Guanciale is the perfect preserved pork. It’s wonderfully versatile & tasty, easy to make, economical to buy & use and looks brilliant. What’s not to like about that? You can see what I made in the picture above: I’m so pleased with the result.
Guanciale means “pillow” in Italian, the reason should be obvious. My first taste was courtesy of my friend and Italian food mentor Carla Tomasi who sent me some from Rome. It was a revelation with a deep porky taste. It’s good raw, as a seasoning or a major ingredient in many dishes. When I got the Italian dry curing book Salumi for review (see here), I first searched out the recipe for guanciale. It’s ridiculously simple. The authors say it is:
…one of the most magical of the Big Eight cured cuts [and] some of the finest and most versatile salumi…
At the end of February I was fortunate to meet Huw Roberts of Oinc Oink our very local award winning pedigree Welsh pork producers. At their stall Huw had brought along some pig cheeks on the off chance that they might sell. They did.
I rushed home and got out my copy of Salumi. If you want to find out how to make your own guanciale, please read on…
How to make guanciale
Pure sea salt
Fennel seeds (optional)
Once you have bought your pork cheeks you’ll have something a little like this:
Next you have to trim the meat so that it will take the cure well. The salt will remove water from the meat which provides a home for spoilage organisms.
You’ll see immediately to the left of the boning knife blade a chunk of meat that sits on top of the main cheek muscle & fat. I removed this ‘oyster’ and the similar one on the other cheek. This may or may not be present depending on how your butcher had prepared the meat. It’s not really firmly attached to the cheek and so I remove it. Also, underneath this is a membrane covering the meat. Remove this too as it will help the cure penetrate the meat. Have a look and feel for any glands. These are like soft, fatty, grey tissue not like the meat & fat. Remove the glands and then tidy up any odd bits and pieces so you have a tidy joint.
You should end up with something like this:
Once these cheeks were trimmed, they weighed 1.5kg.
You then need to carefully weigh out the ingredients for the cure. The weights are a percentage of the trimmed weight of the cheeks. So weigh your pork cheeks now. I’ve put the amount I used for my 1.5kg of cheeks in brackets.
Sea salt 3% (50g)
Black pepper 3% (50g)
Fennel seeds 0.3% (5g)
I ground these to a coarse powder in my Kenwood multi-mill. You can also use a mortar & pestle or similar.
Rub this powder into the both sides of the cheeks and into all the nooks & crannies. You’ll end up with something like this:
Put the cheeks and any spare cure into a sealable, zip top bag or similar and squidge them about a bit. Squeeze as much air out of the bag as you can and then seal the bag. Then put a weight on top of the cheeks and store them in a fridge or other cool place.
I put the sealed bag in a medium sized fementation bucket with a plate on top. I weighed this down with a smaller fermentation bucket filled with water. Improvise with what you have, plastic bags filled with water make great weights.
Store the cheeks for two days and then check them and give the cure a rub & squidge to redistribute the cure. Turn the cheeks over and reweight them.
Store for another two days.
Take the cheeks from the bag and wash them in clean water. Dry them carefully. They should now feel firmer because of loss of water and the effect of the weight. My pork cheeks now weighed 1415g and so had lost 85g of fluid. They looked like this:
The next step is to allow the pork cheeks to slowly dry in cool conditions, not too dry with good air circulation. You need the following conditions:
- Temperature of 12-18°C
- Humidity ~70%
- Air circulation
I have a lobby in my house that has these conditions during the late winter/early spring. You can improvise with a fridge containing a water bowl for humidity or similar.
You need the cheeks to lose about 30% of their weight to ensure they are properly cured. So weigh your pork cheeks before you cover them.
I put a hole through the top corner of each of the cheeks, covered each of them in clean and newly hot- ironed stockingette. The hot iron is used to sterilise the fabric without getting it wet with boiling water. I then hung the pork cheeks in the lobby.
Check the cheeks periodically to see all is ok and to weigh them. It’s not unusual to get a light mold on the meat. White/chalky molds are ok. If you get any other colour, then you can wash it off using some (white distilled) vinegar, dry the meat and then rehang. You need to be sensible here. If the mold persists and the meat smells bad then be cautious and dispose of it.
Here’s a graph of how my pork cheeks dried:
After about 50 days my cheeks had lost 26.8% of their weight. I could see from the trend on the graph that the rate of change was now very slow and so I’d gain very little to keep them hanging.
The cheeks now looked like this on the meat side:
And they looked like this on the skin side:
I’ve cut them into smaller portions and vacuum packed them for storage.
That was easy wasn’t it?
In my next post, I’ll set out a few of my favourite recipes using guanciale.