First time in America. Maybe ever! These pork chops are incredibly tender, with huge, deep flavor.
Cinta Senese (pronounced CHIN-tah seh-NAY-zay) is a heritage breed of pig originally from Tuscany, near the town of Siena—hence "Senese." The pigs have been around since at least the 1300s but today Cinta Senese pigs are almost impossible to find in Tuscany.
Italy, oh Italy, what are you doing? For decades one of the stubborn holdouts still practicing old style animal raising, much of Italy has gone the way of the rest of the industrial agriculture world. Farmers have largely given up raising heritage breeds for modern ones that are able to convert feed to meat more efficiently. From an accountant's perspective this is a great choice (no offense, accountants). Less feed and less time to raise the animal means less expense. Pork profits, straight to the bottom line. From a flavor perspective, though, it's a disaster. Less time to raise the animal, leaner meat with less fat: it's a proven recipe for bland, boring pork.
But then along came America to save the day. Sounds insane, right? Aren't we the ones that invented industrial agriculture? But it's a bit true. In 2016, Herb Eckhouse, the meat-curing maestro of the La Quercia prosciutto emporium in Iowa, took his porcine passion to the next level when he bought a passel of Cinta hogs (the name dropped the "Senese" when they came to the US). Herb is raising the animals in impeccable conditions without hormones or antibiotics. The hogs have plenty of room to root and roam on pasture. La Quercia keeps the legs to cure as prosciutto. There's no such thing as cured pork chops, though. That's our win.
Cinta pork chops are anything but bland. They have huge, deep, rich, earthy flavor. Each porterhouse chop looks like a T-bone steak, with the loin on one side of the bone and the tenderloin on the other side. The chop has a noticeable fat cap along the side—don't discard that, it's got amazing flavor! They're great on the grill, or sauteed in a cast iron pan.
Chops ship frozen, though they may thaw and be cold, not hard, when they arrive. They come two to a pack. Because they’re thick they are best cooked using a temperature probe. The USDA recommends cooking to 160, but that’s well done and, in my mind, a shame for this quality of pork. I like medium rare to medium, 140 to 145. I've grilled them and cooked them in a pan and, in part because the grill is technically more difficult, I lean toward cooking them in a pan. Get it very hot, add oil, and cook them a few minutes on each side. They'll brown beautifully. Then put the pan in a 400 degree oven. Don't flip them again. Probe regularly until you get the temperature you're looking for.