How to make Guanciale, cured pork cheek

Guanciale cross section view
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


Pork cheeks
Pure sea salt
Black peppercorns
Fennel seeds (optional)


Once you have bought your pork cheeks you’ll have something a little like this:
Pork cheeks as bought
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:

Pork cheeks trimmed

Once these cheeks were trimmed, they weighed 1.5kg.

The Cure

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:

Pork cheeks coated in salt, pepper, fennel cure

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:

Pork cheeks post cure, washed & dried

The Dry

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:

Graph showing guanciale drying weight against time

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:

Guanciale finished, meat side

And they looked like this on the skin side:

Guanciale finished, 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.



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20 responses to “How to make Guanciale, cured pork cheek”

  1. John Liptak Avatar
    John Liptak

    Is it possible to just freeze portions of the fresh cheeks and use in recipes as you would the cured guanciale? Would the taste be very different? Would I have to use more of the fresh in recipes calling for the cured cheek?

    1. Carl Avatar

      Hi John

      You can freeze them for sure but the taste would not be the same. It’s the same difference as a loin of pork versus back bacon. The curing changes the taste in a very special way and also affects the water content and texture of the meat. So they are not substitutes for each other in my view.

      That said, uncured pig cheeks are gorgeous too 🙂

      1. John Liptak Avatar
        John Liptak

        Thanks! I understand your reply. I requested some from a butcher who gave me the cheek meat trimmed from the skin and fat. I found out that Latinos in Chicago use them this way. How do I phrase a request to a butcher? Whole, untrimmed with fat and skin? You are using 2 cheeks in your example are you not?

        1. Carl Avatar

          Hi John

          Any decent butcher should understand what you want from that description I think. I did use two cheeks, I need more space to be able to do more at a time 🙂

          Good luck with your search, let me know how you get on 🙂

  2. kiwilennoir Avatar

    Cheers for your great explanation. I have had a few goes with some (limited) luck it is nice to now feel like I know how to actually do it….

  3. ralph Avatar

    if the skin was removed is it ok to cure the same way

    1. Carl Avatar

      Yes it is, no problem. Hope you have a go 🙂

  4. cecilia Avatar

    Fantastic! i have four very cheeky hereford pigs in my barn as we speak, my only problem is it is going to get very cold here out on the prairies soon, so finding the perfect spot to hang them might be a bit of a bother.. I will work on it.. great explanation, thank you.. c

    1. Carl Avatar

      Hi Cecilia

      That sounds like a good bounty to have four pigs there 🙂

      Thanks for the kind words, hope it goes well for you. Let me know, I’d love to see what you make


  5. Nicole Clark Avatar
    Nicole Clark

    What do you do with those “oysters”?

    1. Carl Avatar

      I fried them off in some olive oil with garlic to taste test them 😉

  6. ediblethings Avatar

    This is great Carl. I have long fancied doing this kind of thing, and Bath Chaps. My problem is getting hold of the cheeks/ heads. They are not that fond of bones in meat in general in the Netherlands, so these kind of cuts don’t make it to the butchers.

    1. Bill Avatar

      Try looking in a asian food market. Most of ours here in Madison, WI USA usually have whole pig heads in stock, while most local pork butchers will not.

  7. lindasgarden Avatar

    awesome post Carl looks good will have to talk to David to see if he will let me give it ago

    1. Carl Avatar

      Hope you get to try Linda, it’s well worth the effort 🙂

  8. Jes Avatar

    No curing salt?

    1. Carl Avatar

      Hi Jes

      I take it you mean salt with added sodium nitrite. I’ve followed Ruhlman & Polcyn’s practice here and not used it. They say they do not use it with whole-muscle recipes since bacterial contamination inside the meat is not an issue.

      For anyone who prefers to use it reading this comment, it will give a slightly more ‘bacony’ flavour and should be used at 0.25% of the trimmed weight of the meat according to the authors of Salumi.

      Thanks for popping by Jes 🙂

  9. Joanna Avatar

    Wow, that looks good Carl, Trealy Charcuterie had better watch out 🙂

    1. Carl Avatar

      Thanks Joanna, I think they’re safe for a while. I need to make myself a drying chamber I think 🙂

      1. James Avatar

        Trealy Farm Charcuterie here and duly looking out 😉 Looks good!