The year was 1928.
Whenever I have an opportunity to purchase heritage pork I perform my due diligence and reflect on what I’ve learned on the trip to the farm, butchery or slaughterhouse.
Berea is over 700 miles from New Orleans so I have plenty to think about on the drive up to Appalachia.
The farm at Berea College is one of the oldest in the US. It sits on 500 acres filled with black soil pastures, ponds, meadows, crop fields, gardens and forests. Professor of Agriculture and farm director Sean Clark and I have been in contact so when I wheel my truck onto the grounds he agrees to give me a tour of the fields where the hogs live.A couple dozen pigs are ambling about eating pasture grasses and rolling about in the muck. These pigs are given free range, and as I would come to find out, this freedom makes for some delicious jowl bacon.
Here’s my recipe for the finest hog jowl bacon you’ll ever put in your mouth
2 each jowls, hog, approx. 5lbs total weight
1/4 c. salt, kosher
2 t. Salt, pink, curing (sodium nitrite)
* Combine Kosher salt and sodium nitrite mixing well
* Sprinkle ingredients thoroughly over all sides of jowls
* Put jowls in pan and in fridge
* Every 24 hours flip jowls over
* Do this for 10 days
* Rinse cure off jowls with cold water
* Return to fridge, place on wire grid or perforated pan, allow to dry overnight
* Build fire in smoker, smoke jowls with pecan or other favorite wood for two hours
* Refrigerate and prepare to slice your jowls
* I put the jowls in the freezer for two hours and took them to a butcher in my neighborhood who uses a Hobart electric slicer to ensure perfect cuts. Larry’s been doing this for 40 years and his work shows it
* If you don’t have a butcher/friend use your sharpest blade and take your time to make sure you’re giving the jowls the most even cuts possibleNotes:
People put all sorts of stuff in their cure: fresh herbs, chiles, black pepper, sugar, honey, maple syrup. I’ve experimented with all these things and have discovered that my favorite bacon is simple, plain and tastes of nothing more than good salt and hardwood smoke.
If it’s possible, source your hog jowls carefully from a farm that cares about the meat they’re producing. If it’s not, then buy your pork from a local supermarket. It’s going to taste good either way.
I dry-cured these jowls. Starting weight was 4.8lbs. Ending weight was 3.96lbs.
My grandfather cured bacon and ham for over 60 years and I never saw him use a measure. He shook pink salt all over the pork he had slaughtered on his farm and our family never suffered from botulism. That being said, please pay close attention to the recipes you follow in your charcuterie projects and if in doubt, throw the meat out and start over.
How do we live our life in a way that enriches other people’s lives? This question was one of the central tenets of Thornton Wilder’s work.
Since I can never eat all the cured meat I produce I give it away to friends, relatives and neighbors, and I often think of what Thornton’s life was like on the Berea College Farm back in 1920.
Got an extra 23 minutes? Listen to a short podcast on Thornton Wilder.
If you don’t feel comfortable salt-boxing your meat projects I wrote an article How To Safely Cure Meat