I was offered a job on the market stalls at Cannon & Cannon in mid October last year. By way of a very generous welcome gift (or test of my mettle) I was invited along to join Meat School’s Bacon Curing Masterclass just a few days after.
I am 25 years old, I love cooking and think of myself as being fairly competent, but I had absolutely no concept of how the bacon I’d eaten all my life actually came to be, never mind what it looked like when attached to the pig! Therefore, when I was presented with an entire middle of a pig on arrival that Saturday morning, I must admit my stomach did a wee somersault. My nerves subsided over a bacon sandwich and some strong coffee as my fellow students and I listened in to our tutor’s introduction to the basics of bacon.
The middle of the pig, simply put, is centred around the ribcage, on one side you have the back bacon, with the loin (the big round part) attached. On the other, your belly, or streaky bacon. This was all very well and good, but how we were going to get our hands on those beautiful cuts without making an almighty hacking mess of the whole thing?! Hugo, our brilliant tutor and London charcutier extraordinaire, practices seam butchery – the principle of following the natural contours of the pig and not using cleavers or saws to break bones. So under his watchful eye, my peers and I went about first removing any excess fat or non-bacon cuts (all the more for sausages of course) and then extricating the beautiful meat from the ribcage.
Once we’d got ourselves our back and belly cuts we could start to use some creative flair and begin the curing process. The principle of curing is based around extracting moisture in order to intensify flavour and to make the meat safe to eat (in bacon’s case you do still have to cook it though!). I went for one classic cure which was a mix of salt and sugar, and one smokey, spicy version using cayenne and paprika. Being a child of the 1990s, patience is not a virtue of mine, so when Hugo informed us we would have to wait a whole 7 days before we could try the fruit of our toils I was a little disappointed…
But, boy, do good meaty things come to those who wait – fuelled by every right-minded person’s need for fried food the morning after a Friday night down the pub, my 3 housemates gratefully and greedily accepted the greatest gift of them all. Bacon. As an introduction to British Cured Meat, it simply did not get better – the best part of it all being that there is so much more to come.
If you want to dip your toes in to the world of meat curing, go to www.meatschool.co.uk to sign up for one of our great courses.