Guanciale, or guancia is an unsmoked cured bacon-like product made from the jowls or cheeks of a pig. I had made an attempt at guanciale earlier this year when I hastily came home from our butchers with a pigs head, much to the bewilderment and shock of my wife Emma. Something went very wrong last time though, I think I had left them for too long before I started the cure and the god awful smell emitting from the jowls prompted me to abort the process and bin them. Some time has elapsed since then and I thought it high time I re-attempted guanciale. At only £1.68 for two plump pig jowls it seemed rude not to.
The first stage was the cure. A mixture of sea salt, sugar, peppercorns and thyme was massaged into the meat on all sides for several minutes before each jowl being laid on a bed of the remaining mixture in sealed tubs then placed in the fridge. Each morning the liquid drawn out of the jowls was tipped away, there was no funky smells this time, all I could smell was pungent thyme with a faint whiff of pepper. After a week there was little, if any, liquid being tipped off each morning and so began the maturing process. Plan carefully where you will hang your guanciale to mature. You need somewhere with air flow, out of direct sunlight and at a cool temperature no higher than 60F. A corner of my kitchen was just fine. This is something which I should have planned in advance as Emma now dances on the fringe of vegetarianism, don't worry we have had words and meat is still firmly on the menu. The problem began when I served dinner one evening. Emma sat down to her meal and dangling from the shelf above the table, at eye level and about eight inches from her face were my two guanciale. I was quite proud of my charcuterie whilst Emma was a little put off her food. In fairness the Guanciale were looking sweaty and some beads of guanciale juice had dripped onto the table by her knife. We ate dinner in the lounge for the rest of the maturing period though the trouble didn't end there. My guanciale was the subject of a few lovers tiffs during the three weeks, unfortunately I had absolutely nowhere else to hang them, I am now putting a rail up in a storage cupboard in the hall and finding homes for all the junk in there. This will become my cellar of sorts as I plan to get into charcuterie even more, though a fear of botulism has me re-reading a lot of books at the moment.
Today I had my first sample of home cured guanciale. I cut a few slices off and placed them in a hot frying pan, the ribbons of fat started to melt and quickly turned translucent. The sizzling meat gave off the most amazing smell with strong thyme and pepper notes. I ate a few slithers on their own whilst I quickly assembled a bacon sandwich with the guanciale, better than any bacon buttie I had had in years. I used no condiments in the sandwich and simply let the fat soak up into the bread. The meat has a deep, rich flavour and the fat is simply beautiful. It melts away and leaves a refined porcine taste in your mouth. The pig is still, unquestionably, my favourite animal to eat. Just do yourself a favour and make sure its not maturing near to where your loved one eats their dinner. For any other culinary related relationship advice, just drop me an email.