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Guanciale at a Glance
Abruzzo, Umbria and Lazio, Central Italy, South Central Europe
Type of Charcuterie
Dry Cured Meat
Pig jowls, salt, pepper, bay leaf, rosemary
Jowl bacon, cured hog jowl, Roman bacon
Originating from South Central Europe, particularly the in the towns of Abruzzo, Lazio and Umbria in Central Italy, guanciale is a salumi that is similar to bacon. This cured meat product goes way back to Roman times. Romans were known to consume large amounts of bacon, making it a part of everyday life and a key ingredient in some of their dishes.
Guanciale comes from the root word "guancia" which in Italian translates to cheek. The term guanciale may also refer to a head rest or pillow used when going to bed. The piece of cured meat is said to resemble a pillow in shape. Based on the root word, this salumi is made from pig jowls unlike traditional belly bacon. This makes it leaner and chewier since this cut is tougher than some parts due to all the chewing done by the pig. In other places, this may also be called jowl bacon.
To make guanciale an entire pig jowl is cleaned, taking out any hair and glands. A rub made out of salt, pepper, bay leaf and rosemary is liberally massaged onto the meat. Traditionally no cure is used for this, but newer methods may include the use of curing salt for safety. The prepped meat is then left to dry cure for a week or more depending on size. After the curing period the jowl is then rinsed and patted dry then hung to air dry further for several weeks.
All this makes way for cured meat that resembles bacon in appearance, although pieces may vary in length. Its texture is smooth, chewy and velvety, while its flavor is rich and intense with a pronounced pork taste. In many ways, it is like bacon without the smoke flavor. Guanciale is used in a number of popular Italian dishes including spaghetti alla carbonara and pasta all'amatriciana.
Of course, it may also be used in other ways. When sliced thinly it may be used to wrap vegetables and fruits or be included in an antipasto or charcuterie plate. Both strips and cubes may be added to dishes as well for flavor. Guanciale pairs well with pasta, beans, cheese, eggs and salad among some things. Of course, it may also be pan fried like traditional bacon.