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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Pork Belly Futures ... Economics Of Pork

Your initial investment ...

... yields dividends like these ...

... and these.

Don't worry, this isn't an essay about the stock market.  Just a recap of our recent pork projects ... no, not a critique on wasteful government spending either, hahaha.  With apologies to our friends in the financial sector, butchering and curing your own pork products is much more fun than analyzing the stock market; and with no apologies to bureaucrats, our charcuterie is very frugal.  Nothing gets thrown away except a few bones that have already given up all their porcine goodness.

As posted here:  Plunging Headlong Into Charcuterie ... Homemade, Home-Smoked Bacon, I was lucky enough to purchase three bone-in pork belly chunks recently.  I weighed them after removing the bones from all and also removing the skin from one portion for pancetta, and weighed them again when finished.  If you're lucky as are we to live near some good Asian markets, it's easy to find pork bellies with or without bones.  Once we really master this process, I'd like to start ordering pork bellies from local, organic purveyors to get an even higher quality product, but we'll stick to the less expensive bellies while we're learning.

Trying to compare costs is a bit apples to oranges.  The homemade bacon and pancetta is more expensive than crappy store-brands, but less expensive than gourmet market products.  I think ours compares very favorably to the gourmet stuff.  Plus essentially everything is used, bones, skin, and all, and you know exactly what's in your food.

Bone-In Pork Belly Price, $2.99/lb.

Beginning Weight of Pork Belly

#1  8.55 lbs. (final product peppered bacon)
#2  6.32 lbs. (final product regular bacon)
#3  5.57 lbs. (final product pancetta)

Trimmed Weight of Pork Belly

#1  6.18 lbs. (bones removed)
#2  5.6 lbs. (bones removed)
#3  3.62 lbs. (bones and skin removed)

Finished Weight of Yummy Pork Delicacies

#1  5.96 lbs. peppered bacon ($4.29 per lb. for the pork)
#2  5.41 lbs. regular bacon ($3.49 per lb. for the pork)
#3  3.17 lbs. pancetta ($5.25 per lb. for the pork)

Waste Not, Want Not.  I braised the racks of ribs that I cut off the pork bellies, removed the meat from the bones, and made an al-pastor style filling for tacos and enchiladas.  Even the liquid from braising the pork ribs was so tasty that I froze it to use for braising something else later.

I saved the skin that I removed from the pancetta chunk to be smoked along with the bacon and saved that and the smoked skin and excess fat from the bacon chunks to use for cooking beans or stews, just like you'd use fat back or salt pork, but much more flavorful than anything you can buy.

Although I have most of the cure ingredients on-hand already, there is obviously a small cost associated with the cure ingredients and for charcoal and smoking wood, which I haven't tried to quantify yet.  The only unusual item you'll need for curing is pink salt, which you'll probably have to order online. 

If you're the kind of cook who's considering doing charcuterie at home, it's likely that you already have the kitchen equipment and supplies you need.  You need a really good, sharp knife, specifically a boning knife if you're working with bone-in pork.  It's essential that every serious home cook have a good knife sharpener.  You'll want to use a plastic cutting board so it can be sterilized in the dishwasher.  You'll need heavy-duty 2-gallon zip top bags.  You may want to use rubber gloves.  Although it's not absolutely necessary, it's best to use a food scale for weighing the cure ingredients for accuracy.  And last, but certainly not least, make the small investment in a really good instructional cookbook.  I love Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman & Brian Polcyn.

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