The classic Italian dish of Maiale al latte (milk-braised pork) is one of my favorite examples of the rustic simplicity of Italian cuisine. The origins of Maiale al latte are hotly debated with Tuscany, Bologna, Veneto, and Friuli-Venezia Giulia all claiming it as their own. These days, it’s prepared all throughout Italy especially in regions with an abundance of pigs and cows to provide the two main ingredients; pork and milk. This dish truly exemplifies the Italian culinary philosophy of creating phenomenal meals from just a few humble but high quality ingredients with the restraint and humility to just let the ingredients shine without too much manipulation.
Authentic Italian food is decidedly unpretentious and seeks only to bring people together and put a smile on their face with a simple but incredibly delicious meal meant to be shared. That was the biggest lesson I learned during my time living and working in Tuscany a few years ago and what truly made me fall in love with Italian cuisine. So when it came time to plan my upcoming Chef Dinner, I definitely wanted to stay true to that basic tenant of Italian cooking. To that end, I designed a very rustic, family-style, authentic Italian menu full of my favorite simple, comforting, and delicious dishes including Pici cacio e pepe (learn all about Pici in my blog post) and this succulent Maiale al latte.
Maiale al latte was traditionally made with pork loin but nowadays, American pork is bred to be so lean that I prefer the pork shoulder which contains a bit more fat and connective tissue than the very lean loin cut and will add richness and succulence to the finished dish. Obviously, we cannot make milk-braised pork without milk and we’ll want to use whole milk, not skim or 2%. In addition to the pork and milk, you’ll also need a few other simple ingredients to add a bit more flavor; herbs, garlic, and lemon.
Maiale al Latte
5 lbs pork shoulder
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 sprigs fresh sage
4 cloves garlic (lightly smashed, peeled)
1 bay leaf
4 cups whole milk
1 cup fresh lemon juice (3-4 lemons)
Olive oil to coat pan
We’ll need a good, heavy, pot with a tight-fitting lid that distributes heat very evenly, like this enameled cast iron Le Creuset Dutch/French oven which is perfect for any kind of braised or stewed dish and even deep frying. If you don’t have one of these versatile pots yet, now is the time to treat yourself while all cookware is 20% off at The Chopping Block through the end of January.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Heat the Dutch oven over medium heat on the stove-top with just enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Season the pork shoulder liberally with salt and pepper and brown on all sides. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Tie the sage, rosemary, and bay leaf into a bundle with butcher’s twine and add to the pan along with the smashed garlic. Sauté until fragrant (~ 30 seconds) and then deglaze with the lemon juice, scraping the brown bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. As soon as the lemon juice is reduced by half, add the milk and bring back to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper.
Add the browned pork back to the pot, cover, and transfer to the preheated oven. Braise for about 4 hours until pork is very tender, flipping the pork every hour. Allow the pork to cool for 20-30 minutes in the braising liquid and then remove.
If you’re now thinking, “Oh no! What did I do wrong?!”, don’t worry. That is a perfectly natural response the first time you make Maiale al latte when you look down at the ugly curdled mess that you’re left with. I assure you, that is exactly what it’s supposed to look like so stop freaking out, slowly move the pot away from the garbage can, and proceed to pat yourself on the back. Congratulations! You just made homemade cheese AND a luscious, delicious pork roast! You’re quite the rock star!
Simmer the braising liquid until it is reduced by half and is browned and curdled. You’ve basically just made cheese; a porky, herby, lemony, spreadable cheese. You could strain out the curds and spread it on crostini which is super delicious, serve the sauce as-is on top of the pork, or my preferred method is to puree the sauce until it is rich, creamy, and velvety smooth in a blender to serve over the pork with creamy polenta and kale.
Doesn’t that look amazing?! Join us February 20th for Chef Dinner: Cena con Amici (“Dinner with Friends”), gather around our communal table, and enjoy this Maiale al latte and the rest of our rustic, authentic Italian feast. We look forward to sharing a meal with you!