Homemade Guanciale

Diced homemade guanciale

Our recent move necessitated the use or disposal of any perishables.  Since that time, I’ve been missing my cured meats the most.  Luckily, we’ve been able to find some good bacon in Virginia. However, I have yet to find any thing as good as my homemade pancetta.

I have, however, made friends with a local pork farmer who comes to the Alexandria Farmer’s Market.  As a side note, his pork is very very good.  So far, I’ve only managed to get one pork belly from him (most are preordered by restaurants, mine has been turned into pancetta) but the real surprise for me was that he regularly sells pork jowls.  I’ve been to quite a few specialty markets, butchers, and Asian groceries and not once have I seen pork jowls for sale.

Homemade pancetta and guanciale drying

To me, the real coup with finding pork jowls is that I can turn them into guanciale (another hard to find product in the United States).  And my desire for guanciale is simply that it is the authentic ingredient in probably my most favorite pasta dish (and quite likely favorite food), spaghetti alla carbonara.

The most difficult part of making guanciale is finding a pork jowl.  It’s cured simply with just salt and a few seasonings.  Then it’s hung to dry.  My choice of hanging spot was in our unheated sun room.  The temperature was pretty close to right (50ºF to 60ºF) and seemed to have a pretty good humidity.  The only possible mistake I made was hanging it by a window as a pork jowl is mostly fat and light can damage fat.  I’ll have to return my drying to a mini-fridge in the future.

Until I had to go without, I didn’t realize how central cured meats like guanciale or pancetta are to my cooking. I like to keep some in the fridge to make quick, but good, pastas.  It’s an effective way to add some protein to a meal or to modify a side dish into being a complete meal.

Along with spaghetti alla carbonara, it is also traditionally used in bucattini all amatriciana.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara made with home guanciale

Homemade Guanciale
Adapted from Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing

One 2-lbs/1-kg pork jowl

Dry Cure:
70 g kosher salt
70 g sugar
10 g garlic, mashed
15 black pepper corns, cracked
1 large bunch thyme

  1. Rinse and pat the jowl dry.  Trim any stray tissue, glands, or hairs from the jowl.
  2. Combine the dry cure ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly.
  3. Place the jowl into a large zip-top bag and rub with the dry cure on both sides.  Refrigerate for 4 to 6 days, until it feels stiff all the way through.  Overhaul the cure by redistributing the cure and turning the jowl over every other day.
  4. Remove the jowl from the bag and rinse off all the cure.  Dry thoroughly.
  5. Poke a hole in the corner of the jowl with a knife.  Run a piece of butcher’s string through the hole.  Hang the jowl in a cool, dry place for 1 to 3 weeks, until it is stiff but not hard.
  6. Refrigerate for up to 3 weeks or freeze for several months.

6 Responses to “Homemade Guanciale”

  1. 1 DebIFF January 22, 2009 at 11:02 am

    Wow, I am impressed with you making your own guanciale. I gave up trying to find it in the US but am in pork heaven here in Umbria!

  2. 2 colloquial cook January 22, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    Damn, if you were single…. 😀
    This is amazing. I am completely wowed.

  3. 3 Matt January 22, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    DebIff – Thanks. Guanciale was actually pretty easy in comparison to pancetta (which I’ve made several times now). Store bought pancetta doesn’t even come close to homemade (at least here in the US). We recently moved to Virginia which is close enough to the south and is the American equivalent of pork heaven). As an aside, your site provided me with a lot of inspiration when I first started cooking. So thank you for it.

    colloquial cook – That’s quite the proposition there. I think you’ll have to take that up with my wife however.

  4. 4 susan August 25, 2009 at 6:48 pm

    hello! just wanted to say that i love all the food you make. it’s robust and flavorful and full of pork, my favorite.

  5. 5 Chef October 17, 2009 at 10:19 am

    Just be careful curing any meat as if it not done properly, serious illness even death can occur. Make sure you read A LOT before you attempt to make any fresh cured meat product. And remember, Sanitation is essential!

  6. 6 Sommer J December 21, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    Must buy this book!! Guanciale is on my must try list!

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