Guanciale, guanciale di maiale (literally translates to cheek of the pig) or cured pig's cheek is an unsmoked Italian bacon prepared with pig's jowl or cheeks. While similar to bacon, it is made from the pig's jowls rather than its belly. Guanciale is frequently said to have a mellower, sweeter and more "porky" flavor than traditional bacon. Guanciale is similar to the jowl bacon of the United States.
Pork cheek is rubbed with salt, ground black pepper or red pepper and cured for three weeks. Its flavor is stronger than other pork products, such as pancetta, and its texture is more delicate.
Guanciale is the main meat ingredient for genuine carbonara and amattriciana sauces. It is a specialty of Roman cuisine, and popular throughout the Lazio and even Abruzzi regions.
To make guanciale, pork cheeks (hog jowls) are cured in a salt/sugar mixture and kept in a cool place for about one week. They are then hung to air cure for at least one month and often two-three months.
To make guanciale at home (about 1 pound):
- ¼ cup white sugar
- ¼ cup table salt
- 10 whole black peppercorns
- 1 sprig of fresh thyme, leaves only (chopped coarsely)
- 1 pound hog jowls
Combine the salt, sugar, peppercorns, and thyme leaves. Place the meat in a small dish, and coat it with the salt mixture, massaging it into the meat gently. Cover the jowls with plastic or foil and place it in the refrigerator for seven days. Take the meat out of the dish, and using twine or kitchen string, hang them in the refrigerator for one month. The finished product should be dried, but relatively firm. Slice it like pancetta or bacon. Keeps for two-three weeks, and can be frozen.
Pancetta, a cured Italian bacon which is normally not smoked, can be used as a substitute when guanciale is not available, with slightly varying results.