This post is part of my ongoing charcuterie project. See my original writeup for further background.

Before I made it, I couldn’t tell you what part of the pig the jowl was. I’ve never heard of nor eaten guanciale, nor did I know how to pronounce it. I made it anyway, mostly.

There seems to be a good amount of confusion about what exactly jowl is. Most online references use jowl and cheek interchangeably, but as I understand it this isn’t technically accurate. Cheek and jowl are in roughly the same area and both contain significant amounts of fat and collagen. The jowl, however, is the muscle that begins at the shoulder and extends to the lower jaw. The cheek is, well, the cheek. This confusion seems to be compounded by the fact that when ordering hog jowl, cheek is typically included in the cut. Your best bet is to specify to your butcher exactly what you want.

The best part of buying jowl is that it is obscenely cheap. My butcher is comparatively pricey since their meat comes from a farm, not a factory, but I still was able to buy two pounds for 7 bucks. Unfortunately when I placed my order I didn’t specify that I wanted a single two-pound piece, and I instead got two separate pieces totaling two pounds. I wasn’t sure if having two pieces instead of one would change my curing time, so I reached out to one of the authors of the book on twitter:

At this point I was more confused than when I started. His own recipe in the book suggests 4-6 days of dry curing. His formula suggests less than a half of a day. We then somehow arrived at a day on the salt. I needed to decide if I wanted to go with twitter version of Michael Ruhlman, or book version. I ended up splitting the difference and curing it for 3 days, checking it regularly for firmness. This was frustratingly unscientific.

The cure was more basic than the pancetta I did. Kosher salt, sugar, garlic, peppercorns, and thyme. I combined all of this into a two gallon plastic bag, along with both pieces of jowl (again defying twitter version of Michael Ruhlman), redistributing the cure every day or so.

If you read my pancetta post, you know that meat now hangs to dry in my closet, not my wife’s. I left it there for 3 weeks. The recipe in the book suggests drying it for 1-3 weeks, and honestly I wish I would have pulled it sooner. We’ve been using the guanciale mostly in the same way as the pancetta – sautéing it with vegetables, incorporating it into pastas, etc. Functionally these are very similar, but I find that guanciale is even richer than pancetta. A little goes a long way. My main gripe is that I think I slightly over-dried it. The jowl I used is extremely fatty, and the dried fat doesn’t render as nicely as I would like it to. This is more a texture thing than anything. As a workaround, I just cut the lardons I use into thinner pieces than I typically would.

Ultimately, I think I kinda missed the mark here. Guanciale done right is the perfect companion to whatever it is cooked with, as it coats it in smooth and creamy fat and collagen. I think this batch just dried out a bit too much on me to deliver the full effect.

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