My man knows about decay. Dave has taught himself how to make beer, cheese, vinegar... his musical experiments involve some unique circuitry and I have recently enabled him to start curing and smoking meats - aka charcuterie.
Charcuterie: [shahr-KOO-tuhr-ee, shar-koo-tuhr-EE] the art of salting, curing and preserving meats. This can be as simple as bacon (a wet cure) or as complex and delicate as a pâté en croûte (a finely seasoned meat mixture cooked in a crust).
For his birthday, I got Dave Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn and Smokehouse Design by Stanley Marianski, Robert Marianski, and Adam Marianski... and within a few weeks, pork bellies found their way onto my shopping list. The first recipe that Dave tried was for a basic maple bacon. And it was AMAZING. I mean... this was more bacony than anything I'd had before, and Dave compared it to the bacon his family would get while vacationing in Canada.
I really do believe that if everyone knew how little effort it took to make a truly wonderful bacony experience... Hormel would have to find another racket. Easy? Yes. Fast? Er... no. It takes fifteen minutes (at most) to prepare the curing rub and pack a pork belly... but it takes at least a WEEK for belly to graduate to bacon status.
Now, some people would stop there, content with their modest accomplishment... but not Dave. Oh, noooooo! Bacon just ain't gonna cut it! Real students of charcuterie take chances! Real men make... pancetta!
Pancetta is the value-add of bacon. It is dried after the cure. Unlike proscuitto, which can be eaten directly after curing is completed, pancetta is still cooked.
Here is a brief synopsis of the process Dave followed: he wet-cured a pork belly (also known as a fresh side), like a regular bacon, in the refrigerator for about a week. After the side firmed, he removed it from the cure and patted it dry. A little seasoning additions, then he rolled it up like a towel, fat side out, I helped to tie it tightly with butcher string (this is where my fiber prowess came into play), then hung it up to dry, out of sunlight and in a little humidity. We decided to put it over the sink in the kitchen, which turned out to be a really good idea when it started dripping... Not much, but the occasional drop of clearish oil would drip into the sink. It smelled awesome, just like the original spice mixture, all the way through the drying process.
At the end of the drying, we sliced some of the pancetta fairly thickly (1/8") and devoured for breakfast. Speechless. The texture of both the meat and the fat are nearly trancendental, with the latter literally melting on the tongue. Not too salty. Rich stuff - I understand now why all of those recipes call for just a scootch to flavor an entire dish!