What Is Pancetta?

I’ll never get tired of mispronouncing Italian meats. For some reason, it is so funny to say gabagool when you mean capicola, or drop the “a” off the end of mortadella, or nix the last several letters of soppressata to get “soppresat.” But, as far as I know, pancetta is one of the few Italian meats that doesn’t get a fun nickname. Does that mean it lives in a class of its own? Let’s get into it and answer all of the most common questions about pancetta, including how to pronounce the dang thing. 

What is pancetta?

Pancetta is cured pork belly, the same cut of meat that gives us sweet, sweet bacon. Italy loves the stuff, and you can tell what part of Italy someone is from by how they eat it.

Northern Italians love pancetta arrotalata, a rolled version that commonly appears on antipasto plates with other meats, cheeses, and vegetables. Further south, they get down with pancetta stesa, a flat, thicker version that is cubed and added as an ingredient to cooked dishes like pasta carbonara.

Is pancetta bacon?

Kindaaaaa? It is sliced and processed pork belly, so using that umbrella category, they are the same thing. However, pancetta is classified more in the Italian dictionary as a type of salume

The definition of salume, or salted meats, applies to a multitude of Italian classics: gabagool, proshute, mortadel, and a wide range of salami, just to name a few. All of these meats are classic additions to antipasto, hoagies, and innumerable sandwiches. 

This distinction between bacon and salume is important for pancetta for one very specific reason…

Can you eat pancetta raw?

Yes, you can! In fact, it’s just as common to enjoy it sliced very thin and raw as it is to eat it cooked. You certainly cannot say the same about bacon, unless you want to risk trichinosis.

The reason for this difference comes down to preparation. Pancetta is dry cured, meaning it gets a salt and spice rubdown, which sucks out its juices and infuses the spices into the meat. Curing this way stops bacteria from feasting on the meat and getting your stomach all screwed up.

Bacon, on the other hand, is smoked. Since the meat isn’t cured and aged the same way as pancetta, you gotta fry that stuff.   

How do you pronounce pancetta?

Pan-CHET-uh. The Italian “c” is a “ch,” and their “ch” is a “k.” What a crazy, upside-down world!

About the Author

Luke Field

Luke Field is a writer and actor originally from Philadelphia. He was the former Head Writer of branded content at CollegeHumor and was also a contributing writer and actor to the CollegeHumor Originals cast. He has extensive improv and sketch stage experience, performing both at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and with their Touring Company. In addition to writing, he also works as a Story Producer, most recently on season 4 of Accident, Suicide, or Murder on Oxygen. Keep your eyes peeled for his brief but impactful appearance as Kevin, the screaming security guard, in the upcoming feature The Disruptors, directed by Adam Frucci.

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