Posts Tagged ‘neil cherry orchards’

Guanciale; The Chuck Norris of Pizza Toppings

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Pizza is Americas food, that’s a fact. On the thousands of pies my business makes each year, a massive portion of my customers have chosen bacon as a topping. The word itself sends middle-aged, pre-heart-attack victims like myself into a frenzy because the thought of that smoky, melting fat atop a slippery glacier of melting mozzarella is the stuff of dreams. It is hard to mimic or turn anyone away from the thought of crunchy, porcine goodness but there is another, more silky alternative to that streaky belly fat: Enter Guanciale; the jowl or cheek cut from the face of the pig!


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Above is some awesome Red Wattle, (heritage breed pork) guanciale that I cured with a long crisp Spanish syle Coca crust, Teleggio (an Italian Alpine cheese)  roasted celery root, fresh basil and killer Bosc pears grown by Neal Cherry in Crooksville, Ohio that I have citrus-pickled.


Because of my inherent shallowness, I interpret the relationship of smoked pork belly fat vs. unsmoked pork facial fat as that of Bruce Lee vs. Chuck Norris. Bruce was the king of Kung Fu and, just like bacon, he was my hero when I gazed upon him kicking the shit out of bad guys on Green Hornet. Chuck was another bad ass (after Bruce had broken the martial arts-as-entertainment barrier) that transformed his talent in that memorable movie, Good Guys Wear Black. Both of these guys amazed and rocked my world just like bacon and jowl, unfortunately, Bruce is gone but Chuck Norris can split the atom with his bare hands! So lets make some guanciale!


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First, let’s start with a pork cheek from your local butcher or pig farmer. An excellent butcher can give you a skin-on cut that extends from the cheek down to shoulder, (like above, which I love). I trim any and all glands I find. They are soft, greyish and are easily distinguishable from fat like the cut above with a gland in the middle of the jowl. I also cut the cheek in two to help with the cure but I always leave the skin on. The pork “cheek meat” or oyster may still be left on the face. It is a roundish hunk of flesh that most butchers cut off to expedite the curing process but if you are lucky enough to have this wonderful piece on, just leave it.




To cure the guanciale, take a cup of course sea salt and vigorously rub the meat all over. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and then in a large plastic bag without any air in it. Refrigerate for two days. Many people say to weigh the jowl down but I leave it alone because I don’t need a uniform piece of jowl. Just a thick slice of that porky goodness that will melt on a pizza.

After the two days, re-rub the jowl. You may have some juices to get rid of also. Re-wrap and set in refrigerator for one or two more days, depending upon how salty you want the jowl.


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On the last day, rinse all the salt off and dry the jowl completely. I like to immerse the jowl in a baggy of white wine for an hour before drying again, (I like what the fruit does to the fat) then I rub like a madman with cracked peppercorns, roasted fennel seeds, roasted cumin seeds and rosemary that has been whipped up in my spice blender. (This is where puristas and me part company.) Because I am melting this flesh on a pizza, I want as much nuanced flavor to come out of this fat as possible, so I give a great shiatsu massage to this pork with strong spice and less salt. Yum.


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There are many ways to hang your cheek in the drying chamber. The best chamber to use is a white wine cooler that you can buy for under $300 clams. Just set the temperature for 55-60  and place a bowl of salted water at the bottom because your curing will need some moisture. The fan on these wine cabinets offers enough airflow to complete a good cure. (Optimum cure temperature is between 55 and 65 degrees with a humidity of 70 percent.) The first way is to wrap in a double layer of cheesecloth and tie with twine this will keep any herbs and spices in place but still able to breathe. The other way is to wrap the cheek in the herbs and use plastic wrap to force the spices and herbs in place then unwrap the plastic and remove before tying. Both of these have worked for me.


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Tie the guanciale up for four to five weeks or until it loses 30 percent of their bulk.


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I’m tellin’ you… on that day that you go to your chamber and remove the guanciale, it’ll feel like your birthday. After wiping off some or all of the spice, get a sharp knife and cut the skin off. Any mold that is white is okay, any other mold is a concern. If you encounter any mold, wipe with vinegar until it comes off.


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Then place the thin slice on your tongue and wait for the gorgeous melt to happen. Man oh man, if Chuck Norris wasn’t so fucking weird now, you’d be tempted to invite him over for some guanciale and a bowl full of nails.

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Above left is a Pizza Romana baked at 700 degrees with caramelized shallots, chevre, beets and local cheddar curd or for another magnificent flavor profile, above right is a knotted Turkish Pide with fresh local blackberries atop guanciale, aged mozzarella, provolone, fresh spinach and topped off with maple syrup.

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Or, if you have the guts, you can make a killer schiacciata with Stilton, walnuts and pear with that crisp melting guanciale taking it’s final bow for now!





Big fat Turkish Pide with Grapes and Pancetta

Don’t you just hate when bloggers apologize for not doing a post? The excuses can be endless and they usually lose me at “Sorry, but my cat…” So I’m just gonna just shut up and show you some stuff I’ve been doing instead of writing blog posts:

I made about 30 of these pides last Saturday, including the Turkish pide with grapes. Not to mention the the Nectarine/Stilton pizza (right) and the Brie Boat with pear.

Along with the Ohio University students coming back, I’ve been scrambling to accomodate my bread lovers at the Athens Farmers Market. Here are  just  some of the 300 breads, pizzas, flatbreads and other weird stuff  I did on 9-11-2010. (Take it easy on a critique of my presentation, dudes. I just finished 12 hours of baking, plus my customers were breathing down my neck.)

You’ll notice the Turkish Pide with the grapes. That’s what we are gonna make today. But first let me take you to where I got the grapes: Neil Cherry Vineyards and orchard in Crookville, Ohio where we visited last year for the Schiacciata Con L’ Uva or Tuscan Grape Harvest bread.

The skins of these heavenly grapes are thick and chewy and exude the brightest of grape flavors, along with watery flesh that explodes in your mouth. They are best described as “That’s what grapes tasted like in my youth.” Yes, these three varieties of seedless grapes have a grape quality that only local, unsprayed, real grapes have .

Here are some other grapes we are gonna use.

You may laugh at this recipe, but I don’t care. I love cumin with grapes, chevre and bacon! This baby’s got the fatty, salty pancetta (Italian cured-but not smoked-bacon), the creaminess of local Integration Acres chevre’ (creamy French Goat cheese), the sweetness of these killer grapes and the unexpected crunch of walnuts.

Let’s go.

Preheat a heavy cookie sheet placed upside-down in your oven at 475 degrees F.

Using the Easy Dough Recipe on this blog, cut a 7 ounce dough ball and freeze the other for later use. For this recipe,  use bread flour. It  has more protein iand therefore will stretch better when “tying a knot” with the dough.

3-4 slices of pancetta (bacon will do but will leach more liquid than the pancetta. I will cover that later so don’t worry.)

1 teaspoon plus 1/2 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil

1 heaping teaspoon cumin

1 quarter cup walnuts, pounded into small tooth-like pieces

1 inch thick piece of chevre

1-2 cups of seedless grapes

1 egg for eggwash

Place the pancetta in a saute pan under medium high heat with the teaspoon of olive oil and sweat the juices. Toss well for  2-3 minutes. (If using bacon, cook longer but avoid browning it.) Add the cumin and the 1/2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil. (If your pancetta created enough oil to soak up the cumin and still leave oil, do not add the extra oil. This will probably happen with the bacon.) Cook for 2 minutes more.

Add the walnuts and saute for only 1 minute. Set aside for the pizza.

Take the round dough ball and pull on opposite ends to form a football shape. Using you fingertips, press out into an even larger footabll shape, measuring 12 to 14 inches across. This will be your Pide base.

Place the dough on parchment, then place the pancetta, cumin, and walnuts on the dough and spread it out. Place the chevre on top in small dollops, all around the dough.

To tie the knots, start on the middle of the boat-like dough. Pull up from the middle to the end. The dough will slacken when you get to the end. Grab this dough and start spinning or twisting the dough, gabbing any slack that may make the middle of the boat fall back down. Gently pull the twisted end and tie in a knot.

Place the grapes all around the top of the pide. Some may fall off. Press down but not hard.

Crack the egg and scramble with a fork or whisk. Brush this eggwash all over the outside edges of the pide. Dab enough egg on each end knot to sink it into the folds.

Place the pide on the preheated cookie sheet  and bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until the bottom is dark brown and the top is golden brown.

Pull out and enjoy with your dining partner. Woof!