I first heard about guanciale on Chopped. It was a secret ingredient and for some reason I decided to look it up. Oh my goodness! Luscious pig jowl washed with wine and scented with black pepper and thyme. This was something I had to try.
The word guanciale comes from ‘guancia’, which means cheek in Italian. The jowl is the lower part of the cheek, the part that droops down, all fatty-like. Mmmmm… Supposedly the taste of the jowl is intensely porky, I would imagine because it gets a good workout from the pig chewing all day. I won’t know for another couple weeks though, when my guanciale is ready.
To make the guanciale I cobbled together several different recipes (see my reference list down below). My method relied on sensuality rather than strictness.
1. The first step: purchase the jowl. I called my local butcher and they brought one in from Gelderman Farms. It weighed about a pound and a half. Once I arrived home, I unwrapped the butcher’s paper and found a very fatty and very hairy piece of pig cheek. Hmmm… What to do with all this hair? Rather than look it up, I decided that I would tweeze out all of the hairs. Yeah, tweeze them out. After tweezing for half an hour and making some but not a whole lot of progress I decided to leave it hairy (see notes). I figured the salt and sugar and/or final cooking would disintegrate the hair and if not, I would either remove the skin or just eat the hair.
2. The second step: bathe the cheek in wine. Not being a wine drinker I wasn’t sure what kind of wine to buy. White I decided, because I didn’t want the pig flavour overwhelmed or the fat stained burgundy. I chose the brand to inspire my guanciale process – Barefoot. Any suggestions for better wines to choose are appreciated. I massaged half of the bottle into the jowl, taking my time. The beauty of home cooking, or one of many, is the ability to luxuriate over the process. There is no head chef barking at me to finish with my cheek already or a customer distracting me with an order. It’s just me and my pig cheek and a bottle of wine on a sunny day in early spring. Lovely.
3. The third step: cover with cure. The cure recipes I found contained sugar, salt, thyme, and black pepper. Normally I like to fiddle around with my spice combinations but not so with my guanciale. It seemed like the spicing was the essence of the charcuterie, as if I couldn’t call it guanciale without using the correct spices. I used equal portions of salt and sugar, a solid amount of freshly ground black pepper and several sprigs of thyme (picked fresh from my garden). All of this went into a ceramic dish with the jowl and was popped, covered, into the fridge. It was supposed to be left for 5-7 days but mine got ten and was flipped half-way through.
4. The fourth step: rinse and hang. The last step before I eat my cured cheek is to let it hang in a cool spot for at least three weeks. Oh the patience it takes! I decided to use my storage closet in the unheated basement of my apartment building. While it doesn’t have the sweet Mediterranean winds blowing through, it is cool and close so it will have to do. I tied up my pig cheek in cheesecloth with a few extra sprigs of thyme tucked in.
Check back in a few weeks to see what happens or better yet subscribe to my blog! Thanks for reading!
- Learn more about the awesome anti-microbial power of thyme here!
- Since making my first batch of guanciale I have bought Odd Bits by Jennifer McLagan and now know to shave the pig skin with a disposable razor or burn it off with a propane torch. I will probably shave it because I don’t like the idea of taking a torch to my little piece of piggie.