This week is National Butchers Week (24th - 30th March 2014), a celebration of the somewhat dying art of butchery.
So this year, we thought we'd invite you to set yourself a challenge; to create DIY bacon, to understand the passion, care and attention that goes into this age old process.
Below we have outlined the method, which is much easier to follow than you might realise.
DIY dry-cured bacon
Dry curing is simply the direct application of salt to meat, and we've been doing it for thousands of years, as before refrigeration this was the only way to keep meat from spoiling.
To make a simple homemade streaky bacon, all you have to do is rub handfuls of salt into a whole pork belly once a day for six-seven days.
Just pop the pork belly in a large wooden or plastic box, or a ceramic pan or pot (don't use metal) and rub in a couple of handfuls of salt - about 30g per kg of pork belly if you like measurements. Keep the salting pork in a cool place, so a porch, cellar, outhouse or garage is good, and while you can use the fridge this can be too moist.
The salt will draw the liquid from the meat, so if you want dry cure instead of wet cure, it is best to pour away the liquid every day and reapply a salt rub.
The longer you cure in salt, the more stable and salty the meat will become. Like most things it comes down to personal taste and choice, but about six days should do the trick for 1kg of belly pork, after which you should rinse away the salt in cold water and then leave for a day or two to air dry.
You can get more adventurous with adding some ingredients to the salt and hanging, but for a beginner this is pretty much all you need for DIY home-cured bacon.
To conclude our blog, we also wanted to challenge some misconceptions around butchery to allay any fears the novice shopper may have.
• Freezing food reduces its quality. Despite the urban myth, freezing meat does not reduce the eating quality of meat, providing it has been properly hung and butchered. If you find a good supply of meat or butcher, but aren't able to make regular purchases because of location or lifestyle - don't worry, you should certainly consider buying in bulk for the freezer. As long as you have the space, it offers much better value for money, and means you can try many different cuts of the animal, rather than just opting for your usual lamb chops or sirloin.
• Hanging meat is an unnecessary tradition. Hanging meat (in particular beef) is much more than a tradition, it is a critical process as it improves both taste and texture. It brings the best out of mediocre beef, and similarly not hanging the very finest meat means it will not reach its full potential.
• Buying a whole animal is only for the professionals! A good butcher will be able to sell a whole or half lamb or pig and a quarter steer 'beef pack' all with a useful mix of roasting joints, chops and steaks, and meat for slow cooking and mincing. If you do your research you can even get the butcher to cut, dice and slice to your personal specification.
Here are also our tips on how to spot a good butcher:
• A good butcher knows where the meat comes from, not just the area, but the farm.
• They can advise on cuts for certain dishes, will not make you feel silly if you don't know what cut to order, or the quantity.
• They cut the meat to your requirements.
• They will know exactly how long the meat has been hung.
• They stock seasonal produce, such as game in late summer / autumn and spring lamb in March and April.
• They make their own sausages and don't buy them in.
• They can source something especially for you, even if they don't stock it, so if you fancy some merguez sausages after a Moroccan holiday, they are more than happy to oblige.
• Finally, they make a sublime pork pie!