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Cured pork cheek

Guanciale is the cheek of a pig, cured with salt and black pepper, and is considered the best tasting fat on the hog.

It is nearly non-existent in general grocery stores and not that common even in specialty markets. It is not eaten sliced thin as you would other salumi, but is instead used in cooked dishes and can be substituted for pancetta in any recipe. The fat is luscious and porky.

I just finished curing some guanciale from Caw Caw Creek Farm in my modified wine fridge. It came out spectacular. Look for a complete how-to on curing pork cheeks in the coming weeks.

Some of the most famous dishes using guanciale are bucatini all’amatriciana and spaghetti alla gricia. It can also be used in carbonara – the tantalizingly scary, raw egg spaghetti dish. In fact, if you have amazing quality guanciale and some farm fresh eggs, you can use the guanciale raw and make a carbonara that just sings with the essence of your ingredients. Here is my version (don’t tell my wife the guanciale is raw!).

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

serves 4

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 ounces guanciale, diced into cubes
1 pound spaghetti
4 large, super farm fresh, organic eggs
1 cup freshly grated pecorino romano
two cloves of garlic, smashed and minced
zest of one lemon
two sprigs fresh marjoram, chopped
freshly ground black pepper to taste

  1. In a large bowl add the eggs, guanciale, marjoram, garlic and lemon zest. Drizzle with the olive oil and mix to combine.
  2. Cook the spaghetti in heavily salted boiling water (it should taste like sea water) until al dente. Remove from pot, drain (reserving cooking liquid), and add to bowl of egg mixture.
  3. Mix the hot spaghetti with tongs until the sauce is absorbed. Add in percorino cheese with a splash of the pasta water and stir until the sauce becomes smooth and creamy.
  4. Crack black pepper over pasta and serve.

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