It has taken me nearly three years but I have finally produced a delicious version of Guanciale. My journey began three years ago after a friend of mine gave me a book about Charcuterie. Guanciale stood out to me as something that I had to try and was going to make at any cost. I instantly ran into hurdles because I could not find pork jowls. I was looking in all the wrong places, most of the butchers I talked to didn't know what I was talking about and one was very confused about the difference between cheeks and jowls. I did locate one butcher who said he could get me some but I would have to order 50 pounds to make it worth his while.
After trying unsuccessfully for a year I finally decided that I was going to stop searching for hog jowls and try a different approach. I have some friends who go to Texas each ear to hunt wild boar so I asked them to bring back the jowls of the pigs they shot. Finally I had my first jowls and did the very best I could with them they weren't bad but I have had Guanciale at restaurants and mine was no where near as good as those. I was expecting better but I think the wild boar had an off taste they changed the outcome. After that attempt I had pretty much given up on ever getting quality jowls.
Several months ago I was at Specialty Meat and Gourmet in Hudson, WI and on a whim asked if they could get me pork jowls. They told me they would look into it and give me a call. A few days later they called and said they could get me some but I would have to buy 20 pounds. I decided that I had better take them up on it or I may never get my pork jowls. Besides I make a lot of sausage so if the guanciale didn't turn out I could always grind it up and use it in sausage.
In Michael Ruhlman's new book, Salumi, he walks you through the process of making Guanciale. The only thing it requires is a jowl, salt, black pepper and some time. The recipe is very simple, you weigh the jowl and use 3 percent the weight of the jowl in salt, that is it. Then an equal amount of black pepper, coat the jowl evenly with the salt and half the pepper then place in a plastic bag and place a weight on the jowl to press it flat. You leave it for 48 hours in the fridge and then rinse in clean and dry it, sprinkle the jowl with the remaining half of black pepper and hang in a cool place until the jowl loses approximately 1/3 of its weight. Then all you have to do is find ways to use it.
Traditionally Guanciale is used in spaghetti alla carbonara but I have had it on pizza and in salads and it can be used a lot like bacon or pancetta. it adds a pleasant salty porkness to anything you would like it to. I shaved it thin on my meat slicer and used it to wrap anchovy stuffed olives, duck hearts and dates and all three were fantastic. The Guanciale wrapped dates were by far my favorite, warm chewy dates with porky, salty goodness can't be beat. It's a good thing I have 22 pounds of jowls because I will be making a lot of this.