What Is Guanciale?

What is guanciale? And how do you pronounce that mouthful of vowels? Read on to find all the answers to the most frequently asked guanciale questions. 

Italy really knows its meats. It also really knows its cheeses, wines, pizzas, and pastas, but right now we’re just focusing on meat. Everybody knows about prosciutto, and you probably have heard of mortadella (it’s having a moment). But do you know about guanciale? Guanciale doesn’t have the same name-recognition as other Italian meats—after all, it wasn’t legal in the U.S. from 1970 until 2013. Despite flying under the radar, guanciale is an absolutely essential ingredient in Italian cuisine. (If it’s not in your carbonara, you’re making it wrong.) So, what is guanciale? How do you pronounce guanciale? And, the question I ask anytime I encounter a new food: Can you eat guanciale raw? 

What is guanciale?

Guanciale is a pork product hailing from Italy. Guanciale is made of cured pork jowl. To get a little more technical, guanciale is pig cheek that has been rubbed in salt and spices then cured for a few weeks. The result is a fatty, velvet smooth pork bomb that imparts a rich, salty umami flavor. It is very meaty. I know, duh, it’s meat. But the meatyness it imparts can make any dish feel so much richer. It’s like a meatier, saltier bacon. 

Guanciale comes from Central Italy, particularly the Umbria and Lazio regions, which is where Rome is located. Famous dishes of the region such as pasta dishes like carbonara, amatriciana, and gricia, rely heavily on its porky flavor. It can also be found on pizzas, in sandwiches, and livening up some salads.

How to pronounce guanciale correctly?

Guanciale is pronounced “gwaan-CHAA-lay.” It’s derived from the word “guancia” which is Italian for “cheek.” 

Can you eat guanciale raw?

Yes, guanciale can be eaten raw…sometimes. Almost all the guanciale you find in stores is cured. Cured meats (like ham or prosciutto) generally don’t have to be cooked. “Raw” or, more accurately, cold guanciale can go on sandwiches or charcuterie boards. However, in some Italian specialty stores, you may find uncured, raw guanciale. That stuff has to be cooked. 

What meat is guanciale like?

Guanciale is very similar to prosciutto. Some people will even use it as a substitute. However, prosciutto is from a different part of the pig. Prosciutto comes from the pork belly, and even though it comes from that fatty area, prosciutto is less fatty than guanciale. The way the guanciale’s fat melts into a dish is one of its most appealing features. Another thing people try to use as a guanciale substitute is bacon. Bacon, like prosciutto, comes from pork belly, but bacon is smoked. Curing and smoking are two different things. While cured meats impart subtle smoothness to pasta dishes, bacon’s smokiness overwhelms them. 

Personally, I’m not super traditional when it comes to pasta. Or as the kids say, I’m a non-trad pasta type (I don’t know how kids talk). I like to put guanciale, prosciutto, bacon, ham, and sausage into my pasta. I call it “ultimate meat lovers pasta.” My doctor told me to stop eating it but he’s just jealous.

About the Author

Will Morgan

Will Morgan, a freelance contributor to Sporked, is an L.A. based writer, actor, and sketch comedy guy. Originally from Houston, TX, he strongly believes in the superiority of breakfast tacos to breakfast burritos. Will traveled the world as one of those people that did yoyo shows at elementary school assemblies, always making a point to find local and regional foods to explore in whatever place he was, even in rinky-dink towns like Tilsonberg, ON. Will spends his birthdays at Benihana’s. Let him know if can make it.

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