Cast Iron

Pork Cooked in Milk (Maiale al Latte)

January 31, 2014
4 Ratings
  • Serves 4
Author Notes

It may not sound like the most intuititive dish but this homely recipe originating from Emilia-Romagna is one that should be part of your repertoire. It's not an elegant, dinner-party dish, but it is a comforting, homely dish, perfect for a family dinner or a night in – and the leftovers are even better.

It is a dish that should be rushed; give it time but also don't let it out of your sight – milk has a tendency to reach a point where it evaporates quite quickly.

Much like buttermilk chicken or yogurt marinades, cooking meat in milk gives you wonderfully tender results. The lactic acid present in milk tenderises the meat, making it juicy, sweet and also being a good vehicle to carry other flavours.

As the milk comfortingly bubbles away for hours, it begins to curdle, turning into a ricotta-like mass, becoming nutty and flavoursome after all the mingling with the onion, garlic and prosciutto.

All the classics of Italian cuisine include this dish and there are different ways to make this, with slightly different results. Pellegrino Artusi instructs to cook the milk until it boils away completely. Elizabeth David has the milk reduced until there is just “a small cupful of all the delicious little bits of bacon and onion.” David nominates coriander seed, majoram, basil or fennel, ground, as a rub to spice up the pork. Others may use bay leaf, sage or rosemary. A peeled zest of lemon rind commonly appears. Artusi doesn't even mention any herbs but keeps his simple: pork and milk accompanied by bread, grilled over a fire, to soak up the saucy bits. Marcella Hazan's Bologna style maiale al latte is as simple as Artusi's – no herbs, no garlic. As essential as you can get. She adds the milk bit by bit, allowing it to cook down each time to a nutty, caramel colour before adding more.

A must for cooking this dish is a heavy-bottomed cast iron pan or casserole pot for nicely even, slow cooking. Avoid nonstick pans. You just won't get the goodness that comes from the onion and ham browning on the bottom of the pan.

Traditional recipes use loin but shoulder – a relatively cheap cut – will result in a much more tender meat with this style of cooking.

This recipe is largely influenced by Elizabeth David's recipe from Italian Food (1954). —Emiko

What You'll Need
  • 2 pounds (900 grams) of boneless pork shoulder (also known as Boston butt), without rind
  • 4 cups (1 liter) whole milk
  • 1 1/2 ounces (40 grams) butter
  • 1 1/2 ounces (40 grams) prosciutto, chopped into small cubes
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 to 2 bay leaves
  1. Prepare the pork by trimming away any excess fat. Truss with kitchen string to help the meat retain a nice, rounded shape for even cooking. Rub with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat the milk in a small saucepan until nearly boiling. Remove from heat.
  3. In a heavy-based (preferably cast iron) casserole pot, melt the butter and gently saute the prosciutto, the onion and smashed garlic clove. Cook, stirring occasionally until the onion is soft and translucent. Add the pork shoulder and sear on all sides until nicely browned. Don't be alarmed if the onion and prosciutto begin getting sticky and dark on the bottom of the pan – the milk will deglaze the pan and it will also contribute to the wonderful flavour.
  4. Once the pork is browned on all sides, add the hot milk and bay leaf.
  5. Simmer for about 11/2-2 hours or until the meat is tender and the milk has not only reduced significantly but curdled and resembles flecks of ricotta. Test for tenderness by simply sticking a fork in the edge of the meat; it should come away easily. If not, continue cooking. If the milk is reducing too quickly, you can add more (heated). If it hasn't reduced enough but the meat is ready, remove the meat to a separate plate and reduce the sauce on its own.
  6. Let the meat rest at least 10 minutes before slicing and serving with spoonfuls of the sauce. Leftovers are also excellent cold the next day, though the sauce does better when reheated a little. Serve with some sauteed greens or a crisp salad.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • MQAvatar
  • Lucy'smom
  • essbee
  • tanteilonka
  • Cocina Chronicles
    Cocina Chronicles

20 Reviews

Babe February 25, 2024
This was amazing! I followed the oven comments made by the guy who wrote the review in 2016. My pork was larger than the recipe so I had to modify the quantities. I took the partial cover off at 60 minutes. My pork wasn’t tender after 90 minutes so I cranked the heat to 450 for 30 minutes and voila! Perfection!
Served it over some farro and an escarole salad on the side. Definitely cooking this again!
MQAvatar August 1, 2016
This is a wonderful dish. Thank you so much for sharing it with us. My wife and I really love the curds of milk.
I made a few tweaks and adjusted the method in order to finish the braise in the oven.

My tweaks:
- Preheat oven to 300F.
- Render and brown prosciutto (I used cubed pancetta), season pork on all sides, then remove the browned cubes before searing the pork on all sides. Remove the browned pork shoulder and cook the onions/garlic in the renderings.
- Cook onions gently until soft, adding browned pancetta and garlic midway.
- (You don't have to bother heating the milk). Add the milk and bay leaves (I added a splash of fish sauce for more umami) to the onion mixture and bring to a near boil, scraping up the fond off the bottom with a wooden spoon. Add the browned pork and reduce to a simmer.
- Partially cover the dutch oven and braise in the oven until a fork comes out of the meat easily, flipping the pork every 30 minutes, and uncovering for the last 30 minutes, 1 1/2 - 2 hours. (add water or milk if the braising liquid gets too dry)
Lucy'smom July 16, 2015
I am currently cooking this recipe. I had a disaster when I added the hot milk to the pork. It boiled over instantly and got all over the stovetop and the floor. Massive clean up necessary. I have cleaned up and currently simmering the roast in the milk that is left. Since the milk only comes up half way I have it covered and my fingers crossed.
Watch out when adding the milk, with I would have been warned.
Emiko July 17, 2015
Oh dear! That's definitely not meant to happen (which is why there is no warning) and is not a normal reaction. Hope it still worked out for you and was delicious anyway!
V February 17, 2015
Do you know if you can make this with buttermilk instead of milk?
Emiko March 1, 2015
Good question! I've never seen it done this way and I can imagine it will be a bit tangy rather than sweet but it probably makes a very tender result!
essbee January 24, 2015
This was a huge success. The pot I used was large, so the milk only came half-way up the pork shoulder. I turned it every 20 minutes to ensure it cooked evenly.

The sauce is still fantastic a few days later on slabs of good bread, heated up under the broiler for five minutes.
Justin S. November 30, 2014
Fantastic recipe. The milky cheese absorbs all the sweet flavours of the prosciutto, onions and bay leaf. Served the pork with sautéed italian runner beans, and a fresh Iceberg lettuce salad.
Bbrams July 18, 2014
Can this be made with reduced fat milk or almond milk?
siok March 26, 2014
Just made this for dinner (but used rosemary instead of sage) - wonderful flavors! Thank you so much for the recipe!
tanteilonka February 19, 2014
I cooked this in a shallow casserole, and the meat didn't cook through. Probably because it wasn't sufficiently covered with the sauce.

How can I now cook the meat without drying it out? (The sauce is done; I'm out of milk; the pork is barely cooked.)

Help/thank you!

Emiko February 19, 2014
Wow, after cooking for 1 1/2 - 2 hours the meat is barely cooked? I've never experienced this but if you were able to I think I would try topping up with more milk and although you normally don't need to, in your case I would cover it with a lid or foil. Without any more milk, I'd perhaps keep cooking it (always on very low), covered, and checking often to make sure the milk sauce doesn't burn. The milk should have been at a simmer so have it on your lowest heat (the sauce needs to reduce a LOT but not quickly, it's meant to reduce very slowly over those 90-120 minutes). Good luck!
tanteilonka February 24, 2014
Thank you! The pork didn't cook through because my casserole was too shallow and the meat wasn't covered. I ended up trying 2 methods: pan fry a slice, bake a slice in an aluminum foil packet at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. The latter was the better option.
Last question - at what point do we use the bay leaves? Not explained in directions (and I'm a novice cook). Thanks so much!
Emiko February 24, 2014
Sorry, am updating now but the bay leaf you can add with the milk!
nomnomMKE February 10, 2014
Should the pot be covered while the pork simmers?
Emiko February 10, 2014
No you don't need to cover as you need the milk to reduce significantly - would have included it in the instructions if you did :)
Cocina C. February 10, 2014
I'm so thrilled you posted this recipe! I lived in Florence while I studied there and came across this dish in a rustic eatery in Parma. I had forgotten about this delicious combination, thank you for reminding me of such great times! Can't wait to make it this month. thank you!
Emiko February 10, 2014
You're welcome! It's a classic in Emilia-Romagna, lucky you were able to try it while there. :)
CHeeb February 4, 2014
Have you frozen this successfully ? Since it is already a broken sauce, it seems a natural for freezing. I cook in "quantities" for St Peters church needs and always look for recipes beyond my poppyseed chicken , lasagna, and various soups. Is this an option? Many
Emiko February 5, 2014
I haven't actually but I would imagine that it would do ok. Leftovers are easy to reheat on the stovetop so I do think it would probably similarly well!