscle bundles. Some producers cure coppa in casings and some coppa is cooked after curing, while others, such as Tails & Trotters, cure the muscle whole rubbed in a variety of spice blends.
- Lomo: Dry-cured tenderloin is referred to as “lomo” in Spanish cuisine and “filetto” in Italian cuisine. This is not a very common salumi in the U.S. in part because it is very easy to over-cure due to its size and lack of fat.
- Lonza: Sometimes labeled as “lomo” lonza is cured loin. The best lonza retains some of the loin’s fatcap making for a luscious contrast to the very lean eye of the loin.
- Lardo: The coppa is capped by a thick layer of fat that is cured into lardo. The most famous lardo is cured in Colonnata marble casks. Thinly sliced, quality lardo will simply melt into a hot crostini, releasing the aromatics used in curing as well as the natural sweetness of the fat. The better the fat, the better the lardo!
- Salo: Primarily from Eastern European cuisines, salo is smoked lardo. Some variations are coated in paprika before smoking, others barely cure the lardo before smoking. Salo is absolutely heavenly sliced thin and wrapped around scallops.
Tails & Trotters is the original and premier producer of Northwest hazelnut-finished pork. T&T provides its nut-fattened pork to restaurants throughout Portland and Seattle. We celebrate the whole pig through a dizzying array of products at its retail butchery and sandwich counter at 525 NE 24th Ave in Portland, OR. Visit our website at: www.tailsandtrotters.com or call us at: 503.477.8682.
John Patterson says
Was wondering if I could use your breakdown of Whole muscle curing in a Porkopedia I am writing. Credit would be given to you.
PDX Food Dude says
You would need to contact Jason over at Tails & Trotters in Portland for permission.
Grant Harper says
It is really helpful to learn more about cured meats and what the different cuts are. I have heard that these can be really delicious, so I would love to look into some of these meats. I really like that they are seasoned and rolled up so that they are easier to cut. I think that it might be good to look into the belly cuts to see which of those I like the best. Than you for the great post!
So I realize that this is an older post, however I am headed to Portland very soon (coming from Japan where cured meat is scarce and not done well) and I would love to know where to go to get some great cured meat! Thanks.
PDX Food Dude says
I’d check with these people: http://tailsandtrotters.com/
They make great cured meats.