Guanciale is an Italian cured meat product prepared from pork jowl or cheeks. Its name is derived from guancia, Italian for cheek.
Pork cheek is rubbed with salt, sugar, and spices (typically ground black pepper or red pepper and thyme or fennel and sometimes garlic) and cured for three weeks or until it loses approximately 30% of its original weight. Its flavor is stronger than other pork products, such as pancetta, and its texture is more delicate. Upon cooking, the fat typically melts away giving great depth of flavor to the dishes and sauces it is used in.
Guanciale may be cut and eaten directly in small portions, but is often used as a pasta ingredient. It is used in dishes like spaghetti alla carbonara and sauces like sugo all'amatriciana.
It is a specialty of central Italy, particularly Umbria and Lazio. Pancetta, a cured Italian bacon which is normally not smoked, is sometimes used as a substitute when guanciale is not available.