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Difference in taste between guanciale and pancetta?

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I used guanciale in my carbonara last night for the first time. Maybe my pallet isn't refined enough but I am not sure I could discern a difference between it and the pancetta I buy. And if I did, I would think it had more to do with the way it was cured/seasoned vs the actual difference in meat taste. Actually this guanciale was heavy seasoned, to include a ton of rosemary however it seemed most of this cooked off. My butcher tells me the fat content is pretty much the same between the two so that can't be the difference (at least according to him).

I read on some websites that guanciale is suppose to be a million times better than pancetta but I just didn't experience that last night. Perhaps the million times better part is the chef thinking his/her dish is using an often not found ingredient and therefore it must be better.

Am I missing something relative to the taste of guanciale?

By the way, I used to be a pancetta snob when it came to my carbonara. However recently I didn't have any and didn't feel like running to the store. I did have slab bacon (which is a million times better than sliced bacon) so used that. I have to say that while I will always strive to use pancetta (or guanciale) in my carbonara, the slab bacon wasn't bad at all.

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  1. The difference I discern (for my cooking purposes) doesn't justify the cost of the guanciale vs. pancetta (or slab bacon).

    On the rare times my family made carbonara (relatives from Italy favor red sauces) they used locally sourced bacon...rarely pancetta and never guanciale.

    Cook what tastes best to you.

    1. Ah, the taste of guanciale vs. slab bacon.

      I go with guanciale because it puffs up really well after you add the pan-fried squares to the sauce pan just before adding your cooked pasta, eggs and cheese. The pasta water you add to the mix loosens things up, puffs the guanciale and brings out its mineral goodness. Bacon just doesn't cut it.

      1. It depends, of course, on the source of your pancetta and guanciale. The problem with most pancetta is that it lacks the acidic tang it should have because customers don't know any better. Guanciale being a premium product in this country is produced more carefully and pieces with the nice acidic lift can be found. Also, the cheek fat in guanciale is far firmer so it cooks down differently and contributes a different texture to your dish than belly fat in pancetta or bacon will.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Melanie Wong

          I find the guaciale is richer and less salty than pancetta. I agree that the guaciale fat renders differently. The pancetta often comes out too crispy or chewy whereas the guaciale melts in your mouth. I guess it is more textural than taste for me.

          1. re: cleopatra999

            I agree pancetta has a fine line of crispy an chewy, but I do love it. I have only made carbonara with pancetta, but recently learned my local Italian deli has guanciale so I guess I'd like to try the original version as well.

        2. In Italy guanciale is considered more delicately flavored and produces a wonderful fat that coats the spaghetti beautifully. I have been told that the guanciale made in the US is cut to emphasize the lean, which is not the point at all. The one time I bought and used guanciale in the US, it had lots of herbs (not the Italian way) and definitely emphasized the lean. The resulting pasta all'amatriciana was perhaps the blandest I had ever made. If yours was along the same lines, I can see why pancetta would be preferable. Bacon isn't considered appropriate because of the smoky flavor, not traditional in the Apennines, but nobody would ever say it wasn't good.

          1 Reply
          1. re: mbfant

            Yeah, the producer seems to make a difference. The guanciale I've purchased in the SF Bay Area has been far fattier than any available pancetta, and has had a bolder flavor too. It used to be cheaper than the higher quality pancetta too, but prices have changed.

            Those herbs are really annoying to scrape off--- interesting to hear they're not the traditional preparation.

          2. Guanciale is hog jowl, pancetta is pork belly. As to fat content, it varies, but my experience is that guanciale is usually fattier.

            Both are fine for carbonara and generally interchangeable.

            1 Reply
            1. re: rjbh20

              Well after eating it a few times, I can definitely tell a difference now and IMO it's much better than pancetta. It has tremendous flavor (because it seems fattier than pancetta) and has both a crispy and chewy texture. The downside, my wife looked up the calories of pork jowl and she discovered it's 180 cal/ounce!

            2. I have cured both of them and prefer the texture of guanciale in carbonara, but it isn't a deal breaker.

              The flavor of lean meat in guanciale more forward than pancetta. It makes a very powerful pork statement.

              Although they are different and are easy to tell apart they are very similar preparations. Use them both with abandon!

              Home cured versions of these salumi make them very frugal, as they use economy cuts off the hog.