Pancetta 

Pancetta is Italian for a cured pork belly.  Here we look at six variants.

  1. Pancetta Steccata (flat pancetta)
  2. Pancetta Arrotolata (rolled pancetta)
  3. Pancetta Tesa (bacon)
  4. Pancetta with Black Pepper
  5. Lean and Derined
  6. Legatura pancetta

1. Pancetta Steccata (flat pancetta) by Rob Agostinelli

Rob Agostinelli‎ 9
From Rob Agostinelli

I left the skin on this piece of belly and trimmed about 3/4” of the meat all the way around but left the skin to sew it closed later on.  (The trimmings of the pancetta are used for the fat part of the salami (lardelli) or to make greaves; the traditional way of making Pancetta Steccata is to keep the rind on)

Then I dry Eq cured the belly in vacuum pack for 14 days.

I pulled it and washed it under cold water then rinsed with white wine.

I seasoned the belly with black pepper then folded it over and sewed it shut all the way around. Sewing the rind wasn’t easy. I used a pair of pliers to help push the needle through the tough skin.  (I would add a mix of Transglutaminase, ratio 4:1 by weight; I also like picking the skin to facilitate drying)

I put 2 wooden boards on each side on the pancetta tightened with clamps and tied them together as tightly as possible. Then I took another string and tied the strings together to tighten it further. This worked initially but as the pancetta dried it was difficult to tighten it further so I ended up drilling a hole through the board on each of the ends and tightening with 2 bolts.

As the pancetta was drying, the first couple weeks I kept tightening the bolts until the belly squished out and filled any gaps left in the skin where it was stitched closed. After 30 days I removed it from the press and hung it back in the chamber, I pulled it after another 60 days.

(The traditional way of making the Pancetta Steccata (flat pancetta) is with a sweet-flavour)

The total weight loss was 28%

Dried at 7C – 78% Rh.

Rob Agostinelli‎ 8

Rob Agostinelli‎ 7

Rob Agostinelli‎ 6

Rob Agostinelli‎ 5

Rob Agostinelli‎ 4

An alternative way of fastening it:

https://www.smokingmeatforums.com/threads/pancetta-mania-out-from-the-chamber-pancetta-steccata-and-pancetta-arrotolata.187288/

by Evan M Bradley 

“After speaking to my Uncle’s Mother, who is from Sicilia, I was inspired to make this. She didn’t tell me a recipe, but more paved a map for me to develop my own. She said that her Nonno would make this with Sea Salt, Sicilian Oregano, Garlic, Wild Fennel Seeds, Peperoncino Dolce, and Black Pepper. They would heavily, heavily season it as well. With that, I formulated my own recipe for this product, and research began (books, Italian internet sites, and blogs)(turns out the flavor profile told to me is similar to what others use). I used

2.75% Trapani,
0.25% Cure #2, and
Black Pepper for the curing mix.

I cured the belly for, skin-on, for 15 days. I chose to equilibrium cure, as I hate rinsing. I guess it is just a peeve of mine (I guess I feel I am “washing away flavor”…).

2.75% is my preference for salt, so curing to my exact taste is why I chose to equilibriate, as opposed to salt box method. I then pricked the skin to later facilitate even drying, then squared off the belly. When applying the spice mixture I also used Activa GS as a failsafe to ensure the belly would stick together. This is NOT traditional, and I know. It is the modern butcher in me I guess…

After applying the spice mix and transglutaminase I used my twine needle and hemp twine to sew the exposed edges together. Once sewed together I placed the tied belly in my “press” I constructed. The belly was very wide, so I had to construct an adequate press. The wood against the meat is untreated red oak. I chose the red oak as it is very hard, and would not buckle under the pressure. It also provides a much more even pressing, in my opinion. I proceeded to strap it as tight as possible with new car strap systems on all sides off the 24 x 4 x 2 whitewood pieces. Well, it is ready to dry! I do pan on uncasing the Pancetta from the press in a few weeks, but we shall see… On to the drying chamber now for about 5 months, or until it is done. Chamber settings for me are 58ºF.  75-80% rH.”

IMG_1139.jpg

IMG_1140.jpg
Belly out of the cure
IMG_1141.jpg
Belly out of the cure
IMG_1142.jpg
prick the skin to facilitate drying
IMG_1143.jpg
Trimming, and squaring off the belly
IMG_1144.jpg
Activa GS on the left (ratio 4:1 by weight).  Spice mix on the right.
IMG_1145.jpg
Belly with Activa
IMG_1146.jpg
Belly with Activa
IMG_1147.jpg
Belly with Activa and spice

Sewn together (this took Evan 45 minutes to do!)

IMG_1150.jpg
24 x 4 x 2 white wood base
IMG_1151.jpg
Red Oak on top whitewood (12 x 12 x 1)
IMG_1152.jpg
Pancetta on top of red oak
IMG_1153.jpg
Another piece of red oak, same size, on top of the Pancetta

2 more pieces of whitewood, same size, on top of the red oak.

Strap pancetta tightly and snug.

IMG_1139_1.jpg
Pancetta Steccata ready for the drying chamber

2. Pancetta Arrotolata (rolled pancetta) by Mark DiGregorio

Pancetta Arrotolata (rolled pancetta).jpg

2.25% salt, .25% cure2, .5% brown sugar, .2% bp wp and fennel pollen, .15% garlic powder. Cured for 2 weeks…rolled and tied tight. Place in curing chamber

Jason Morgan does it as follows:

pancetta arrotolata (rolled). I scored a nice big belly via Justin and was holding it to do another pancetta. I wanted it to be as big as the sky, as tasty as my last one, and as beautiful as Mark Browns (well, almost). I also wanted something different, so I’m playing with unsweetened/unsulfured coconut flake. A bit of toasted fennel, honey and cinnamon. I used cinnamon in my last pancetta and it was a hit. Here’s the spice mix.

To your belly, add:

2% kosher salt
.25% cure #2
.5% honey (I used granular honey and weighed)
.4% toasted fennel
.2% cinnamon
.5% coconut flake

That all goes in rub/cure with your belly. Make sure you get all this mix in your cure bag. Put in fridge and massage and flip every other day. This one sat in eq cure for almost 30 days. Just got around to it.

I believe it was Philip Favia that suggests we beat our meat to prep it for rolling. That works well. Finishing spices were only black pepper on the inside before rolling it up. I trussed it up typical salami manner but left larger spaces, then came back around with a second, tighter trussing the way a culetello is done. It really seems to put the clench on it evenly. Time will tell. It’s a nice 2.8kg pancetta. It is hanging in my 65F cellar for now and will be moved to different environments as needed. You can see the dripping action in the pics. The trussing appears to be tight!

Pancetta Arrotolata 1
The spice mix… that’s granulated honey at lower-left. The center is the fennel/coconut mixture.
Pancetta Arrotolata 2
Spice rubbed on belly… in prep for sealing up.
Pancetta Arrotolata 3
I had to fold the pancetta on either side to fit it in the bag. I also don’t vac seal tightly…. I just make sure it’s sealed.
Pancetta Arrotolata 4
Pounding it out to make it roll up easier.
Pancetta Arrotolata 5
It’s in the sweating/dripping stage.
Pancetta Arrotolata 6
Close up of trussing.

From David Hampton

Pancetta arrotolata 7 

Old school, approx 2.5% salt, applied with white wine and BP. Rubbed into meat, rolled, wrapped with a few cut fibrous summer sausage casings. Tied real tight and hung at 7.5C and 80% RH. W/l was only 30%. Quite soft but dry enough to be silky soft!

Comments:  May want to review the use of wine when you want it to stay together after slicing.  Wine may denature proteins and “loose” binding.  The longer you rest it, the better it will bins.

RG, however, achieves good bind with orange and red wine.

pancetta 8.jpg

3. Pancetta Tesa (bacon) by Chris Varner

Pancetta Tesa.jpg

2.5 % salt, 0.25% #2, 0.5% brn sugar, 0.2% white pepper, 0.2% crk’d black pepper, 0.2 % crk’d fennel seed, 0.15% gran garlic.

12 hours cold smoke over 48hours, then dried for 3 months with a 26% loss. Then, vac pac.

Lorenzovinci describes four phases in making it.  

  • the first is the salting where the meat is sprinkled with a mixture of salt and spices
  • the second provides a period of rest so that the salt and the aromas can be distributed and uniformed in the meat
  • in the third phase the pancetta is massaged and left to dry in appropriate rooms for 3-4 days
  • finally there is the seasoning , a phase that lasts about two months

(lorenzovinci.it)

Pancetta Tesa 2.png
Pancetta Tesa from salumificiosantoro.com

4.  Pancetta with Black Pepper

Pancetta-arrotolata-al-pepe-nero
From villanisalumi.it

“WEIGHT : 3.5 kg.

LENGTH : cm 44.

DIAMETER : 12 cm.

QUALITY : the star of the Villani pancetta range, Pancetta with black pepper (black pepper pancetta) is entirely hand-made. The pork, of choice Italian origin, with the rind and a little fat trimmed off, is hand-salted with sea salt. It is then coated with a thin layer of fresh garlic before being rolled, and tied. The pancetta is then coated with black pepper, which gives it a fragrance without making it hot. Hand-tied, it undergoes a curing process lasting no less than 60 days.

FLAVOR : unique for fragrance and rounded flavor. Very sweet and tasty Its soft texture melts in the mouth, delighting the most gourmet discerning.”  (villanisalumi.it)

5.  Pancetta – Lean and Derined

Pancetta-arrotolata-magra-e-scotennata.jpg
From villanisalumi.it

“WEIGHT : 3.5 kg.

LENGTH : 41 cm.

DIAMETER : cm 11.

QUALITY : made from choice Italian pork belly. Both the “lean” and the “derinded” types undergo a process comprising trimming, squaring, hand-salting with sea-salt, standing, tying and casing, drying and curing. Lean : made from derinded pork belly, opened out and with the fat trimmed off. Derinded : made from derinded pork belly

FLAVOR: tasty and traditional.”  (villanisalumi.it)

6.  Legatura pancetta

References:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/thesaltcuredpig

https://lorenzovinci.it/magazine/ricette/pancetta-tesa/

https://shop.salumificiosantoro.com/en/products/pancetta-tesa.html

http://www.villanisalumi.it/en/prodotti/pancetta-arrotolata-al-pepe-nero/

http://www.villanisalumi.it/en/prodotti/pancetta-arrotolata-magra-scotennata/

Concerning the Aging of Beef

Introduction

The first official reports on the fact that meat becomes more tender when stored were Bouley (1874) and Lehman (1907). The breakdown of protein was first indicated by Hoagland et al in 1917. The process has been called ripening, aging or conditioning. (Toldra, 2010)

Boxed beef was introduced in the USA in the 1950’s and 60’s for hotels and restaurants who could not buy in beef sides. When supermarkets demanded the same service, Iowa Beef Processors was founded in the 1970’s specifically to provide this. It was believed that the days of dry aging of beef were over. The process of hermetically sealing meat in polyethylene bags was developed by Cryovac. (Rice, 1997)

And excellent article from The Food Lab reviews home aging and the basis of butchery aging of beef. Here are the bullet points of a great article:

The Purpose Of Aging

In order to improve texture and flavour, the following is achieved:

– Moisture loss where up 30% of its initial volume due to water loss.

– Tenderization through enzymes naturally present in the meat which act to break down some of the tougher muscle fibers and connective tissues. A well-aged steak should be noticeably more tender than a fresh steak.

– Flavor change is caused by numerous processes, including enzymatic and bacterial action, along with the oxidation of fat and other fat-like molecules. Properly dry-aged meat will develop deeply beefy, nutty, and almost cheese-like aromas. (Foodlab)

Is aged meat really better than fresh meat?

A panel of tasters tested meat aged to various degrees and rank them by overall preference, tenderness, and funkiness. Almost everybody who tasted meat that had been aged for a couple of weeks—the period after which some degree of tenderization has occurred, but seriously funky flavor has yet to develop—preferred it to completely fresh meat. (Foodlab)

On the other hand, folks were more mixed about meat aged longer than that. Many preferred the more complex, cheese-like flavors that developed with meat aged between 30 and 45 days. Some even liked the ultra-funky flavors that developed in 45- to 60-day-old meat. Where you lie on that spectrum is a matter of taste. (Foodlab)

Selecting Meat to Age

Choose a large piece that is best cooked with quick cooking methods. This makes the standard steakhouse cuts—the New York strip, the rib steak, and the porterhouse—the ideal cuts for aging. the easiest to find is rib steak, which is what you get when you cut a prime rib between the bone into individual steaks. (Foodlab)

Dont try and age individual steaks. The straks beximes so dried out as to be completely inedible. After trimming away the desiccated and slightly moldy bits (perfectly normal for dry-aged meat), one is left with a sliver of meat about a half centimeter thick. It was impossible to cook to anything lower than well-done, making my effective yield a big fat zero. Dry aging is done with large cuts. (Foodlab)

The FoodLab tested large cuts in 4 def C temp, with air circulation achieved with a small fan. Humidity was left untouched which fluctuated between 80% at the start and 30% later in the process. (Foodlab)

The more protection you have for the meat from the extetior, the better your final yield. When you dry-age meat for any length of time that’s enough to make a difference, the exterior layers get completely desiccated and must be trimmed away. The less protected the “good” meat, the more of it you’ll throw in the trash and waste. (Foodlab)

Such protection can be by leaving the fat cap on. The fat cap effectively guards the meat against moisture loss, leaving us with a spinalis muscle that is 100% edible. The yield you get amounts to basically the equivalent of a completely normal-sized roast. If you imagine your prime rib as a long cylinder, the only meat you actually end up losing is from either end. The fat cap and bones will completely protect the sides. (Foodlab)

Jess Pryles adds the following wisdom: Overall, a number of factors determine how significantly meat will benefit from aging. Lower grades actually get more out of it, so a Select graded cut will respond better than a Choice graded cut, because there’s more room for improvement. Although a certain amount of aging does ultimately help all beef, some muscles respond better than others; so the eye part of your ribeye (Longissimum dorsi) will have a higher tenderness response than the cap on your ribeye (Spinalis dorsi), even though you’ll be buying them together as one steak. And have you ever noticed it’s only beef that gets aged? Well, out of all the commercial consumer proteins, beef is the most variable in terms of tenderness. Generally, pork, lamb and veal are tender enough to begin with, it’s just poor cooking skills that can make them tough. (Jess Pryles) The relative young age of these animals, compared to beef, further leads to generally more tender pork and lamb.

What Causes Flavor Change?

If you dry-age an untrimmed, bone-in, fat-cap-intact prime rib, you’ll end up losing about 30% of its total weight over the course of 21 to 30 days or so. The weight is almost exclusively lost from the outer layers—that is, the portion of the meat that is going to be trimmed off anyway, regardless of whether it’s aged or not. The fact is, with the exception of the cut faces that need to be trimmed off, the edible portion of an aged prime rib is pretty much identical to that of a fresh prime rib. (Foodlab)

Flavour is not “concentrated.” A trimmed steak cut from an aged piece of beef is pretty much the exact same size as a trimmed steak cut from a fresh piece of beef. (Foodlab)

The Food Lab measured the density of beef aged to various degrees against that of completely fresh meat. He cut out chunks of meat of identical weights from the centers of ribeyes aged to various degrees, making sure to exclude any large swaths of fat. He then submerged each of these chunks of meat in water and measured their displacement. What was found was that meat aged to 21 days displaced about 4% less liquid than completely fresh meat. A slight increase, but not much. Meat aged all the way to 60 days displaced a total of 5% less—showing that the vast majority of moisture loss occurs in the first three weeks. (Foodlab)

Once the meat was cooked, these differences in density completely disappeared. That is, the less aged the meat was, the more moisture it expelled. (Foodlab)

One of the side effects of aging is the breakdown of meat protein and connective tissue. This makes the meat more tender, as well as causing it to contract less as it cooks. Less contraction = less moisture loss. (Foodlab)

When all was said and done, in many cases, the meat that was 100% fresh ended up losing even more liquid than the dry-aged meat. (Foodlab)

Meat dry-aged for 21 days (the period during which the largest change in density of the internal meat occurs) was indistinguishable from fresh meat in terms of flavor. The improvements were in texture alone. It wasn’t until between the 30- and 60-day marks that real, noticeable changes in flavor occurred, and during that time period, there was essentially no change in internal density. Thus, moisture loss is not tied to flavor change. (Foodlab)

Why does meat that’s being aged stop losing moisture after the first few weeks?

It’s a matter of permeability. As meat loses moisture, its muscle fibers get more and more closely packed, making it more and more difficult for moisture under the surface to continue escaping. After the first few weeks, the outer layer of meat is so tight and tough that it is virtually impermeable to moisture loss. (Foodlab)

If it’s not moisture loss, what factors do affect the flavor of aged beef?

A couple of things. The first is enzymatic breakdown of muscle proteins into shorter fragments, which alters their flavor in desirable ways. But this effect is completely secondary to the far more important change that occurs when fat is exposed to oxygen. It’s the oxidation of fat, as well as bacterial action on the surfaces of the meat, that causes the most profound flavor change—the funkiness you get in meat that has been aged for over 30 days. (Foodlab)

It’s true that much of this funky flavor is concentrated on the outermost portions of the meat—the parts that largely get trimmed away—and, for this reason, if you want to get the most out of your aged meat, it’s vitally important that you serve it with the bone attached. Unlike the fat cap, which is completely removed and discarded, the outer areas of bones will still house tons of oxidized fat and affected meat. The aromas from this meat reach your nose as you’re eating, altering your entire experience. Lovers of aged steak also prize the spinalis (again, that’s the outer cap of meat on a ribeye) for its richer, more highly aged flavor. (Foodlab)

Aging Setup

It’s very simple and requires virtually no special equipment. There are just a few things you’ll need:

– Fridge space. The best thing you can use is a dedicated mini fridge, one that you can keep closed so that the meat smells don’t permeate the rest of your food, and vice versa. Aged meat can pick up aromas from your refrigerator. Unless your refrigerator is odor-free, a mini fridge is the best possible option. (Foodlab)

– A fan. To promote drying of the surface and even aging, you want a fan inside your fridge to keep air circulating. This works in much the same way as a convection oven, promoting more even cooling and humidity all around. I used a standard desk fan. In order to get it in there, I cut a small notch in the seal for the fridge door—just large enough for the cord to fit through. (Foodlab)

– A rack. Your meat must be elevated on a rack. I tried aging a piece of meat on a plate and directly on the floor of the fridge. It did not work. The part in contact with the plate didn’t dehydrate properly and ended up rotting. Aging on a wire rack, or directly on the wire shelf of a fridge, is the way to go. (Foodlab)

– Wrapping seems to be one of those controversies which experience should settle. Some authors and “aging experts” insist to wrap the roast loosely in a triple layer of cheesecloth. After the first day, carefully unwrap and then rewrap with the same cheesecloth to keep the cloth fibers from sticking to the meat. (Fine Cooking).

– Time. You will be rewarded with the steak of your dreams for your patience. (Foodlab)

It was found that humidity plaid a minimal role in aging. After the first couple of weeks, the outer layers of the beef become all but impervious to moisture. It really doesn’t make much difference how humid or dry the environment is; the internal meat is protected.

Timing

Blind tests results showed that aging time was largely a matter of personal preference, but here’s a rough guide to what happens over the course of 60 days:

– 14 days or less: Not much point. No change in flavor; very little detectable change in tenderness. Very few people preferred this steak. (Foodlab)

– 14 to 28 days: The steak starts to get noticeably more tender, particularly toward the higher end of this scale. Still no major changes in flavor. This is about the age of a steak at your average high-end steakhouse. (Foodlab)

– 28 to 45 days: Some real funkiness starts to manifest itself. At 45 days, there are distinct notes of blue or cheddar cheese, and the meat is considerably moister and juicier.
Most tasters preferred 45-day-aged steak to all others. (Foodlab)

– 45 to 60 days: Extremely intense flavors emerge. A handful of tasters enjoyed the richness of this highly aged meat, though some found it a little too much to handle for more than a bite or two. One expert said of the 60-day steak, “I may have hit my aging threshold.” It is rare to find any restaurant serving a steak this well-aged.” (Foodlab)

What about wet-aging? What is it, and does it work?

Wet aging is simple: Put your beef in a Cryovac bag, and let it sit on the shelf (or, more likely, on refrigerated trucks as it gets shipped across the country) for a few weeks. Tell your customers that it’s aged; sell it at a premium. (Foodlab)

The problem is that wet-aging is nothing like dry-aging. For starters, there is no oxidation of fat in wet aging, which means that there is no development of funky flavors. A minimal amount of flavor change will occur through enzymatic reactions, but they are, well, minimal. Additionally, wet-aging prevents the drainage of excess serum and meat juices. Tasters often report that wet-aged meat tastes “sour” or “serum-y.” (Foodlab)

Wet-aging can offer the same tenderizing and moisture-retaining benefits as dry-aging, but that’s about it. In reality, wet-aging is a product of laziness and money-grubbing. It’s easy to let that Cryovacked bag of beef from the distributor sit around for a week before the bag is opened, allowing it to be called “aged” and sold for a higher price. I don’t buy it. When you are being sold “aged” meat, be sure to ask whether it’s been dry-aged or wet-aged. If they don’t know the answer or are unwilling to share, it’s best to assume the worst. (Foodlab)

The other drawback to wet-aging: It can’t be carried out for as long as dry-aging. It seems counterintuitive, considering that a wet-aged hunk of meat is largely protected by the outside environment. But if even a smidge of harmful anaerobic bacteria makes its way into that bag, the meat will rot inside its cover, giving no indication that it’s done so until you open it up. (Foodlab)

What about those fancy “dry-aging bags”?

Like me, you must have seen those dry-aging bag videos kicking around the internet. The idea is that you seal a cut of beef in some sort of special bag that allows you to safely age it at home. Supposedly, it aids in aging by allowing moisture out, but letting no air in. (Foodlab)

I ordered a few kits to test this out myself. Before I even began aging, there were problems. I went through an entire $25.50 kit’s worth of three bags, none of which were able to form a tight seal using my standard FoodSaver vacuum sealer (and yes, I followed the directions to a T). After ordering one more kit (spending a total of $51 on this), I finally got a single bag to seal, only to discover the next day that it in fact was not sealed properly and had leaked:

I decided to let it go anyway, pressing out as much air as possible and trying to ensure good contact between the bag and the surface of the meat, as the instructions recommended. (Foodlab)

After aging it for several weeks, I unwrapped the roast and found this:

Not the most promising sight, but I dutifully trimmed away the molded areas, trimmed down the roast, and cut steaks from it. The taste tests I performed showed no significant difference between steak aged in one of these bags and steak aged in the open air. Where I did feel a difference was in my wallet, which was now $51 lighter than it was when I started. (Foodlab)

Innovations

The following are great aging innovations:

Conclusion

A Cryovac executive once said that “Its what you’re use to that tastes best and fewer and fewer Americans have an opportunity to become used to dry-aged beef.” (Rice, 1997) That may be true and is particularly true in the meat industry. The experience of eating dry aged beef is, however, so much richer, and tastier than fresh or wet aged beef, that it will always have its place in fine restaurants and homes of meat lovers.

References:

Fine Cooking, Article by Jennifer Armentrout.

THE FOOD LAB, Article by J. KENJI LÓPEZ-ALT

Rice, W. 1997. The Steak Lover’s Cookbook. M Kathryn Thompson.

Toldra, F. (Editor) 2010. Handbook of Meat Processing. Blackwell Publishing.

Jess Pryles

Photo Credit: Jess Pryles