A layer of kosher salt, sugar, nitrite, whole black peppercorns, chili pepper flakes, juniper berry, thyme and garlic confit coated the hand-trimmed pork belly on its way to becoming pancetta.
“Very simple,” said chef Doug Kocol, the charcutier for Honolulu’s Salt Kitchen and Tasting Bar, to aspiring and professional chefs Tuesday. “You want the flavor to come through, not to cover it up with 97 different ingredients — you want to taste what the animal tastes like.”
In just a few weeks the belly is cured, resulting in pancetta, the Italian version of American bacon, except the meat is not smoked, Kocol said.
Pancetta is one of many products made through charcuterie, defined as the art and end product of preparing cured or preserved meats, with a particular emphasis on pork. Among the types of charcuterie are sausage, bacon, prosciutto, salami, porchetta, pate, terrines, headcheese and many others, he said.
“Charcuterie has been going on for thousands of years — people have been doing this since long before us because there was no refrigeration,” Kocol said. “Being able to manipulate and understand the use of fire and salt on meats was one of the biggest components of us no longer being a nomadic species.”
He continued: “It’s a big part of everyone’s life no matter what ethnicity or background. Every culture has (charcuterie).”
About two dozen first- and second-year University of Hawaii Center at West Hawaii students and other professional chefs and educators got up close and personal with Kocol Tuesday, butchering a 40-pound pig and transforming the swine into an array of charcuterie.
From stock, prosciutto, and bacon to headcheese, salami and pancetta, Kocol promised to bring back the finished products in several months for the students to sample.
The day of hands-0n learning at the school was sponsored by HFM FoodService, said Jim Lightner, an associated professor and chairman of the school’s hospitality division. A Kona Brewers Festival grant also helped cover the cost of substitutes for the area teachers who took part in the workshop.
The workshop on charcuterie was selected for the students because the art is trending in the culinary world, Lightner said.
“It’s the big thing right now, one of those trends in cooking,” he said.
Second-year culinary arts student Kennocha Berhane, who hopes to open a catering business in the future, described the workshop as fun and informative, giving her the chance to see the process in action after learning it in class.
“Now we are learning the intense part of it,” she said. “To know, and see, the entire animal butchered will be very useful.”
While charcuterie is a niche Berhane said she doesn’t plan to focus on, it will be handy in running a successful catering business. Being able to use more of the animal increases the usage percentage and profitability.
“He used over 99 percent of the animal,” she said. “On fish, the yield can be 50 percent” making the cost for fish at $20 per pound actually $40 per pound.
In charcuterie, only the blood lines and glands, excluding the thymus gland or “sweetbreads,” go to waste, said Kocol noting that glands can house toxins.
Normally unappealing items, such as the testicles, uterus, blood and brain, are used.
At least 99 percent of the pig can be used in some way, he said.
The 40-pound pig butchered Tuesday resulted in nearly four ounces of waste, or less than 1 percent of the pig being thrown away.
“It’s more than a respect for the animal, it’s respect for the farmer who raised the animal its entire life,” he said, emphasizing the importance of using the entire swine as well as supporting local pig farmers.
But, among the most important parts of charcuterie, Kocol said, is to take the reins and enjoy the process and its possibilities.
“You have the opportunity to do whatever you want,” he said about the plethora of types and flavors of charcuterie that can be made.