Guanciale is a cut of meat, later transformed into cured meat, typical of Central and part of Southern Italy, but it finds its greatest fame in the town of Amatrice, Lazio region (where Rome is located), from which it takes its name Pasta all’Amatriciana (traditionally bucatini) where Guanciale is the main ingredient, as well as Pasta alla Gricia and Pasta alla Carbonara pasta-alla-carbonara where traditionally guanciale is always present, never pancetta.
The cuts of Guanciale are however different with different spices depending on the region and with different maturations.
It is made up of a white part of fine fat and a lean part which is the bright red muscle and its flavour is smoky, savoury and slightly spicy.
Are Guanciale and Pancetta the same thing?
Nope, they are not.
Guanciale is made from the cheek (in Italian ‘guancia’, hence the name guanciale) or even throat of the pork, processed then seasoned with salt and pepper and often with herbs such as garlic, sage and rosemary and sometimes chilli pepper, then left to mature for at least 3 months hung with a string. Finally, it is placed near a fireplace with an oak wood fire for light smoking. Guanciale has a much more intense flavour and a firmer consistency than pancetta and is more caloric than pancetta.
Pancetta, on the other hand, is made from the belly (in Italian ‘pancia’ hence the name) of the pork and must be matured for just 20 days.
How to cook Guanciale?
It is an ingredient used to replace vegetable fats in oil with high quality animal fats. For this reason, when you fry Guanciale there is no need to add any oil because its fat will melt and release all its flavour for the pasta sauce. Just cut Guanciale into not too much thick strips, heat a non-stick pan, fry them over a very low heat. When it has become translucent after a few minutes, turn up the heat for 1-2 minutes to make it crispy by frying it in its own fat. Stir with a wooden spoon to prevent them from burning.
On the contrary, when frying pancetta, a little oil is required because of the reduced amount of fat that would come out in the pan.