If you browse Charcuterie sites (I know that I do), a name that you will see is Paul Bertolli. Bertolli worked as the executive chef at Chez Panisse and then as executive chef and co-owner of Oliveto. He now owns a salumeria called Fra’ Mani (whose salumi you can buy at Whole Foods Kingsbury). Recently, I received a copy of his book, “Cooking by Hand” for my birthday.
“Cooking by Hand” was described to me as the advanced version of “Charcuterie”. After reading the book, it seems more like a manifesto of the type of cooking for which Bertolli has an obvious passion, “the bottom-up cooking” method. The charcuterie is just a small part of a greater piece and the section that drew my eye first was labeled “Italian Bacon”.
Italian bacon, or Tesa, as Bertolli calls it within the section, is very similar to pancetta. There is no smoke, it is not rolled and dried, and it is not meat that is served for breakfast. Tesa is ready in a week or two and is the most common form of flat cured belly. Typically tesa is used to enrich sauces or to serve with salads or pastas.
As I had been warned about before delving into Bertolli’s recipes, the cure for tesa contains strong clove flavors. To me, clove is not disagreeable in charcuterie, so, to start, I followed the recipe note for note. Another ingredient that I had not included in pancetta is red wine. The rest of the cure is relatively standard, despite including all spice, juniper berries, and nutmeg.
To start the process, trim the belly. While I did not, next time I will cut the belly into squares to allow the belly to cure more quickly. Next grind the cloves, peppercorns, juniper berries, and allspice and add to grated nutmeg. Add this mixture to the salt, pink salt, and red pepper flakes. Rub this mixture on to the belly and then sprinkle the belly with the red wine and minced garlic. Seal and cure for 8 to 10 days, flipping daily.
After ten days, I removed the belly from the cure and rinsed it thoroughly. The smell, even when raw, was unmistakeably different from pancetta. The sweetness from the red wine and clove was strong. I was so curious that I did not want to wait for the belly to firm up in the freezer before slicing it. Given the oddly long quality of the belly, slicing it warm proved to be a challenge.
The tastes and smells of pork, wine, and garlic are strong. Unlike bacon, crispness is not the end goal. Cooking through and, if you want a little color, feel free. Tesa is a great project for charcuterie lovers not entirely comfortable with hanging and drying pork belly, like you would with pancetta.