The Cure

hangingI had the best carbonara the other week. It was a Sunday night, comfort was required, carbonara was required – with homemade guanciale – which sounds a bit smug, but isn’t actually that difficult to make, as long as you’re patient.

I started it a few months ago, it hasn’t required much effort, and now I have cured pigs’ cheeks to play with.

I ordered six cheeks from Gosforth butcher Charlotte Harbottle and they arrived the next day. They’re quite big, something everyone seems to comment on, but I guess pigs have big heads. That one in the Ouseburn farm, Babooshka, is a monster!

I followed a recipe from one of the River Cottage handbooks about curing and smoking. I wanted something with bay and sugar, rather than a straightforward salt cure, so I used 90g each of salt and light brown sugar and added torn bay leaves, cracked black peppercorns and crushed juniper berries.

You need to remove any hairs from the pigs’ cheeks with a sharp knife or a blowtorch. There might also be grey pappy glands, so get rid of those too.

Then simply mix the ingredients for the cure. I put the cheeks in a big Tupperware container and added everything. If you’re only doing a couple you could use a freezer bag.

Distribute the cure evenly so it covers the meat, squeeze out as much air as possible, seal and place in the fridge.

I cured mine for two weeks because I was doing so many. They say three days per 500g, but the longer you cure them the more flavour gets in. Turn them over every few days so that the cure distributes evenly. It will become liquid as time passes.

When the cheeks have finished curing, remove them and give them a wash under cold running water, then dry thoroughly with kitchen roll. I then gave mine a little dusting of some extra cracked black pepper.

Finally, I made a hole in the top of each cheek and strung them up. They need to be somewhere with airflow, out of direct sunlight, not to hot or cold, a bit humid (obviously you can only go with what you’ve got!). I hung them at The Cook House near the back door. At home I use the porch. Then you have to wait.

They take 3-5 weeks. Keep weighing them to check, but they are ready when they have lost 30% of their weight and they smell really meaty. I’ve had one down off the hook so far, the smallest one. It’s delicious as it is, sliced really thin, or like I said, get a carbonara on the go.

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