Now that the Christmas holidays are approaching, the time for succulent family banquets can be an opportunity to try new and traditional dishes as long as they are tasty and of good quality. For meat lovers, let’s discover the differences between pancetta, bacon and guanciale.
Milan, Italy, 4th Dec 2022 – Contrary to what is often thought, pancetta, bacon and guanciale are not the same thing and, if in some recipes it is possible to use them without major problems indifferently, in others it is really important to know how to distinguish them in order not to risk decisively changing the flavor of a dish. Used in Italian cuisine but not only let’s find out together what differentiates them and how to best use them to prepare typical and tasty first courses, second courses and side dishes such as spaghetti carbonara, bucatini all’amatriciana, pasta alla gricia, broad beans with bacon and chicken wrapped in bacon. Everyone in the kitchen then, let’s go!
Bacon: the breakfast salami all over the world
Let’s start with the bacon. A term that immediately evokes American food, high-calorie breakfasts, junk food and the globalization of tastes. Some menus, to give a touch of the exotic, call “bacon” the simple “pancetta“.
Often, however, distinguishing between “bacon” and “pancetta” makes sense, because they are two similar but slightly different ingredients. Its diffusion, in Italy, experienced a surge after the Second World War (“fault” of the American influence?), but in the peasant civilization, nothing of the pig was thrown away and obviously this ingredient existed well before.
We have been talking about it with Macelleria D’Andrea for decades, the artisan butcher shop in southern Italy known for the production of small quantities of the typical Artisan Seasoned Sausage but also Pancetta Salume Artigianale, guanciale and exclusively made-to-order bacon. The butcher’s shop follows almost the entire process by hand and produces small quantities often going out of stock with a waiting list.
Bacon requires a different preparation. First of all, the belly of the pig is not necessarily used, given that the name derives from the Germanic term “bacho“, which means “rear of the pig” or “ham“.
Even today, to produce it, different parts of the pig are generally used: the belly, of course, but also the back, the loins, the throat and the sides. The meat is then left in brine with spices and herbs, dried for a few months and then cooked in the oven, steamed, boiled or smoked.
Thus we have back bacon, loin and leaner; the jowl bacon, obtained with the throat (similar to our guanciale), the cottage bacon, deriving from the shoulder; the slab bacon, coming from smaller lateral cuts. Bacon made with bacon gets its name instead of streaky bacon.
Obviously, everything was born in the Anglo-Saxon world and it has very little to do with our Italian pancetta. The only local variant that has some similarities is, remotely, smoked bacon.
Pancetta and Guanciale: the delicious flavors of typical cured meats
Pancetta and guanciale are in turn two different cuts of pork: as the names themselves suggest, pancetta is obtained from the animal’s belly while guanciale from the cheek and neck of a pig that is at least nine months old . But the biggest differences derive from the different processes that allow you to get to the finished product, the one you use in the kitchen, determining its flavor and consistency.
Generally, in fact, pancetta is obtained from the belly of the pig, then it is salted (and in certain regions also flavored with herbs and spices of various types) and left to mature or, in some cases, consumed naturally: the matured pancetta will have a more intense taste than the sweet one of natural bacon.
We can find bacon in three different forms: stretched pancetta, which has a short seasoning period (about 20 days) and is generally salted and used as a condiment for other dishes and recipes; rolled pancetta, a real cured meat that requires a seasoning with abundant spices and a long seasoning in a cool, dry place, before consumption; and finally the smoked pancetta (also called bacon), highly flavored and subjected to a smoking process that makes it even more tasty.
Guanciale, which can also be smoked, is generally much tastier than pancetta because during processing it is abundantly seasoned with salt and pepper and, in some regions, further flavored with rosemary, sage and garlic. Afterwards, the sauce is aged for at least three months so that the outermost layer can dry out, forming a crunchy and tasty crust, while the inner part acquires a very strong flavour. Compared to pancetta, guanciale has a more intense flavor and a harder texture, and is moreover spicier but also less available, reasons which often lead to prefer pancetta in the kitchen.
All this wealth of knowledge has been collected by FioreRosalba.com, a company linked to Macelleria D’Andrea for various projects aimed at digital innovation of the historic activity, thus making them available to enthusiasts of the subject:
- Corso Addetto Macellazione Carni
- Corso Lavorazione Carni e Salumi
- Corso Tecnico Controllo Produzione e Qualità Alimentare
So, in conclusion, pancetta is usually fatter, bacon crunchier after a quick grill; pancetta tastes softer, bacon more intense. However, the more balanced taste prevails over all, which however has a few more calories. And who are you with, bacon, bacon or guanciale?
Contact Person: Fiore R.
Address 1: Via Montenapoleone 8
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Disclaimer: The views, suggestions, and opinions expressed here are the sole responsibility of the experts. No Vedh Consulting journalist was involved in the writing and production of this article.