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This classic Italian braised pork in milk dish is so simple to make and so delicious. It comes from the Emilio-Romagna region, and the slow-cooked pork becomes incredibly tender. It’s called Maiale al Latte in Italian. It’s traditional to serve it with Perfect Creamy Polenta, and I like to add some garlicky Sautéed Escarole for a perfect hearty meal.

Sliced pork in a baking pan with milk sauce.

Milk-Braised Pork: This classic Italian pork dish (Maiale al Latte) is cooked until fork-tender and served in a milk-based sauce with a wonderfully rich flavor.

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Ingredients

  • Olive oil – The olive oil helps create a beautiful crust on the outside of the pork when it’s seared.
  • Pork loin – Look for good quality pork loin that has been raised on a heritage farm, as it is more likely to have enough fat to stay juicy after cooking.
  • Unsalted butter – The leeks get sautéed in butter to make a rich and creamy base for this sauce.
  • Leeks – Make sure to use the white and very light green parts only, and slice them thinly.
  • Garlic – In this recipe, you use whole crushed garlic cloves to imbue the sauce with a more delicate garlic flavor.
  • Whole milk – Warm the milk before adding it so it blends into the sauce easily.
  • Lemon zest – Keep the zest in large strips so that you can easily remove it at the end.
  • Sage – The whole leaves get cooked in the sauce for their flavor and are removed after cooking.
  • Thyme – I like using fresh thyme because it adds such fresh, fragrant flavor flavors to the sauce.
  • Bay leaves – Adds even more herby complexity to the sauce.
Woman using a fork to grab Milk Braised Pork from a baking dish.

How to Make Milk-Braised Pork

  1. Prepare for cooking: Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Season the pork loin with salt and pepper.
  2. Sear the pork: Heat the oil in a large pot with a lid over medium-high heat. Brown the pork for about 10 minutes total, turning it every 2 minutes or so as the underside browns. Transfer it to a plate. Pour off any excess fat.
  3. Sauté the vegetables: In the same pan, sauté the leeks in the butter until the leeks start to soften. Stir in the crushed garlic cloves.
  4. Make the sauce: Pour in the warm milk and add the lemon zest, sage, thyme, and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer, and tuck the pork back into the sauce fat side up.
  5. Roast: Cover and bake, turning the pork every 45 minutes or so, for 2 ½ hours. Uncover and continue cooking for about 30 minutes or so until the pork and leeks are very tender. The internal temperature of the pork should read 140 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.
Woman holding a pot of pork.
  1. Simmer the sauce: Transfer the pork to a cutting board and let rest. Meanwhile, remove and discard the zest and herbs, and continue to simmer the sauce until it thickens.
  2. Blend the sauce, if desired: The sauce may look slightly broken or curdled; this is fine. That’s what happens when dairy is cooked for a long while. You can pour the sauce or just leave it as is.
Woman slicing pork on a wooden cutting board.
  1. Serve: Thinly slice the pork and serve warm with the sauce.
Spoon topping sliced pork with a milk sauce.

FAQs

Why does the sauce separate in Milk-Braised Pork?

The milk will caramelize, and the lactic acid will help make the pork tender. The milk solids will also start to separate from the liquid. This may not look so pretty, but it’s those curds that add so much flavor to the sauce and the dish.

However, you may also choose to blend the sauce in a blender or food processor to emulsify it and make it smoother. (Many Italian Grandmas might be mad at you for this, but you decide!). I did that so that the generous amount of leeks I used in the braise could be incorporated into the sauce. The sauce was just amazing, and you should make sure to serve this with something starchy and also some crusty bread so you don’t waste a drop of it.

What is the best kind of pork to use in Milk-Braised Pork?

This is a great question. It is traditionally made with pork loin, but traditionally, pork was not bred to be as lean as it is today. So the pork loins of yesteryear had more fat in them, which is what you want. Look for pork loin that has been sustainably raised from a small producer, perhaps a heritage pig. This pork will be more like the cuts of pork loin used to make this dish in Italy, and you will get a very tender braised pork dish. Commercially raised pork might end up being on the drier side.

You can also use a small pork shoulder instead of a loin, which will have a generous amount of fat. If you go that route, you may need to let the sauce sit at the end and skim off any excess fat that rises to the top before serving or pureeing the sauce.

Tips

  • The milk slowly caramelizes during the braising process, enhancing the natural sugars in the milk. The natural lactic acid helps to break down the pork, making it enticingly tender. The sauce will likely start to break apart or curdle — it’s supposed to!
  • Puree the sauce if you want it to be creamier. Leave it as is if you prefer bits of caramelized sauce and sauteed leeks throughout.
  • To crush garlic, simply place it on a cutting board and place the side of a large heavy chef’s knife on a couple of cloves at a time. Use the bottom of your fist to smack the side of the knife so that the blade crushes the garlic beneath. Repeat with the rest of the cloves.

What to Serve With Milk-Braised Pork

Roasted Potatoes with Arugula-Basil Dipping Sauce

Broccoli Rabe with Preserved Lemon

Escarole Salad

Milk Braised Pork on a plate with green beans and potatoes.

More Italian Pork Dishes

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Milk-Braised Pork

5 from 1 vote
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 3 hours 30 minutes
Total: 4 hours
Servings: 8 people
This classic Italian pork dish is cooked until fork-tender and served in a milk-based sauce with a wonderfully rich flavor.

Ingredients 

  • Kosher salt and pepper (to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 (3 ⅓ pound) pork loin
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 leeks (trimmed and sliced; use the white and very light green parts only, saving the rest for stock)
  • 10 cloves garlic (peeled and crushed; see Note)
  • 3 cups whole milk (warmed)
  • 4 strips lemon zest
  • 3 sprigs fresh sage
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves

Instructions 

  • Preheat the oven to 275 F. Season the pork loin with salt and pepper.
  • Heat the oil in a large pot with a lid over medium-high heat. Add the pork and brown for about 10 minutes total, turning it every two minutes or so as the underside browns. Transfer it to a plate. Pour off any excess fat from the pan.
  • Return the pan to medium-high heat and add the butter. When the butter is melted, add the leeks. Sauté for 5 minutes until the leeks start to soften. Add the crushed garlic cloves, and sauté for 2 minutes until the cloves turn lightly golden. Pour in the warm milk and add the lemon zest, sage, thyme, and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer, and tuck the pork back into the sauce fat side up (the sauce should come about the sides of the pork). Cover and transfer the pot to the oven, turning the pork every 45 minutes or so, for 2 ½ hours. Remove the lid and continue to cook, uncovered for about 30 minutes or so until the pork and leeks are very tender. The internal temperature of the pork should read 140 F on an instant-read thermometer.
  • Transfer the pork to a cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing. While the pork is resting, remove and discard the zest and herbs, and continue to simmer the sauce in the pot over medium-high heat until it becomes a thick sauce. The sauce may look slightly broken or curdled; this is fine. That's what happens when dairy is cooked for a long while. If you prefer (and that’s what I did), you can pour the sauce into a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. If the sauce looks appealing as is, you can skip that step and just leave the vegetables intact in the sauce.
  • Thinly slice the pork, and serve warm with the sauce.

Notes

  • To crush garlic, simply place it on a cutting board and place the side of a large heavy chef’s knife on a couple of cloves at a time. Use the bottom of your fist to smack the side of the knife so that the blade crushes the garlic beneath. Repeat with the rest of the cloves.
  • The milk slowly caramelizes during the braising process, enhancing the natural sugars in the milk. The natural lactic acid helps to break down the pork, making it enticingly tender. The sauce will likely start to break apart or curdle — it’s supposed to!
  • Puree the sauce if you want it to be creamier. Leave it as is if you prefer bits of caramelized sauce and sauteed leeks throughout.

Nutrition

Calories: 501kcal, Carbohydrates: 9g, Protein: 41g, Fat: 33g, Saturated Fat: 12g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g, Monounsaturated Fat: 14g, Trans Fat: 0.1g, Cholesterol: 136mg, Sodium: 134mg, Potassium: 863mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 5g, Vitamin A: 640IU, Vitamin C: 6mg, Calcium: 170mg, Iron: 2mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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