If you’ve watched our Whole Hog video with Jimmy and top butcher, Joe Collier, then you might be asking yourself “what is this curing, that Jimmy keeps talking about?”.
So, we thought we’d write a blog post to demystify this seemingly mysterious world…
Firstly, curing is as old as your grandmother’s family sponge recipe. And then some. In fact, it dates back to ancient times before people had fancy Smeg fridges, when they used words like ‘forsooth’ and ‘ye olde’.
You’ll no doubt have eaten many cured pork products over the years, but simply not realised. For instance, how about a thick slice of flavoursome Gammon? And what about a sizzling rasher Western union online of bacon or an amazing Christmas ham? All three sent from heaven to tickle our taste buds, and all cured.
Curing refers to the process of food preservation and flavouring meat and is a rather clever invention from mother nature us humans have claimed for our own, turning it into an art form.
Field to Fork
Once butchered into different cuts , some of these head straight to the supermarkets and butchers as fresh pork and some are cured into Gammons (cuts from the leg), bacon (cuts from the shoulder) and hams (gammon fully cooked).
There are two types of curing – Wet and Dry, and it is this process which turns our fresh pork into Gammon or bacon, extending the life of fresh pork from around three weeks to up to 42 days, while also adding a host of amazing flavours to the meat.
Here a brine solution is forced under pressure, into fresh de-boned cuts of pork and then these are tumbled in a machine to help disperse the natural curing ingredients. At this stage, other flavours are often added including honey, sugar, spices and even beer to give a cheeky taste to the pork. This process is speedy, taking only 24hrs to turn a piece of fresh pork into a delightful gammon.
Some of these gammons are partially cooked and sent to the supermarkets for you to cook up yourself on a lazy Sunday, or fully cooked, making them into ready-to-eat hams.
Wet Curing: Famous Wiltshire Curing
You may have already spotted “Wiltshire cured” on packs of bacon in the supermarket. If you haven’t plumped to try it yet, quickly do so, you’ll find yourself a new must-have for the week!
A traditional Wiltshire cure is truly a piece of history. Fresh pork is cured on the bone (as above) and then undergoes an incredible and unique process. The cut is immersed in huge curing tanks, for up to four days in a special brine solution which is around 90 years old, before being air dried, giving the pork its distinctive flavour.
This is a much slower process than wet curing and involves some good old-fashioned love and elbow grease as curing salts are rubbed directly by hand onto the pork meat. This is then left for up to 28 days to mature. Pork cuts that are dry cured are often more premium, e.g. silverside, topside, loin and bacon (from the loin).
Check out our Wiltshire cured Gammon Joint recipe here.
In this day and age when salt consumption is high on people’s agenda, the pork industry has been quick to develop great tasting gammon products. These have significantly lower salt content, while still keeping its much-loved flavour, proving greater choice for pork eaters. Keep an eye Western union point out in your supermarket in the near future.
Finally after the pork has been fully cured, the fun and culinary expertise really starts, by adding further subtle, natural flavours. Smoking the meat over wood chippings is a particular favourite, especially bacon, , look out for Applewood, Cherrywood or Beechwood however, other cuts such as gammon and hams can also be wood smoked. If you’ve never tried a wood-smoked bacon, give it a go next time you pop into the chilled meat section in the supermarket. You can really taste the difference.
Other means of adding flavour include glazes, bigstory.ap.org where natural ingredients are spread onto the meat. These include sugar, honey, beer and treacle to name but a few. You can even glaze different pork cuts yourself too. Keep a look out for our tutorial soon.
Still curious? If you have any questions please drop up a line through Facebook or Twitter and we’ll ask our champion curers to answers your queries.