Guanciale - Italy's Cheeky Treat

Guanciale is named for guancia which is the Italian word for “cheek.” Guanciale is the unsmoked, salt-cured, and seasoned meat derived from the jowls (or cheeks) of the pig. Guanciale often has a couple of streaks of lean pink meat and is surrounded by a delicate, sweet-tasting fat. It’s a real delicacy—a bit stronger than pancetta, with a fuller flavor. For centuries, guanciale was an important part of the farm workers’ outdoor meal in the fields, eaten sparingly with bread. A little slice of guanciale along with Pecorino Romano, some bread, and a jug of wine would have cheered up even the most tired peasant.

Guanciale is a traditional and ancient Italian specialty of Lazio and Umbria. It is not uncommon to see triangular pieces of meat hanging to dry in shops and cellars throughout the countryside of these regions, though nowadays other regions in Italy are producing guanciale and achieving very good results. In fact, La Quercia in Norwalk, Iowa is producing guanciale using traditional Italians methods here in the U.S. While we have found guanciale in specialty food stores like Dean & Deluca in New York, pancetta or uncured bacon are very good substitutes which are more readily available. We add 1-2 teaspoons black pepper along with adding a few juniper berries to the pan while cooking, (removing them before use in recipes) to approximate the more herbal flavor of guanciale.