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The pancetta that wasn’t

Guanciale and pancetta

I got nothing. Here it is, February 15, the deadline for this month’s Charcutepalooza challenge, and all I got is meat hanging in a fridge. And it’s going to hang a little longer yet, at least.

Sure, perhaps I shouldn’t have tried to overachieve and do both guanciale AND pancetta, but since my results with last year’s guanciale were so stellar and so easy, I thought, why not? And besides, I had gone to the trouble of creating a curing chamber so I could control the temperature and humidity.

About that. At first, I thought our basement might have been temperate enough to where I would only have to manage humidity, so I purchased a storage cabinet. But after reading Matt’s very thorough and helpful post and getting, among other things, a hygrometer, I realized that both the temperature and humidity were going to be at issue. So, a fridge was in our future. 

Fine. This is what Craigslist is for, right? Almost immediately, I landed a medium-sized mini fridge from someone just a couple blocks away. Perfect! Unfortunately, it became clear that even at its lowest setting, the temperature was going to be too low, and any attempt to raise it would result in the wee freezer dripping water all over the place. Not the kind of humidity enhancement I was looking for. 

Back to Craigslist, where I finally found a wine fridge. At its lowest setting, the temperature was optimal, right around 55ºF. However, the humidity was definitely low. So, following advice from Cathy at Mrs. Wheelbarrow, I set a tray of salt water in the bottom, with a towel to wick moisture for evaporation. One day later, 75% humidity. Optimal. 

Or is it? I cured my hog jowls and pork belly according to the directions, then brought them down and hung them in the chamber. And waited. At first, everything seemed fine. The temperature and humidity remained constant, and the meat seemed to be doing its thing. Until. 

Yesterday I went down for my at least once daily visit to check on things, and noticed a small amount of blue-green mold on the top of the pancetta. OK, no panic. Michael Ruhlman himself said to just swab it down with vinegar. Which I did. But here we are a couple weeks nigh, and the meat seems as plump and pink and, bluntly, uncured as it did two weeks ago, only now it’s fighting mold. So the pancetta? We’ll see. But for sure, it’s not happening today. 

The guanciale looks to be about right. Think I’ll stick with the jowls from now on. 

  • Aw our rolled pancetta is still a week or so from being ready – unless you were starting on the day the challenge was announced, it was pushing it to make deadline. I can’t wait to see what you do with it when it’s ready!

  • I’m also looking forward to seeing what you make with your pancetta & guanciale as I’m pretty sure they’ll be delicious! It’s interesting to read about your curing chamber woes –I have a very cobbled-together setup and am so wishing to construct one of those really slick DIY refrigerator curing chambers, but that’ll have to wait until I’ve moved (and a good ‘fridge shows up on Craigslist). In the meantime I keep watching the Brian Polcyn segment on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations because Brian has a dreamy charcuterie setup.. naturally 🙂

  • if it sat in the salt cure for long enough, you should have no problems with it being not cured. Did you weigh the meat beforehand? has it lost any weight?
    If you don’t have any airflow in the chamber, then you are going to be fighting mold unfortunately. You can leave the door open a crack, or a couple of times a day waft the door open/shut/open/shut for 10 minutes each time, to get good air transfer. This however will mess with your humidity, and the pan of salt water can take a while to equalize humidity properly. Personally I prefer the use of a humidifier.
    You should also check what the humidity is in the chamber now too – in a small wine fridge, two pieces of moist meat hanging will raise the humidity quite significantly.

  • Thanks, Matt. Stupidly, I did not weigh it ahead of time, but it does not appear visually to have shrunk significantly, or even at all. I have been going down at least once a day and opening the chamber to check in on my pretties, but I guess I could up  that to a twice-daily regimen. It's four flights down, and I need the exercise anyway. I took out the pan of water yesterday, as the humidity was running a tetch on the high side — about 78% — and I figured it might benefit from a little drying down. However, it did seem to stay very consistently around 75-76% the whole time. Unfortunately, there's not room enough in the fridge to accommodate a full humidifier. Down the road, I may try to create a larger setup, an enclosed area that I can control better, but the biggest problem I was
    having with that, as with the storage cabinet, is figuring out how to modulate temperature. I'll get it right eventually! 

  • I can’t figure out what you did with the towel and the water tray. Could you provide more detail?

  • I used a Tupperware container that happened to fit neatly in the bottom of the fridge. To it I added enough brine to fill about halfway. I then moistened the towel in the brine, and draped one end of it over the edge of the lowest rack, leaving the tail of the towel in the brine to wick. In the end, this created too much moisture, so I rolled the towel and left it in the brine — the top of the roll was exposed and allowed for some evaporation. 
    Ultimately, I might not have had to do  that. In other tests it appears that the amount of humidity coming off the meats themselves was sufficient to raise the humidity level. However, as noted, my lack of air
    circulation was causing problems with mold. If I had better circulation, I almost certainly would have had to increase the humidity.