Guanciale, from the italian word guancia meaning cheek. This is a type of bacon from Italy made from the cheeks, or jowls and the neck of a pig. If you can find it. It is expensive. 60 bucks for 3 pounds is not uncommon. Guanciale comes from umbria, lazio, central Italy. So since my relative came from Lazio and Campania to me it is very special. You see many recipes calling for pancetta. Pancetta is very good, but it lacks the delicateness that Guanciale has. So I’m going to teach you how to make Guanciale at home. Thats right at home!
2lb pork jowl/cheek or neck
70 grams kosher salt (7% of meat weight)
70 grams sugar (7% of meat weight)
1 large bunch of thyme
70 grams fennel seed
2 bay laurel leaves (look for genuine bay laurel, not the pungent Californian bay)
4 juniper berries
Grind up the juniper, peppercorns, fennel seeds and bay laurel in a spice grinder until reasonably fine. Combine with the salt and sugar. Remove the leaves from the thyme, discard the stalks, and finely chop. Add to the salt mixture, and stir to combine.
Using a sharp boning knife or pairing knife remove any glands from the meat. These will look like small off-white bumps that are reasonably hard. Some might be hiding under some fat. Yes you will have to feel the meet up looking for them hard glands.
In a zip lock bag combine the cure ingredients and the jowl. Rub the cure into the meat on all sides thoroughly. Seal the bag, or the tupperware and pop in the fridge for 7 days. After 3 days into the 7 day period redistribute the cure over the meat just by rubbing the meat again.
After 7 days the meat should feel firmer. Take it out of the fridge, and rinse it in cold water to remove the cure. Some of the herbs might stick to the meat and fat, that is fine just extra flavor, and then just give a good rub over to get the cure off, you can wipe it with a towel as you dry the meat off.
Make a hole in one end, not too close to the edge of the meat, you want it about an inch from the edge (since it will shrink). Tie some butchers string through the hole, and hang at 55F 75% humidity for at least a month, possibly two.
You will know when the jowl is cured because it should feel firm to the touch. The fat will feel softer than the meat, that is fine. It is essential that the temprature is 55F and 75% humidity. Anything else just won’t do.
Once cured it should keep in the fridge easily for a few weeks, or if you freeze it longer. You can keep it hanging at 55F and 75% humidity too if you wish which will result in the meat hardening more, but it will develop an even stronger flavor.
Give this a try, subsitute this for pancetta in your next recipe….throw it in your slow cooked bake beans….the uses are endless.