Making Lonza is Easy
Cured pork loin is commonly known as Lonza (loin) but may also be referred to by some as Lomo (in Spanish) or Lombo. Either way, they are all made from whole or cut, boneless pork loin – -preferably with a nice fat cap intact. Pork loin is the whole muscle that runs along the back of the pig on either side of the spine. For reference – it’s the meat that is attached to the bone in pork chops.
If you want to try a simpler salumi recipe then this is a very accessible preparation that can be done in the home. Lonza is typically cured with salt and a few spices such as black pepper, fennel seed and finely ground Calabrian chili pepper for example. Plus, pork loin is readily available at nearly every butcher shop though it will vary in quality and the size of the fat cap if it’s been pre-trimmed. Ask your butcher for whole, untrimmed pork loin if you can.
Also note that Lonza is not to be confused with Lonzino or Filetto which is made from the tenderloin that runs along the inside of the spine towards the posterior of the pig. The preparations are very similar though with a more rapid cure and aging time for lonzino which has a lower fat content. Lonza also compares well to prosciutto though with less fattiness.
Quality, Quality, Quality
Since pork loin is very lean the flavor of the meat is greatly influence by the diet of the animal. When purchasing pork loin to make lonza, avoid commercial pork from places like Costco or your local supermarket. It’s likely to morph into a flavorless product that will leave you sad and craving real salumi. What you’re looking for is locally raised, heritage pork that has been allowed to forage and fed a diverse diet. Anything less will lead to an inferior product.
The loin pictured below is from my friends at Olsen Farms in Colville, WA. They raise primarily Hampshire/Yorkshire cross pigs that have a diverse diet which includes a myriad of potatoes from the farm. It is, in a word: lovely.
Also note the fat cap on this loin – it’s ~one inch thick which is terrific. That said, you must be careful to fully coat the loin with salt to prevent rancidity given that the fat is exposed.
Making Pepper Cured Lonza
For whole muscle meats I use the Ruhlman/Polcyn book Salumi as it provides a great basis of recipes to work from. If you are a beginner this is a terrific resource with excellent illustrations and easy-to-follow recipes.
- Boneless Pork Loin – at least 3 pounds but ideally 5+, from a local farmer using sustainable practices. Spend the money – it’s worth it.
- Trapani Sea Salt – 3% of the weight of the loin
- Pink Salt – .25% of the weight of the loin
- Black Peppercorns – 2% of the weight of the loin – toasted and ground in spice grinder or with mortar and pestle + 2 Tbs for aromatics
- Dry White Wine (to rinse the loin after the cure)
- Beef Bung – for casing (available from Butcher and Packer or SausageMaker.com
Toasting your peppercorns is key as the process releases their fragrance and improves the aromatics of the cure. This is a simple process that you can do in a few minutes. Just put your whole peppercorns in a skillet over medium high heat for 2-4 minutes until you can smell the dark, peppery aroma. The key here is moderation – it’s very easy to burn spices and I’ve done it myself too many times to count. Watch the peppercorns as you toast them and take them off the heat and out of the pan as soon as they begin to release their fragrance. If they burn, toss and start over. There’s no sense in ruining a lovely piece of pork loin with burnt peppercorns.
You can use common Tellicherry or, get crazy and go with Javanese or something like a Szechuan long peppercorn. Go ahead an experiment. Just be sure to season lonza more aggressively given the low fat content of pork loin.
Step 1 – Dressing the Loin
Most pork loin will be fairly well trimmed when you buy it. Give it a quick once over and trim off any sinew, bone fragments or silver skin that might be present.
Step 2 – Applying the Cure
We use the ‘salt box’ method for making lonza. You can either choose to blend your salt and black pepper prior to rubbing the loin or do them separately as I’ve done in the photos below. Either way, it’s more of a personal choice than anything as it will not affect the flavor of the loin.
Then the black pepper is added…
Seal the loin in a 1-2.5 gallon ziplock large enough to accommodate it and then squeeze as much air as possible out of the bag before sealing. Then, put the bag on a baking sheet, cover with another baking sheet and apply ~8 pounds of weight to the top.
Refrigerate for 1 day per every 2 pounds of the weight of the loin while flipping it midway through the process to redistribute the cure.
Orange and Fennel Cured Lonza
As an alternative preparation, I also made an Orange and Fennel lonza at the same time (pictured below). The cure ingredients (also from the Ruhlman\Polcyn book) for this are slightly more complex but still easy enough to prep as follows:
Ingredients – Cure
- One Pork Loin trimmed
- 3% Trapani Sea Salt
- 1.5% fennel seeds – toasted and cracked with a mortar and pestle or spice grinder
- 2 thinly sliced oranges
- Juice of one orange
- 8 garlic cloves sliced paper thin
Note – for the aromatics you’ll toast another 3 Tbs of Fennel Seeds and then grind them finely. Then apply them in a coat over the rinsed loin and case per the instructions below.
Step 3 – Adding Aromatics and Casing
Once the curing process has been completed, remove the loin from the bag and rinse off any residue with cold water. Pat dry with paper towels and then rub with dry white wine.
Tie the loin as you would a roast with enough loops to hold the meat together tightly.
Then, toast and crack another 2-3 Tbs. of black peppercorns for the aromatics. Apply to the loin in an even dusting as shown in the photo below:
Once you’ve applied the aromatics, case the loin in beef bung which has been rinsed and soaked in lukewarm water for at least 1-2 hours. The loin should fit nicely and evenly into the casing. Squeeze out all the air pockets in the casing.
Then, tie a bubble knot with a loop on the end for hanging your lonza to dry. Here are some Dutch guys demonstrating the bubble knot process.
Last, prick the casing with a sausage knife or pin to release any air trapped inside. No air = good.
Once cased, weigh and tag the lonza in order to baseline your starting weight.
Step 5 – Drying
For Lonza we’re trying to achieve the magic 30% weight loss number. Record your target weight on your tag (or in your spreadsheet) so you’ll know when you hit pay dirt. Depending on your conditions plus the fat and water content of the meat – this can take anywhere from 3 weeks to 3 months. I generally measure weight loss weekly and geek out on creating Excel tables and graphs to monitor progress. More rapid weight loss will occur in the beginning and then will gradually slow over time.
Ideally, you should hang the lonza in an area that is between 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit and 60-70% ambient humidity. If you have a curing chamber set up to emulate these conditions then terrific. If not, then you’ll need to find a cool, dark place in your home that will work. Subterranean basements generally get close though you will want to measure your conditions and adjust with cool air and/or a humdifier/dehumidifier dependent on ambient results.
Measuring temperature and humidity can be done with a thermohygrometer which an readily be found on on The Hungry Dog’s Store or at your local pet store (as reptiles need temp and humidity controlled environments just like salumi).
When you have achieved the desired level of weight loss, your lonza should look something like this:
Step 6 – Eating
The day has finally come! It’s time to cut open the casing and eat this bad boy. After months of anticipating the goodness of flavor your lonza is likely to bring you can now savor the actual product.
The casing should very much feel like paper at this point and should separate easily with a sharp knife. If you inadvertently left any air in the casing you might notice some mold growth. White mold = good. Any other mold = bad. Provided you only have good mold, you can wipe it off with a cloth towel dipped in white vinegar or white wine. This will clean the lonza and inhibit further mold growth.
If you are fortunate, your lonza should look like this:
I typically cut a quarter inch off the end and reserve it for use in pasta sauces. Once you have a clean cut, you can slice paper thin with a slicer or very steady hand and sharp knife. The thinner the better here as texture is key. Gnawing on a thick piece of lonza isn’t really an enjoyable experience. So, get it paper thin if you can or take it to your friend that owns a restaurant or deli and have them slice it for you.
Pictured below are both lonza’s made during this process. I have to say I enjoyed the black pepper more than the orange and fennel. Both were good but the latter had a heavier mouth feel which was improved by adding a couple of drops of yuzu. The acidity created a nice balance with the fattiness of the lonza.
More Salumi and Charcuterie to come…
Curing meat is the slowest of slow food and quite rewarding if done right. There’s nothing better than cutting open that pancetta, coppa or salumi that you’ve made after a long wait and sharing it with your soon-to-be amazed friends. This is not beginner’s 101 cooking but it can be done. All it takes a good set of instructions, quality meat, the right conditions, an understanding of chemistry and a bit of patience.
If you enjoyed this post stay tuned for more great step-by-step recipes focusing on curing meat at home. Please check my other posts on Salumi and Charcuterie at TheHungryDogBlog.com or on my own personal site as I continue the journey to learn these culinary arts.