I researched many sources, from watching Benton Country Ham and Bacon videos with Allan Benton to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Steve Lamb at River Cottage to our Charcuterie book by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn (which for some reason we refer to as 'the Ruhlman'), and settled on Ruhlman's cure, River Cottage's seasoning, and Benton's timing.
Why would I go to all this trouble? I can't eat sugar, honey, or maple syrup (or corn syrup or sweeteners, etc.) and you can't find bacon made without them. It turns out that sugar is added only to displace some of the salt so that your bacon doesn't get too salty. But since I'm also hypertensive, I can't leave out the sugar altogether because super salty bacon would not be the right answer, either. So what to do? Date sugar, coconut sugar, and palm sugar are all on the 'maybe' list (as opposed to the out and out 'no' list), so I elected to build my cure with coconut sugar, as it's the most like brown sugar in flavor, and let's face- also because I couldn't find the palm sugar.
Most of the instructions for curing that I found have you leaving the belly in the cure for five to seven days, but since Allan Benton makes the best bacon in the country, I'll leave it to cure for ten days like he does. Then it needs to be rinsed and patted dry, and hung to dry and age for several days. Only then can I think about smoking it. More on that later.
|Cure timing on the container|
Then finally, the guanciale. The jowl's curing and drying into a guanciale is kind of a cross between the two previous treatments; the cure is mixed from salt, sugar (coconut sugar, in my case), garlic, black peppercorns and thyme, and the jowl rests in it for four to six days. Then it's rinsed, dried, punctured, and hung up to dry for one to three weeks. In the world of charcuterie, it's as close to instant gratification as you can get.
In any case, getting them all salted down and into the fridge means that all my hog pieces have been dealt with in one way or the other and I can relax about them.
Which also means that I can now turn my attention back to the garden...