I’d been plotting this for a while, but never felt the timing was right until now. Getting the jowl wasn’t the problem, it was deciding where to hang it. Extra fridge? Basement of condo building? Parents garage? There don’t seem to be any hard and fast rules regarding the temperature and humidity of the drying conditions. Neither the recipe I was using (from Ruhlman and Polcyn’s Charcuterie) nor any online resource seemed to agree on what was best. The recipe simply said to hang the meat longer for more humid conditions. Terrific, that tells me nothing about what constitutes a humid condition. I decided to use half of a wine fridge which I had the envious task of clearing out beforehand. After a couple of weeks of higher than average drinking, it was clear and ready to go. I set the temperature at 55 and my thermohydrometer measured the humidity as fluctuating between 67 and 71%.
To the meat. Jowl is pig’s cheek and is an absolute delight. Once you get your hands on one, trim it of any fatty little discolored glands, throw it in a ziploc bag and shake it up with your cure. Charcuterie recommends equal parts salt and sugar, thyme, cracked black peppercorns, crushed garlic and a teaspoon of pink salt is optional. The pink salt gives the meat a nice red hue and there is some suggestion of it lowering the risk of botulism. I did not use it for this jowl, but I decided to go with it for my second jowl, for reasons that will become clear shortly. I also threw in some nutmeg the second time around and left out the garlic. We’ll see what happens.
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The jowl

Leave the jowl in the fridge for about a week, turning it every other day, until the flesh feels firm, not squishy. It will give off a good amount of liquid as the salt sucks the moisture out.

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The cure

After taking it out of the cure, rinse it off under cold water and poke a hole in one of the corners.

Run some butcher’s string through the hole and hang it in your predetermined location.

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The recipe in Charcuterie recommends drying for 1-3 weeks. Because of the somewhat humid conditions I went on the long side, and probably could have left it in at least another week without drying it out excessively. But I was excited.

Guanciale - the final product

No mold (this is a good thing). I was shocked at how good it looked. Not sure whether to be impressed with my accomplishment, or just less impressed with all the rest of the guanciale out there. I’m going with the latter.

mmmmm

I mean, that looks legitimately store-bought. Marbled, slick from fat. Damn Gina, who knew guanciale was so simple? Of course, now came the moment of truth. The taste test. Was this meat actually safe? Would I die of botulism? A little backstory: ┬áLiz has been against this endeavor from the start. She didn’t want pork hanging in our apt, she didn’t want the wine fridge turned into a meat fridge, and above all she did not trust the conditions to keep the meat disease free. For several weeks, botulism was one of her favorite topics of conversation. Chats with links to botulism websites, descriptions of the symptoms, incredulous stares. All of it was leading up to this:

The moment of truth

The moment of truth

Tasted great. But then I feel a scratching in my throat. I try to swallow. Can’t. All of a sudden my mind and heart are racing. Goddamnit! Do I have botulism? Have I been botulised? Luckily we live several blocks away from a hospital so we quickly grab our things and start walking over. About 15 feet outside our apartment I realize the absurdity of the situation and regain my composure. We hit the corner store up for some cookie dough ice cream and head back home. 12 days later I am still botulism free, but for the sake of your own peace of mind I recommend using the pink salt. I got mine here http://www.savoryspiceshop.com/spices/sltcur.html .

The guanciale keeps for up to 4 months so freezing it in chunks and defrosting as needed is the way to go.

Lardo is up next.