Guanciale is a pork cheek that is rubbed with salt and spices, cured, then dried and matured for at least two months. Guanciale is similar in appearance to the pancetta stesa (flat). It can be enjoyed as is, thinly sliced, or a little warmed up and placed on slices of Tuscan-style unsalted bread. Its true destiny, however, is to end up in sauces, especially amatriciana and carbonara. It features a stronger flavor than pancetta, and its texture is more delicate, which gets even better the longer you mature it.
Guanciale is made from the cheek and the throat of a pig. It is salted and cured like pancetta, then matured for two months.
Depending on the region, the type of seasonings used changes. For example, in Lazio aromas of garlic, sage and rosemary are preferred, while in Emilia Romagna they tend to use only salt.
Traditionally, making of guanciale consists of four stages:
- Salting and seasoning where the meat is sprinkled with a mixture of salt and spices, according to a traditional recipe
- Curing in a cold environment to allow salt and aromas to distribute evenly in the meat
- Drying for 5-7 days at 59F – 77F (15C – 25C) and 65%-80%
- Maturing for 2+ months at 50F – 57F (10C – 14C) and 70-90F
Traditionally, after salt curing in a cold environment, guanciale would be hung to dry close to a fireplace at about 25-26C for 4-6 hours to bring the temperature up, then moved farther away from the fireplace and dried for about week, ensuring there is sufficient airflow.
Nowadays, with the introduction of temperature and humidity-controlled curing chambers, this task becomes quite easy. Here is the drying schedule that I use for guanciale with great results:
|Warming||6 hours||77F (25C)||< 99 %|
|Drying||18 hours||73F (23C)||75-80 %|
|Drying||24 hours||71F (22C)||72-76 %|
|Drying||24 hours||68F (20C)||68-72 %|
|Drying||24 hours||64F (18C)||65-75 %|
|Drying||24 hours||61F (16C)||72-76 %|
|Drying||24 hours||59F (15C)||75-80 %|
The objective of the drying phase is to bring the internal temperature to 77F (25C) to start lactic acid bacteria activity, then gradually drop it to where it will be slowly matured for months. During this time, the humidity will be lowered to ensure optimal water loss.
One thing you can do to make your guanciale even better is to smoke it, turning it into guanciale affumicato. Any dish that uses smoked guanciale will be elevated to a whole new level. I find that smoking is best done during drying as the internal temperature of guanciale at that time will be high enough not to cause sweating in the smokehouse. If you try to smoke cold guanciale in a relatively warmer smokehouse, it won’t get the color or absorb smoke efficiently. Smoking should be done for a few hours (3-4) over several days.
The maturing stage is where guanciale will develop rich, intense flavors and slowly lose additional weight.
Artisan salumi makers prefer to mature guanciale for 60 days minimum and often go as far as 6 months, when they say it acquires stellar taste qualities. How so? Well, salumi rich in fat, especially guanciale, acquire more flavor over time if you let the amino acids and the fatty acids (from the triglycerides of the meat) go through lypolytic and degradative oxidation of unsaturated fatty acids that result in the development of superb aromatic qualities.
I’ve heard of some artisan salumi makers who choose to mature their salami for close to a year and capicola, guanciale, pancetta, or lardo for up two years or longer. You probably will never find salumi aged that long at a store as it will be financially impractical, but as a home salumi maker, you can create a piece of salumi like that, which will be akin to a 45-year-old bottle of fine single malt whiskey.
Weight loss at different stages
|#1||Weight||Loss, g||Loss, %|
|End of Drying (7 days)||636||65||9.2 %|
|1 Month||609||92||13.1 %|
|2 Months||599||102||14.6 %|
|3 Months||596||105||15.0 %|
|4 Months||595||106||15.1 %|
|#2||Weight||Loss, g||Loss, %|
|End of Drying (7 days)||585||64||9.7 %|
|1 Month||568||81||12.4 %|
|2 Months||554||95||14.6 %|
|3 Months||550||99||15.3 %|
|4 Months||547||102||15.7 %|
|5 Months||536||113||17.4 %|
- 1000 g pork cheek skin on
- 27.5 g kosher salt 2.75%
- 2.5 g Cure #2 0.25%
- 15 g sugar 1.5%
- 0.5 g whole black pepper 0.05%
- 0.5 g cracked black pepper 0.05%
- 0.4 g cloves 0.04%
- 0.4 g nutmeg 0.04%
- Weigh your pork cheecks in grams. Divide by 1000, then multiply each ingredient by that number. For example, if your meat weighs 1650 g, you need to multiply the ingredients specified above by 1.65.
- Mix the salt with the seasonings. Apply the rub evenly all over the pork cheeks. Transfer to a vacuum-sealable bag and seal. You can also use a Ziploc bag.
- Refrigerate for at least 10 days at 3F7-41F (3C-5C).
- Remove the meat from the fridge, blot with paper towels, puncture holes in the upper parts of the cheeks, thread butchers twine through the holes and tie into loops. Weigh each cheek and write down the initial weight on tags.
- Dry at 59F - 77F (15C - 25C) and 65%-86% RH for a period of 6 days as per the drying protocol above.
- After drying, mature at 50F - 57F (10C - 14C) and 70%-90% humidity for at least 2 months.