La guancia is the term for cheek in Italian (meaning the one on your face). Guanciale (pronounced gwan-CHALL-ay), therefore, is cured pig cheek, aka jowl. It is used much like bacon, to add flavor to dishes like stews and soups, but could be used anywhere that you might want to add that lovely porky flavor.
To Americans, the pork cheek is not a familiar cut. Possibly this is because there are glands to remove in the butchering process, or that the cheek muscle is not very large, thus not considered cost-effective. Could any of you meat experts out there provide some explanation?
As you can see in the photos below, however, there is considerable fat and meat here, in a small, manageable size, so it’s perfect for curing at home. In the pictures below, I’ve trimmed out the grayish glands, so all you see is the pretty white fat and darkish meat. Click on either of these images if you want to see closer up.
The process for making guanciale is similar to the one I use for making fresh bacon, which involves making a dry cure, letting the meat sit in the cure mixture for a period of time, then rinsing the meat, and hanging it to dry.
The dry cure consists of salt, sugar, peppercorns, and thyme, and a little pink salt, to maintain the lovely rosy color. Next time I’ll add garlic to the mix. To be honest, I just forgot this time.
After trimming the meat, the process is simple- put the jowl in a big zipper bag, mix in the dry cure, seal the bag, and rub the cure into the jowl all over. Then, after labeling the bag, it’s into the fridge for curing. It’s on a shorter cure and overhaul schedule than the bresaola, and should be hanging within a week or so.
It’s the perfect meat curing process for the less than patient… it doesn’t require hard work every day, and it will keep you interested while you’re waiting for other goodies to cure. That’s what I keep telling myself.