There's no pretty way to say it: guanciale is cured pork jowl, plain and simple. This might sound like something best left to the Anthony Bourdains of the world, but that would be a mistake. If you like bacon, you'll love guanciale. Trust us!
Like bacon and pancetta, guanciale has a high fat to meat ratio. This translates into a meltingly tender texture with a deep, sweet-savory pork flavor. If pressed, we'd say guanciale has a richer flavor and a softer texture than either bacon or pancetta. It just seems to be somehow more than either one.
Guanciale is a knock-out in many traditional Italian dishes like pasta carbonara and bucatini all'amatriciana. We also like it cut into large chunks, crisped up in a pan, and added to salads, like in this recipe for Kale and Pig Cheek Salad. It can also be used in a slow-cooked ragout or stew. Guanciale won't be the star ingredient, but just a little will deepen the other flavors and add that little extra something special.
Guanciale can still be pretty hard to find. Ask for it at your local butchers and specialty food stores. It's normally sold whole, which we like because then we have the freedom to cut it into whatever sized pieces we want. Guanciale is also typically unsmoked, but smoked varieties are delicious if you ever come across them!
Do you love guanciale? How do you like to use it?
(Image: Salumi Artisan Cured Meats)