Often overlooked in favour of its more famous cousin pancetta, guanciale is an ingredient that can truly elevate your dishes. But what exactly is guanciale, and how on earth do you pronounce it? What part of the pig is guanciale from, and do you need to cook it? Fellow foodies, we've got you covered. Here's your complete guide to guanciale: a hidden gem in the culinary world.
What is guanciale?

Mastering the correct pronunciation of guanciale (gwaan-chaa-lei) may be a bit challenging, but it's an essential skill for any keen carnivore. This Italian delight derives its name from “guancia” — the Italian word for cheek. Guanciale itself is a delicious variety of cured meat prepared, you guessed it, from pork cheeks.

This ingredient holds a special place in the heart of traditional Italian cuisine, especially in central regions like Lazio and Umbria, thanks to its sumptuous, fatty essence and delicate texture.

Guanciale’s popularity has spread to other parts of the world in recent years. It’s often used in gourmet cooking as an alternative to pancetta, and is a firm favourite of many foodies and chefs.
What does guanciale taste like?

Guanciale boasts a bold and distinctive flavour that distinguishes it from other types of cured meats. It is renowned for its umami — the savoury, meaty taste that enhances the overall depth of flavour in dishes. Its well-marbled fat content makes it perfect for classic Italian dishes like Carbonara and Amatriciana.
Guanciale vs pancetta: What’s the difference?

Guanciale and pancetta are both tasty Italian cured pork products, but they have their own flavours and uses. Here's the lowdown on what sets them apart:

Cut and origin
  • Guanciale: Guanciale is made from pork jowl or cheek. It's got more fat and a unique flavour. It's an old-school Italian ingredient, especially in central Italy.
  • Pancetta: Pancetta comes from the belly of the pig. It's usually rolled and cured with spices and herbs. It's used in lots of Italian dishes, but is found in other European cuisines too.

Texture and flavour
  • Guanciale: Guanciale has a fatty, tender texture. Its flavour is strong and porky, with a noticeable taste of pork fat. It adds a rich umami kick to dishes.
  • Pancetta: Pancetta is milder in flavour, with a more balanced mix of meat and fat. It has a subtle aroma of herbs and spices, making it less intense than guanciale.

Cooking tips
  • Guanciale: Guanciale cooks quicker than pancetta because of its higher fat content. When fried, it gets crispy and adds a satisfying crunch to dishes.
  • Pancetta: Pancetta needs a bit more time in the pan to release its flavours and fats. It may not crisp up as much as guanciale, but it's still yummy in carbonara.
How to store guanciale

As a cured meat, guanciale has a longer shelf life compared to fresh cuts of pork. However, it is still best consumed within a reasonable time frame. It can typically last in the refrigerator for up to 2-3 months if properly stored. Here’s how to store guanciale:

  • If it's sealed tight: If your guanciale is vacuum-sealed or in a super-tight, unopened package, just leave it like that. It does a great job keeping air and moisture out.
  • Wrap it up: If your guanciale isn't vacuum-sealed or you've cracked the package, wrap it snugly in plastic wrap. Make sure there are no gaps leaving the meat exposed.
  • Cool it: Pop your wrapped guanciale in the fridge, somewhere between 32-40°F (0-4°C). If you have a meat or deli drawer, that's the spot to use.
  • Use it soon: Even though guanciale is a cured product, it tastes best if you use it within a few weeks after opening. The fresher the better!
How to cook guanciale

Guanciale usually comes in a solid slab or block. Use a sharp knife to cut it into thin slices or small cubes, depending on your recipe. Cook on low heat until the fat melts out. You can then mix this flavourful fat into sauces like Carbonara or alla Gricia and use the meat as a perfectly porky pasta topping. You can also sauté it with veggies, beans, or throw it into stews and ragùs.

However, as guanciale is a cured meat, it doesn't necessarily require cooking. You can still savour its deliciousness when it's cold and thinly sliced, whether you choose to enjoy it on a charcuterie board, in a sandwich, or as a topping for salads.

Learn how to cut and prepare guanciale here.
3 ways to use guanciale

Spaghetti alla Carbonara
Spaghetti alla Carbonara is a classic Italian pasta dish renowned for its rich and creamy sauce, featuring the irresistible flavours of guanciale. This dish embodies the essence of Roman cuisine, showcasing a harmonious blend of simple yet luxurious ingredients.

Pasta alla Gricia
Pasta alla Gricia is one of the oldest Roman dishes. The recipe’s sauce is a testament to the art of minimalism, with just three simple and delicious ingredients; crispy guanciale, creamy pecorino cheese, and black pepper.

Bucatini all’Amatriciana
This flavourful and satisfying dish features bucatini pasta, a type of thick, hollow spaghetti, adorned with a tantalising sauce that combines the savoury richness of guanciale, the sweet tang of tomatoes, and the subtle heat of red pepper flakes.

That wraps our guide to guanciale! Deli Society’s Tuscan guanciale is ideal for an authentic Carbonara and comes from happy, free-range pigs. Click here to explore our full selection of pork.

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