LA CUCINA ITALIANA

By September 24, 2020 no comments Permalink

All you Need to Know about Guanciale: The Expert’s Tips

by Andrew Cotto contributor September 23, 2020

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Master salumi-maker Filippo Gambassi shares his wisdom on the tasty ingredient used for carbonara and much more.

There’s a 6th generation Tuscan salumi-maker in the Virginia hills between Richmond and Roanoke. He’s not lost. He’s on a mission.

Filippo Gambassi grew up making world-class salumi at his family’s artisan salumeria, Terra di Siena, where he not only learned the traditions of the art handed down from generation to generation, with an emphasis on the highest quality ingredients and strict recipes, he also heard many American tourists and chefs inquire as to how to procure their products in the USA.

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Instead of partnering with an exporter, Filippo – along with his wife, Irene Chiti – set up an outpost in 2012 of Terra di Siena in the hills of central Virginia, using local animals and the ancient secrets of his legendary family.

The products of Terra di Siena in Virginia are the greatest hits of Tuscan salumi producers and butcher shops: pancetta, prosciutto, capocollo, salame, fennel salame, fresh sausages, pork loin. The most coveted cut, though, may be the still somewhat elusive guanciale, which has not yet conquered America as an alternative to pancetta, especially as the base ingredient in the classic pastas of Rome.

I spoke with Filippo about this particular product of his that is coveted by many of America’s top chefs and distinguished home cooks.

What exactly is guanciale and how is it made?

Guanciale is basically the pork jowl and it is s also called GOTA in my Tuscan slang. The fresh cut of meat, with the skin on, is trimmed as a triangle or a square (depending on what area) and then salted for a few days, depending on the size of the cut, in sea salt. After that, the meat is brushed to remove the salt, and some additional spices and ground black pepper are added. The aging is about 60-70 days in temperature and humidity controlled areas.

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What are the signature recipes that feature guanciale?

The big three pastas: Carbonara, Amatriciana and Gricia

What differentiates its flavor from ingredients that might be used for the same purpose (referring here, primarily, to pancetta)?

The guanciale’s fat, which is the jowel, the cheek, is a little more consistent and harder than belly fat or back fat, which are more fluffy. And, basically, the quality of the fat in guanciale is more valuable as a result.

Besides the base of the famous pasta sauces, how is guanciale otherwise used?

In winter it is also used like lardo, thin sliced and added on crunchy bread or other cuts of meat to let them be more flavorful and juicy, to be enjoyed with a nice glass of Chianti.

Is there any distinction in flavor between the guanciale you make in Italy as compared to that in the States? If so, what is the difference and why is this the case?

Guanciale is one of our best sellers in the US and actually reflects 95% of the Italian quality; we spend a lot of time and effort to find the best fat for our cured meats. Usually, the US fat is very thin and optimal for fresh meat processes like fresh sausages, but not as optimal for cured meats. The main problem was the fast oxidation of fat. In the US, the hogs are leaner and so there is less fat because most of the US customers don’t like buying fatty stuff, so it was harder for us to find the bigger/proper size for our curing process. But we did. The hogs we are using come from local VA farmers, and the breed is a pure or a cross-breed Berkshire. As said, they work 95% as well.

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How does someone store guanciale?

The whole guanciale is the best way to preserve the product in the refrigerator. Just slice what you need and wrap back the rest in paper and return to the refrigerator. Usually in the countryside, farmers used to hang in a cool ventilated area; actually we can still follow this procedure, but it is safer to keep in the refrigerator without plastic film in order to prevent mold growing or condensation that make the product softer.

How long will it last?

Usually is better to use in 6 months from production date for the best quality, but even after one year it is completely safe even if, maybe, it gets too hard for slicing.

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Is this something curing-enthusiasts can make at home?

Yes, it is possible, but I would recommend this only if it will be made within the food safety standards. Try different salting methods, different spices and you will see how hard it will be to get the perfect balance with salting, curing, humidity, temperature, ventilation, mold growing, and more…Or just order from us!

Who are some of your better known US customers?

We work with the Bastianich Group on both coasts, Cafe Milano is Washington D.C., Casa Tua restaurant in Miami, and many more. We ship to all 50 states.

How often do you use guanciale at home?

In the summertime, when it’s hot, maybe one time every two weeks…The rest of the year, I would say 1-2 times a week.  

Your absolute favorite dish featuring guanciale is…

GRICIA!!!!!

And to celebrate Filippo’s amore per Gricia, we have asked one of the most prestigious chef/fans of the products of Terra di Siena in the US, Gaetano Arnone, to share his recipe here

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