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Pork jowl: tradition and innovation
If I say pork jowl or guanciale in Italian, you probably immediately think of Amatriciana, Carbonara or Gricia pasta dishes. Rightly so, because pork jowl is the biggest star of the most delectable pasta dishes from Rome and nearby.
But pork jowl is so much more than that. Let’s start by talking about its geographic location: guanciale does not only come from the region Lazio, but it actually obtained the traditional agri-food product label (PAT quality seal) also in the Abruzzi, Calabria, Sardinia, Molise, Tuscany and Umbria regions.
That is to say that this simply exceptional product made from the pork’s cheek is actually part of an overall Italian tradition. And, as is often the case with the most traditional cold cuts, pork jowl is called by different names depending on the region. Just to mention a few: it is called vrucculare in Molise, buccalaru in Campania, grandula in Sardinia, gota in Tuscany.
How is pork jowl made?
Needless to say, pork jowl and pork belly or pancetta are NOT the same thing. And we all know that Carbonara pasta is made using pork jowl and not pork belly, right? And we also know that bacon is yet another different product that has nothing to do with pork jowl, don’t we?
Good, then let’s move on. How is pork jowl made? How is it used? How come it is so delicious? Let’s start from the beginning: pork jowl is a meat cut obtained from the pork’s cheek, going from the neck to the beginning of the snout.
Its unique feature lies in the fat quality. It is very different - also quality-wise – from the fatback and from the fat from the belly, pancetta. The fat found in the cheek is very fine with a harder consistency and a much more intense flavour.
Another big difference: pork jowl is covered with many streaks of lean muscle. While the fatback practically melts in the mouth, pork jowl is more compact and it has a much more complex flavour.
The curing mix, i.e., the mix of spices used to season it, also makes the difference. The curing mix differs from region to region and no butcher will ever reveal his/her secret curing recipe. It could be just salt, or salt with garlic, rosemary, sage or even chilli.
After seasoning, the meat is left to dry for a couple of days before it starts to actually age. It ages for at least 2 months, but it can age much longer if one wishes to obtain a product with a particularly intense and full-bodied flavour.
Gota, pork jowl from Tuscany
In Tuscany, pork jowl is actually called gota which also means ‘cheek’ in the local dialect. If you want to try a truly exceptional gota, we have the right address for you: Salumi di Scarpaccia. This company is located in the heart of the Casentino area, at the foot of the Falterona Mountain.
They only use Italian pigs reared in monitored and selected farms and they still process the meat by hand. The company is led by second-generation butchers who have gathered enough experience as well as passion. These cold cuts have a unique, intense and genuine flavour; they have the best taste and embody the traditional know how needed to make precious products that tell the story of our cuisine.
Pork jowl in recipes
Carbonara, Amatriciana and Gricia pastas are the most common dishes made with pork jowl. However, we have only listed those recipes containing cooked pork jowl; let’s not forget that pork jowl is one of the most delicious Italian cold cuts and as such, it can be sliced and enjoyed in a nice sandwich.
Enjoy it on a slice of roasted bread – only Tuscan and, hence, unsalted bread – or on a beautiful cold cut platter together with cheeses and vegetables packed in oil – guanciale always tastes amazing. It pairs very well with eggs, too. Add some pan-seared stripes of pork jowl to your fried eggs for an unforgettable experience.
Remember that pork jowl contains a lot of fat: when you cook it, you don’t need to add any oil to the pan! I would also suggest trying some new and creative combinations. It is not that traditional recipes do not taste amazing, but I like trying out new things and adding a modern twist to the great ingredients of our cuisine.
Why not trying Spaghetti noodles with shrimps and pork jowl? Are you surprised? Try it first and then tell me what you think: the sweet shrimps pair perfectly well with the sapid and flavourful pork jowl, at least in my opinion. Another great dish is Orecchiette pasta with broccoli, anchovies and pork jowl.
Have you tried pork jowl in soups, too? A heart-warming soup suitable for the beginning of autumn is the chickpea and chestnut soup and a recipe idea for a fancy dinner is cream of porcini mushroom soup with stripes of crunchy pork jowl. And for the spring? Trofie pasta with broad beans, peas, lesser calamint and pork jowl. And what about the summer? Couscous with cherry tomatoes, olives, basil, buffalo mozzarella and pork jowl. And winter? Artichokes filled with bread, Pecorino cheese and pork jowl, of course!
The time is always right to savour this incredible product. Italian cold cuts encompass a wide range of flavours and traditional know how that can turn any meat cut, even the less refined ones, into a flavourful masterpiece.