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Guanciale vs Pancetta: The 6 Differences You Need To Know

Guanciale and pancetta are two extremely popular types of Italian cured meat. They are the main ingredients of some of our all-time favorite recipes, such as pasta carbonara or pasta amatriciana.

Although they might display a few similarities, the main differences between guanciale and pancetta are the process to cure the meat and the cut of the pig.

If you are planning on preparing a delicious Italian dinner, and you want to follow the recipe as accurately as possible, here is the exhaustive list of the main differences between guanciale and pancetta.

What is guanciale?

Guanciale is quite a rare cut of meat to find outside Italy, which is its country of origin.

It’s a kind of cured meat that comes from the cheek of the pig. The meat is cured with salt, different spices, and herbs until it is ready to be consumed.

Thyme and fennel are used to cure this cut of meat, as well as black pepper and garlic.

It can be eaten either cooked or on its own, preferably on a charcuterie board along with other meat cuts and various types of cheese.

On top of that, crackers, olives, and fruit along with a good glass of wine are also more than welcome in the mix. This is the ideal combination for a fantastic Italian-style aperitif!

If you want to cook guanciale, it is possible to try a few pasta dishes typical of the Italian traditions, like pasta amatriciana or pasta carbonara.

Guanciale remains the perfect ingredient for these recipes as it provides texture and a deep, peculiar flavor that complements these dishes perfectly.

What is pancetta?

Pancetta, also known as the Italian bacon, is definitely more popular than guanciale and it is considerably easy to find around the world.

It comes from the belly side of the pork, and it is a cured meat as well. It’s combined in various herbs and spices like black pepper, rosemary, chili, and juniper to acquire that fantastic, signature taste.

It’s not possible to have pancetta on its own. You can use it to add flavor to pasta dishes, quiches, or soups.

Pancetta can be used as a guanciale substitute in pasta carbonara, although it will give a different tang and not-so-similar texture to the dish.

It is not extremely high in fats, especially compared to other salt cured-pork meat, and it is not excessively high in salt either.

This means that adding pancetta to your dishes will deliver an extra kick to your food, but it also will not disrupt the overall flavor too much.

What are the differences between guanciale and pancetta?

Although they might be interchangeable in the preparation of different recipes, the difference between guanciale and pancetta is substantial.

It starts with the taste, the texture, the flavor, all the way to the preparation process. In fact, it does not take a connoisseur to instantly recognize a few key differences between the two meat cuts!

As a result, if you are wondering what ingredient you will need for your recipe between guanciale or pancetta, look no further.

Here is a detailed list of the differences between guanciale and pancetta that will help you make the right decision for your fabulous recipes. 

1. Origin

Let’s start with the obvious. Guanciale and pancetta have two completely separate origins.

As we already mentioned, pancetta comes from the belly side of the pig and it does not have a specific native area of Italy.

It is diffused all over the country in many variations: in the north side of Italy, it is quite ordinary to find rolled pancetta.

In the south and central areas of the country, it is possible to find flattened pancetta. Or it simply comes in thin slices.

Of course, it is frequent to find pancetta in small cubes too, and that is how the whole world perceives it and cherishes it.

Guanciale originates from the pork jowl or the cheek of the pig, and it has its roots in the central area of Italy.

It comes in enormous pieces, thin slices, or cubes, depending on your preferences and needs. 

2. Flavor

Here is where things get fascinating. Guanciale and pancetta add two completely different flavors to the dish so you must choose wisely.

Guanciale gives a stronger, more robust flavor. The way it is cured, adding incredibly flavorful dehydrated herbs like thyme and fennel, gives it that powerful, distinct, pork-ish taste.

When you try to describe the actual pancetta taste, it is easy to notice how different the description will be.

Pancetta has a milder flavor compared to guanciale. Rosemary and juniper give pancetta a more delicate taste, allowing it to bring an exquisite and even sweeter tang to any dish.

3. Texture

If consumed on its own, guanciale can be quite hard and firm, even if cut into thin slices. The way it’s cured gives it this tough and solid consistency.

When you cook guanciale though, it’s completely different. If cooked properly, maybe in a hot pan, it is incredibly effortless and swift to obtain a crispy guanciale that will add that delicious crunchiness to any recipe.

This happens because guanciale loses most of the fat during the cooking process, allowing it to get crispy and a total delight to the palate.

Pancetta, on the other hand, is kind of squishy when it is raw. And it maintains its soft texture if cooked in a soup or a stew, like in pancetta and white bean soup for example.

If it’s added to a pasta dish, or any other recipe that requires tossing it in a frying pan, then pancetta will also be able to gain that delicious crunchiness too.

4. Production process

Before becoming the marvelous cured meats they are, both guanciale and pancetta have to go through the curing process.

Guanciale is usually rubbed in the salt mixture and then it is cured for about a month. Over these weeks, the meat cut will lose a hefty chunk of its fat too.

The production process for pancetta is a little different and it might follow diverse paths, depending on what kind of pancetta is going to be made.

Pancetta is not rubbed with salt and a mixture of dried herbs and spices like guanciale. It is placed in a jar where the mixture will perform its magic for some time. This process is addressed as brining.

After the brining process, pancetta can be sold as it is, cured and dried, or it can go through a smoking process.

This way pancetta will, of course, get that woody taste typical of smoked pancetta, incredibly similar to smoked bacon. 

5. Shelf life 

Both guanciale and pancetta have quite a long shelf life but they both require to be kept in the fridge to be preserved properly.

If stored properly, guanciale can last up to six months from its production date. Refrigerated correctly, it can also maintain its flavor for up to a year.

Store-bought pancetta, sealed in its original packaging, can be preserved in the fridge for up to 12 months too.

If opened, it is best to consume it within two weeks, but if you have the foresight to freeze it right after opening it, it might give you a six-month window for you to use it in

6. Availability

It is not a mystery that pancetta is probably one of the most popular salts cured pork meat worldwide.

Its similarities with bacon and its versatility in the kitchen allowed it to gain the popularity it deserves.

Guanciale is not as popular as pancetta. Actually, it is quite challenging to find it in your local supermarket.

As it is remarkably difficult to find in stores, the price of guanciale is relatively high compared to the cost in its native country Italy.

And it is also due to the rarity of this product that pancetta is often used as a substitute for guanciale in many recipes.

Guanciale vs pancetta: are they the same?

No, guanciale and pancetta are not the same. It may be hard to tell all the differences if you are not an expert, but it is easy to highlight the main differences between guanciale and pancetta:

  1. Guanciale comes from the pig cheek while pancetta originates from the belly side of the pig.
  2. Guanciale contains more fat than pancetta.
  3. Pancetta has a pleasant and mild flavor, while guanciale possesses a more robust tang to it.
  4. If you want a creamier pasta dish, guanciale is the ingredient you are looking for.
  5. Pancetta can be smoked too, but guanciale can only just come as cured and dried.
  6. They both have a long shelf life, but guanciale can live up to a year without being stored in the freezer.
  7. Pancetta is also known as Italian bacon and can be found in any supermarket or shop around the world.

Although there are plenty of differences that separates guanciale from pancetta, they both possess a fantastic taste, and they both will give you a delicious, out-of-this-world Italian dinner from the comfort of your own home.

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