I have never heard the term "freshside" pork, but I just googled it and it's the same as pork belly. Fresh Pork belly is what is used to make bacon. It is just a cut from the belly of the pig that is streaked with fat. People also make bacon with other cuts - like back bacon and Canadian bacon (cured loin). But, traditionally, it is the belly. This is the most flavorful cut from many animals... the finest sushi is tuna belly, which is like the bacon of the tuna. More fat = more flavor.
BTW... making homemade bacon couldn't be easier. I just started making my own this past autumn. Just ask your local butcher or pork farmer for a fresh belly and then cut it into slabs, make a dry or wet cure (google has lots of info on this, or I am happy to provide details of my own if anyone is interested) and cure it for a few days and you're done. Traditionally, American bacon is smoked, and you can do that to your own liking as well... different temps, times, types of woods. I made a homemade smoker for under $30. Easy as pie and the best bacon you'll ever eat!
p.s. pancetta is unsmoke, rolled, cured pork belly... so it's just italian unsmoked bacon
Yes, I would love to make my own! Please, do share, if it's really easy enough even for ME. I prefer non-smoked, if that's possible. My favorite bacon is "center cut." What would I ask for from the pork grower?
Also, I could get lots of fresh pork from a friend whose husband is a pig farmer, but...I asked her what he feeds his pigs (he has hundreds of acres of pasture, but I've never seen the pigs when I've been there), and she said, "Nothing but corn--all they'll eat." And I'm sure it's heavily pesticide-treated GMO corn...considering that bacon is largely fat, and toxins are concentrated in fat tissue, would pork from those pigs be very much less healthy than the (very expensive) pork from pastured/forested pigs that I've been buying? I know they do feed grain to those pigs, too, but it's at least organic. Mountain out of a molehill?
Oh, and the reason I asked about "freshside" is because that's what I got in a shipment of meat from my pastured meat supplier. It looked like bacon, but without the reddish tint to the meat, and it cooked up like bacon, but it tasted AWFUL, like if you took every bit of the flavor out of bacon.
Yup yup... the red in the meat only stays there if you add nitires (saltpeter) to it. That is a very controversial topic, and you can google it and make your own decisions. I don't put it in my homemade cure meats, but I happily eat it from other places. That's just me.
As for your friends with the corn-fed pigs... sorry to say, but yeah, I think that's just wrong and you would definitely get a heavy toxin load in the fat. Many problem chemicals today are lipophyllic, which means they like to attach to fat molecules and then they stay there because we always have the same number of fat cells in our bodies from birth... they just get bigger or smaller as we gain or lost weight. The only way to lose fat cells is if you have them cut out of your body (yuck). So anywho, these harmful substances build up in our bodies over time and can cause a whole host of problems - cancer, birth defects, infertility, etc. Nasty stuff. So, while it's impossible to totally avoid such things, I make a conscious effort in my life to avoid them whenever humanly possible. So, your pastured pork that is costing you an arm and a leg is very much worth it, in my mind. Plus, all the flavor in pork is in the fat and because people are afraid of animal fats these days (unnecessarily, I would argue, but that's another topic), the big farms use pigs bred to be lean. Thus, no flavor. Plus a totally unvaried diet of 100% corn for an animal that is an omnivore (like a chicken) also leads to no flavor and a cruddy life for the animals.
As for "center cut," it's not a well-defined term. That generally means that is from the portion of the belly that has the least amount of fat. In my mind, that's not so desirable... but it's your call. Generally when you buy a belly, it will be the whole belly and you will have bacon with varying amounts of fat.
As for the recipe, there is an ongoing argument about what is better: wet cure or dry cure. I have to admit, I thought I was going to like the wet cure better, but I have tried many different ways now and the dry cure is hands down my favorite.
Here is a good basic recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's book, "Meat."
2 lbs coarse salt (kosher or sea salt, non-iodized)
2 tsp saltpeter (potassium nitrate, optional)
a few finely chopped bay leaves
about 20 juniper berries, lightly crushed
1 cup brown sugar
3 Tbs coarsely ground black pepper
Cut your pork belly into slabs that will fit into a large non-metallic container (ceramic, glass, or plastic works fine, but NO metal). Grab some handfuls of cure an drub them all over each slab. Stack them in the container. Cover with lid or plastic wrap, and place in the fridge or cool, dry place like a root cellar. Every 24 hours, check on it and you will see some liquid has leached out. Pour that off as best you can and rub some more cure into the pieces. Do this everyday for 5 days. At the end of 5 days, you have unsmoked bacon. Rinse off the cure and smoke, if you'd like. Then store in the fridge for short-term use or the freezer for long term. It will last weeks in the fridge, maybe months, depending onthe strength and length of your cure. If you keep it in the freezer, it will be much easier to slice. A Large, sharp knife really helps if you don't have a professional deli meat slicer (like I don't).
OK, I think that's it for now... did I cover everything? I am passionate about food like most people on here are passionate about chickens (I an a newbie to chickens and still learning), so I love talking about this stuff. Bring on the questions if you have any... and good luck to you!
p.s. you can of course, vary the herbs and spice and proportion of salt to sugar in the recipe. Also, maple syrup instead of brown sugar is really nice. I have never made that exact recipe... I just use it as a basis for my own imagination. I have also varied the length of the cure and I would say that 5 days is plenty. Longer than that, and your pork will keep for a really long time, but it will be unpalatably salty. That said, if you want to store it a long time, not in the freezer, please do cure it longer, and then when you slice it to use it... just drop it in a bowl of water for a few minutes and it will take some of the salt back out and you'll be all set. This is not an exact science - experiment and have fun!
OK, I can do this--I have an extra refrigerator down in the basement, even.
What happens if you leave out the nitrates/nitrites?
This recipe is for a whole pork belly? How much does that weigh?
So I can ask my "pasture people" to just sell me a "whole pork belly?"
And you have to do the curing before the slicing? I mean, could you have a butcher slice it, and then press it as much as possible back together to cure it? OK, I'm just figuring out that I could just as easily take it to be slice after I cured it, if I wanted. Duh.
Have you ever taken any pictures of this process? Would you?
And thanks for reinforcing my "gut" (har, har, no pun intended) feelings about toxin content of fat being more important than that in lean meat (and I take it seriously in lean meat).
definitely cure, then slice. But yes, you could have your butcher do it. Yes, the recipe is for a whole belly... honestly I can't remember how much one weighs... maybe 12-14 lbs? It loses quite a bit of water weight when it cures and it shrinks down. Also, it's a better buy because the big factories inject them with salt solution in order to increase the weight, which then cooks off when you cook the bacon and so you pay more for less meat. Doing your own is the way to go
Anyway, the cure is dry, so just mix up a whole batch and if for some reason you don't use it all, just store it in a jar in the pantry until next time. As long as it's totally dry, it will last dang near forever.
The nitrites only keep the color pink. Otherwise, it turns kind of a brownish color. the color makes no difference... it's just what we're used to.
and remember... cook a little piece and taste it before cooking a whole batch. If it's too salty, then soak your slices in a bowl of water for a few minutes before cooking in order to reduce the salt. The salt does give flavor, but it's main goal is to preserve the meat. Also, just FYI, any bacon you're bought in the store has been smoked or had smoke flavor added, so without the smoking, it will taste different. It will be more like pancetta, which is essentially Italian unsmoked bacon, which is great too. Just a heads up.
Some that I got at my local butcher recently (not the pasture-people, but just a mom & pop butcher shop where farmers bring live animals and they come out as meat) was labeled "bacon--cured with salt, sugar, and nitrates." There were packages beside that labeled "smoked," so I wonder if the kind I bought had smoke flavoring added? Hmmmm. Maybe worth a phone call!