I love a good charcuterie platter. Spicy soppresata, rich and flavorful coppa, and of course, Prosciutto. Last Christmas we received (and gave ourselves) a number of books on DIY charcuterie and vowed that 2011 would be the year we make our own. Then we started a kitchen remodel. We still hope to make our own charcuterie…but it may be a few more months. Enter Slow Food.
What is Slow Food?
A non-profit member-supported association, Slow Food was founded to counter the rise of fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.
I have known about Slow Food since my days as a tour guide in Europe. It began in Italy in the late 1980s to “protect small-scale quality productions threatened by industrial agriculture, environmental degradation and homogenization.” Slow Food has 1,300 chapters around the globe, including Seattle, which “develop activities, projects and events at a locally and regional and global level
A few weeks ago, Slow Food Seattle announced a new class they would be offering, “Learn to Make Pancetta and Lardo with Mangalitsa Pork.” Three of my favorite things at once: Pancetta, the unsmoked, cured pork belly common to Italian cuisine; Lardo, cured fatback, that can be sliced thin and eaten on a simple crostini or grilled steak; and Mangalitsa pork.
The Mangalitsa (MON-go-leet-sa) breed of pig was first introduced to the U.S. in 2007 by Heath Putnam. Putnam imported a herd of pigs from Hungary as well as European techniques for “processing,” or butchering, the pigs. Mangalitsas are prized for the great deal of lard they produce. The name in Serbian, Mangalica, actually means, “hog with a lot of lard.” Due to a declining interest in lard however, Mangalitsas, like other heritage breeds, are rare.
Today, Putnam raises only about 700 Mangalitsa pigs on three farms in the Midwest. They are prized by internationally recognized restaurants such as The French Laundry and The Herbfarm, as well as Seattle area favorites like Nell’s and Monsoon. Mangalitsa fat is less saturated than the fat of other pigs. It melts into the marbled and flavorful meat at a lower temperature and has a lighter and cleaner taste. Putnam is doing exactly what adherents to the Slow Food philosophy believe: Salvaging and maintaining sustainable, small-scale farming, and heritage breeds.
Putnam was on hand at Sunday’s event, held at Tom Douglas’ Serious Pie, in it’s second location in the South Lake Union neighborhood of Seattle. Serious Pie chefs Tony Catini and Kenan Fox were there to walk us through the curing process and will oversee our hunks of pancetta as they cure.
Mangalitsas are raised longer than most pigs before they are slaughtered. Putnam raises his pigs to about 270 pounds and about 2 years old. Late in life, they are fed things like hay, peas, acorns, and other nuts to help achieve that flavorful meat. Breed, feed and age of slaughter makes this pork very unique.
For curing Mangalitsa pork, the jowls, fat back and belly work the best. The pork belly contains about 80% fat – much more than most pork belly. Pancetta is usually rolled into a log before it is tied and cured. We would be making slab pancetta, sometimes called pancetta tesa, which is not rolled. Each participant was given about a pound each of Mangalitsa pork belly and fat back, donated by Heath Putnam Farms.
Chef Tony took the floor next and guided us through the basics of curing (very basic, since we only seasoned the meat and they would be curing it for us). Curing is basically applying salt and other herbs & spices to a piece of meat, then storing it in a temperature and humidity controlled space for anywhere from a week to several months. Salt is the most important thing in the cure. It draws out the water and makes it shelf stable. Chef Tony said that at the Tom Douglas restaurants, they use about 2.2% salt per pound of “product.”
Gavin and I each applied a unique blend of spices to our pancetta. Mine included allspice, mace, cayenne, and pepper, among other spices, as well as curing salt and pink salt. For the lardo, the blend was simpler – just garlic, rosemary and pepper along with the curing salt. They provided us with pre-portioned cuts of meat, with the accompanying weighed-out amount of salt we would need for each piece. Chef Tony labeled our pancetta and it will be ready for us to pick up in about two weeks. For the lardo, we took it home and have it curing in our refrigerator for 10-14 days.
After all that talk of pork fat, and the mouth-watering aroma of all the spices on the table, we were hungry! 25 participants in all were next invited up to the dining room of Serious Pie for an early dinner. The price of the class ($45 for members, $55 for non-members) included a multi-course, family-style meal, plus wine. The first course included burrata and just-picked strawberries from Tom Douglas’ farm in Prosser, with balsamic vinegar; marinated beets with pistachios; and Crenshaw melon with Mangalitsa coppa. Next up was a selection of pizzas from Serious Pie’s wood-fired oven: Mangalitsa sausage with roasted peppers and goat cheese; Mangalitsa lardo with pea-vine pesto and porcini mushrooms; and oil-cured tomatoes, saracena olives and buffalo mozzarella. And finally, after all of that, we were served dessert: Coconut cream pie “bites.” Learning never tasted so good.