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Italian Cooking Ingredients: Guanciale, Cured Pork (Ingredienti Italiani)

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Guanciale {gwanCHAleh} (aka porky goodness)

Pig’s cured jowl/neck meat is a considerable Italian delicacy, as it imparts unique flavor and smooth sumptuousness to any dish or sauce. The word guanciale means two things: a) a headrest pillow, on which you repose your cheek when you retire to bed; and b) cured pig’s fleshy and droopy cheek, neck and upper neck. Both terms derive from the root guancia, which means? Cheek. Yes! Very good, you’re learning Italian at warp speed.

Guanciale is native to central Italy, especially Umbria, Abruzzo and Lazio, where it adds particular oomph to a number of Rome’s signature preparations including several pasta dishes such as Carbonara, Gricia, and Amatriciana. It is similar to the bacon-like, flat or rolled pancetta, but not as lean or tender, and therefore boasts a richer, more voluptuous taste.

The noble fat that constitutes guanciale is marbled with muscle tissue; the pork cut is rubbed with salt, ground black pepper or red peperoncino chili pepper; and cured for three weeks to obtain guanciale’s signature rich, sweetly porky flavor and buttery texture. Guanciale’s unique feature is the collagen in the meat. In combination with the creamy fat, the collagen gives anything cooked with guanciale a silky, succulent covering.

Until quite recently, guanciale was very hard to find outside of Italy. Most American cookbooks hardly ever mention it. Almost all Italian recipes that ordinarily use guanciale in foreign cookbooks call for ordinary bacon. But bacon is not as good a substitute, because it is smoked and contains sugar, neither of which are part of guanciale’s preparation.

Should overseas cookbook mention guanciale, where would the American cook find it? Salumeria Biellese at 376/378 Eighth Avenue at 29th Street was until very recently the only shop in New York City that sold the precious delicacy.

Now, however, there are new American guanciale sources. La Quercia, a producer of cured pork in Iowa, makes it and sells it online at The Specialty Department in Fairway markets in the Tri-State area also keeps it in stock. Armandino Batali, father of renowned chef Mario Batali, has a Seattle company, Salumi Artisan Cured Meats, which sells guanciale and other Italian cured meats at its Seattle Salumi storefront Restaurant on 309 Third Ave South.

For more delectable food posts, head over to Wanderlust and Lipstick’s Wanderfood Wednesday

*photo courtesy of  sifu_renka via flickr

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About the author

American-born and Roman-bred Eleonora Baldwin is an active writer, blogger, journalist, gourmet vacation entrepreneur and photographer living in the Eternal City. Her writing appears regularly in several online food and travel columns that focus on Italian lifestyle, culinary customs and recipes, as well as her soon-to-be released cookbook-memoir, due for publication in 2016. Her blogs illustrate dishes, restaurant reviews, and useful tools for parents travelling with kids in Rome. On Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino, her most popular blog, Eleonora shared her insider knowledge about the depth of Italian cuisine. She can be spotted in and around the Eternal City guiding epicure travelers to secret food and wine locations, interviewing celebrity chefs, and capturing with her camera the essence, beauty and life that surrounds her.

9 thoughts on “Italian Cooking Ingredients: Guanciale, Cured Pork (Ingredienti Italiani)”

  1. It looks incredibly fatty which means it must have good flavour. Can’t say I’ve eaten it during my trips to Italy so I’ll have to look out for it in the future!

  2. Thank you all for your lovely comments. Guanciale is not only great eaten sliced with some warm bread, but wonderful as a cooking ingredient! I sincerely hoep you find it and begin using it in your kitchen.

    Ciao and… buon appetito!

  3. it’s not really a healthy option for a snack but it’s so tasty and delicious, I absolutely love it! I want some right now! ummm

  4. Never heard of guanciale before. Very interesting.
    One of the many reasons I LOVE New York is because one can find almost anything. I’m not surprised that there are shops that sell guanciale in the city. Now, I need a recipe that includes guanciale. 😉


  5. I have yet to find it here in Vienna, but I was a big fan back in the States and the last time I was in Rome I brought back some vacuum-sealed. I consider it a must for making really good all’Amatrician. thanks for the ode to the jowly goodness.

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