Each week the local San Francisco Chronicle produces a highlighted food section for their newspaper. Besides covering the expected topics of new restaurants, restaurant reviews, wines and the local ‘scoop’ for chef’s / restaurateurs, just to name a few of the articles another section I enjoy reading is “Taster’s Choice”. Here a well rounded group of individuals that are involved in food in some way shape or form review one selected product that can be purchased in local retail stores.
In the recent SF Chronicle food section, the ‘Taster’s Choice’ column selected pancetta for the panel to evaluate. Of course this peaked my interest and I was even more excited to see one of the chosen brands evaluated was produced by Volpi.
Here’s what they had to say….
With holiday cooking in full swing, we thought it would be a good time to explore the world of pancetta. Similar to American bacon, but usually unsmoked, pancetta – or more precisely, its rendered fat – is mostly used to lend a potent, porky flavor to all sorts of savory dishes.
The Taster’s Choice panelists tasted seven brands of packaged pancetta. Two were already diced; five came sliced thin and rolled – we cut these into small strips.
All were cooked on a stovetop until they reached roughly the same level of color and crispiness. We also reserved the resulting oil so that our panelists could see how much fat was rendered.
In the top spot was Volpi ($4.99 for 4 ounces at Mollie Stone’s). This pancetta had an “excellent pork flavor” and a “great balance of meat, salt and fat.” It was “crispy,” “chewy” and “full-flavored,” though a few panelists thought it was too salty. Three would buy this brand, while two might.
Second place went to Columbus ($5.99 for 3 ounces at Cala Foods). Showing “nice pork-y overtones,” this “very lean” pancetta was “crispy, but not distinctive.” “Tastes like bacon, with a stale finish,” said one panelist. A second noticed a “slight oxidized note.” Three would buy and two would not.
La Quercia ($8.99 for 3 ounces at Mollie Stone’s) took third with its “very crispy and salty” pieces. But its “faint herbal flavor” threw some panelists off. “A bit too much rosemary,” said one, while another noted that the herb was “overwhelming other flavors.” Three would buy, one might, and one would not.
Citterio ($2.99 for 4 ounces at Trader Joe’s) finished fourth. The only diced pancetta to crack the top five, this brand suffered from a “lack of flavor” and a “flat, porky aftertaste.” Some found the pre-cubed bits to be “a bit too chewy,” while others liked the “nice bite” it provided. One taster would buy this brand, two might and two would not.
Rounding out the top five was Wellshire ($4.99 for 6 ounces at Whole Foods). This brand “looks like cooked ham” and “tastes like bacon – in this case, not a good thing.” The pancetta had only a “vague meat flavor” and “tastes mostly of salt.” One would buy, one might and three would not.
La Quercia 65
Primo Taglio 33
Fiorucci . 20
Panelists were John Carroll, cookbook author, San Francisco; Marc Halperin, culinary director, Center for Culinary Development, San Francisco; Shelley Handler, consultant, San Francisco; Rosemary Mark, recipe developer, Walnut Creek; and Roland Passot, chef-owner of La Folie in San Francisco and three Left Banks. All products are tasted blind; a perfect score would be 100. Prices listed are the lowest found, but products may be available at other stores.
Janny Hu is a Chronicle staff writer. E-mail her at email@example.com.
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