Maiale al latte is a traditional Italian milk-braised pork that's so comforting and delicious. The pork is incredibly tender and delicately flavorful. Plus it's easy to make too!
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While this milk braised pork is based on a traditional Italian recipe, I actually first had a similar dish in Spain many years ago. In fact, it's so many years ago I can't quite remember if it was pork or lamb. All I really remember was it was incredibly good. The meat was fall-apart tender and had such a great flavor.
Of course, I told myself then I should try to make it at home some day but I didn't exactly get round to it. But it's stayed in the back of my mind, and I'm so glad it did.
You may be more familiar with braising pork in wine and/or stock, but milk is also very effective. The lactic acid helps to break down the pork making it very tender. Yes, the milk curdles and so it may not look the most attractive. But believe me the flavor is so good, you'll soon forget that.
There are different ways you can add flavor to the milk braise, as you might imagine. Here I have gone with the traditional Italian "maiale al latte" style from the Emilio-Romagna region.
It's an area known for it's comfort food and lots of dairy (it's home to Parmigiano Reggiano, Bolognese and more, as I talk about in my food in Bologna post).
Tips for making Italian milk-braised pork
- Make sure you season the pork all over before cooking - you can even do this around 30 minutes or more before cooking so it acts as an additional tenderizer.
- Sear the pork well as you start cooking - this helps to add flavor to the final dish.
- Use a cast iron pot just a little larger than the piece of pork for the best cooking results.
- Use whole milk - skimmed or non-dairy milk just doesn't work the same, it really needs to be whole milk here.
- Turn the pork while cooking - this saves only part being submerged and the other side drying out.
- Skim the sauce before serving to remove any fat and excess thin liquid.
- Don't be scared of the curds! They may not look the tastiest, but they actually are. And if you still aren't sure, you can blend up the sauce to make it smooth before serving.
The milk gradually reduced and separates as everything cooks, as you'll see in the pictures below. It infuses with the garlic, lemon and sage which all make their way in to the pork.
This dish is traditionally made with pork loin, but I agree with some other recipes I found that I think shoulder is better as it breaks down more with the long, slow cook. You could also make this with lamb shoulder or chicken legs.
What would you serve with maiale al latte?
Traditionally, this dish is often served with a creamy polenta and greens on the side. I definitely recommend a green vegetable of some kind to balance out the richness and something to mop up the sauce.
It's also worth serving the cooked garlic on the side as well as it has some great flavor, but is no longer overpowering as it would be raw.
We opted for green beans instead of leafy greens, which also work really well. The kids also have a preference for more 'solid' sides so we had some fried potatoes, which are another tasty choice.
Maiale al latte, milk-braised pork, is one comforting, delicious main that's perfect for colder weather. It's incredibly tender, with subtle bursts of lemon and sage flavor coming through. It's one I know is going to appear on our menu more often now, and I hope it will on yours too.
Try these other deliciously comforting meals:
- Slow cooker beef short ribs
- Braised lamb shanks
- Youvetsi (Greek lamb or beef and orzo stew)
- Plus get more winter recipes and mains recipes in the archives.
Milk-braised pork (maiale al latte)
- 2 lb pork shoulder 900g
- ¼ tsp salt or more as needed
- ¼ tsp pepper or more as needed
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic peeled but left whole
- 2 stems sage approx 10 leaves
- 2 cups whole milk 480ml
- ½ lemon zest (ie zest from ½ lemon, in wide strips)
- Sprinkle salt and pepper over all sides of the pork fairly generously.
- Preheat the oven to 300F/150C.
- Warm the oil over a medium-high heat in a cast iron pot large enough to hold the piece of pork in a single layer, but not much bigger.
- Brown the pork on all sides, leaving it to get a good sear before turning. Remove the pork from the pot and set aside on a plate.
- Reduce the heat a little and add the garlic cloves and sage sprigs. Soften them both slightly, without letting them burn, then add back the pork to the pot with the sage and garlic around it.
- Add the strips of lemon zest, pour over the milk (it should come to around ¾ of the way up the pork - if not, add some more milk) and warm to bring to a simmer.
- Transfer the dish to the oven, uncovered, and cook for around 2 ½ hours until the pork is very tender to a knifepoint, turning the pork every half hour.
- Once done, remove the pork to a cutting board and leave to rest a couple minutes before slicing. Meanwhile skim the fat and excess thin liquid from the milk and take out the lemon and sage. Serve some of the curd sauce over the pork, with the garlic on the side. (Note if you want a smoother sauce, you can blend the skimmed sauce before serving.)
This recipe was created in partnership with the dairy farm families of New England.
For information about the dairy farm families of New England, school nutrition, and health and wellness topics, please visit NewEnglandDairy.com