2012 Atlanta Rising Star Hotel Chef Anthony Gray spent over a decade training at Frank Lee's Slightly North of Broad, and along with a taste for good old Southern home cookin,' he brings some serious knowledge of curing meats. He’s taken that experience to the next level at Southern Art and Bourbon Bar at the InterContinnental Buckhead, where his charcuterie and technique is some of the best we've seen and tasted. At his ham bar diners feast on house-cured salami, Wagyu prosciutto, and county pâtés, along with a selection from other artisanal American producers.
Although Gray doesn't play favorites when it comes to the ham bar, his Guanciale—the Italian-style, un-smoked bacon made from the pork jowl—features a particularly rich and fatty pork, the Ossabaw hog. It's a heritage breed he was introduced to while working with Lee. Originally from Spain, but domesticated on Georgia's Ossabaw Island 400 years ago, the Ossabaws adapted to an island lifestyle by developing a metabolism that allows them to store a larger proportion of fat than other swine. Gray describes the rich meat as "a beautiful specimen, with an incredible amount of fat." Gray sources his Ossabaws from South Carolina farmer Emile DeFelice of Caw Caw Creek, one of the few farmers raising the pigs.
Although Gray suggests an allure revolves around preparing the Italian bacon, he explains that making guanciale is really fairly simple. The most important step is removing the large gland running through the pig's cheeks. Left untrimmed, the jowls won't allow the cure to set in, causing spoilage. As is the case for any cured meat, Gray accounts for shrinkage—12 pounds of pork jowls result in roughly eight pounds of guanciale. After a week's cure in a traditional spice mix, the guanciale dries for several weeks, creating a rich, delicately cured meat.
Of course, the best charcuterie results from the best product, and in Gray's eyes, the Ossabaw is it. It’s just the hog to make the perfect, better-than-bacon (yep, we said it) guanciale.
1. Combine salt and water to make a brine.
2. Remove the glands from the jowl and square off. Place the trimmed jowl in brine for 20 to 30 minutes.
3. Pulse salt, InstaCure #2, and sugar in a spice grinder until a fine powder forms. Remove the jowls from the brine and rinse in cold water. Place the jowls in a plastic container and evenly distribute the cure mixture over all the pork.
4. Add the jowls, peppercorn, garlic, sage, and rosemary to vacuum bags. Seal the bags and place on a sheet pan with another sheet pan on top.
5. Use three #10 cans to weigh the jowls down and cure for 8 days. Rinse the cure, dry the jowls, tie in cheesecloth, and hang at 55°F, 55 to 60 percent relative humidity, for two weeks, or until they are dry.