This photo is of about 11 pounds of pork belly, it's even got my name on it, if you look carefully on the left-hand side of the photo. It's the belly from the half-pig I bought from a farmer/farm magazine editor in Metchosin, about an hour's drive from here. The pig was of the Berkshire breed, a heritage breed known for its flavour and succulent fat. This pig is no exception, we have been enjoying many chops and a pulled pork shoulder, I even made guanciale from the jowl. (cured fat/meat Italian style used to flavour sauces and vegetables) I could have had the butcher make bacon from the belly, but I wanted to play with it myself.
I set aside 5 pounds of the belly for making bacon, and cut the rest into two 3-pound slabs. One slab I prepared with an orange-miso glaze from Jennifer McLaghan's Fat cookbook, the other brined, then honey-roasted and served with a fennel-carrot slaw. The 5-pound slab was cured according to the method recommended in Michael Ruhlman's Charcuterie cookbook, with maple sugar, maple syrup, kosher salt and 'pink salt' (sodium nitrite)and set aside in a large Ziploc bag for a week. At the same time, my friend Stefan was curing 2 bellies of his own, minus the pink salt, and one with maple syrup, one with birch syrup.
He came up from Victoria on Saturday and we slapped our bellies on my Traeger smoker for about 4 hours until the bellies reached 150F internal temperature. You can see how different they all are. My Berkshire belly is on top, with the thickest fat. On the lower left is the belly Stefan cured with the birch syrup, which really turned quite dark in the smoker. On the lower right is the belly he cured with maple syrup, which came closer in colour to mine.
After they cooled a bit we sliced off the skins, reserving for future use in soups or stocks, then fried up a slice of each. Again, marked differences between the three. I think my belly had a nice balance of sweet and salt, although I have ended up taking another layer of fat off the top before frying. Stefan's maple-cured belly seemed to have absorbed more salt in the curing process, while his birch syrup belly was well balanced in saltiness, but a little less sweet.
Today I sliced the whole thing and divided into bags for the freezer….but first Ramona and I enjoyed a fine bacon and lettuce sandwich on True Grain multigrain bread. Excellent! An experiment well-worth doing, and well-worth repeating again when I run out of bacon.