I have spent a good amount of the past few years on the look out for pork jowls and pork cheeks with one thing on my mind, Guanciale. Guanciale is the unsmoked, cured jowls of pigs sometimes referred to as face bacon. I have been dreaming of the day when I finally find fresh pork jowls so I could make Guanciale, but jowls, for whatever reason, are not a common ingredient and not very easy to come by. I checked with all my favorite butchers and had a couple of close encounters where I found smoked jowls but never a fresh whole jowls. I found cheeks from prairie pride but everyone I talked to didn't seem to have any idea what I was talking about.
I had an excellent opportunity a couple of years ago when I roasted a whole hog for a fall festival but didn't want to cut the face of the pig up before roasting it. As it turns out I made the right choice that day, I still remember cutting the cheeks out of that pig after it was done roasting and how succulent and delicious they were.
So imagine how excited I got last year when a good friend of mine mentioned that he was going to Texas to shoot wild boar. I was pumped, at last my wait would be over and I might finally get an opportunity to make and taste this mythical creation known as Guanciale. Upon his return he informed me that the guys who did the butchering thought he was kidding when he asked for the jowls so they didn't bother with them. Once again fate had dealt me a crap hand. I did get some nice bellies out of that trip but no jowls. Then earlier this year that same friend informed me that he had brought back some more bellies and a bag full of jowls.
So on a beautiful Saturday afternoon I joined him and his family, his son and daughter are good friends of mine as well, at a hotel for a pool party and to hear the stories of the hunt. Dave is a fan of scotch with a particular affection for Chivas, so I always try to bring a bottle of scotch for him. We had a great night and enjoyed one too many glasses of scotch and got to hear all about the hunt. The next morning I was so hung over that I left the hotel without the jowls. Here I finally had what I have wanted for so long and I forgot them. Luckily Julie, (Dave's daughter) had them and called me promptly to let me know what I had done. A few days later I made a trip to Julie's house and finally had in my possession, jowls. I also ended up with a couple of bags of bellies and three small pigs about 20 pounds each. Not a bad trade for a bottle of scotch.
I now had the jowls and needed to get started on the guanciale. The unfortunate part about curing meat is that it is not an instant gratification sort of thing. This was going to take time, a little over a month of curing and drying. I used the recipe from Michael Ruhlman's book, Charcuterie. The day finally came this week and I was finally able to cut into my very first guanciale. It was most certainly worth the wait, the fat just melts in your mouth and the striations of meat add a porky intensity that would make you dance. It was unlike anything I have ever had, the only down fall is that there isn't very much. The jowls of a wild boar aren't very big and there was only one hunk of jowl that was bigger than a pack of cigarettes.
I'd like to say thank you Dave for the fine porky goodness.
To the hunt.
The pictures here are basically the same just with different flash. I wasn't sure which looked better so let me know if one looks better than the other.