Hog's have faces that only a gourmand could love. Though still rare in America, cured porcine jowls have long imbued great Italian dishes with an intense earthy saltiness. The cut, known as guanciale adds more flavor to dishes like bucatini all'Amatriciana and spaghetti carbonara than even bacon or pancetta. Though the FDA has banned the import of this meat from Europe, domestic and Canadian producers and butchers are increasingly catering to the nose-to-tail crowd by offering guanciale to adventurous chefs and home cooks.
American guanciale is not just a knockoff of an Italian classic. Domestic purveyors are attempting to enhance the quality of meat through the use of superior swine. Angelo Competiello of A&S Fine Foods in Wyckoff, New Jersey, cures a wide assortment of meats in-house after buying jowls from Mosefund Farm in nearby Branchville, where Mangalitsa pigs, a rare Austro-Hungarian breed, are raised and butchered. This hog has a massive jowl packed with flavorful fat that melts in a hot pan, leaving an unctuous lipid and a little bit of meat.
"We make a lot of great product in this country," says Competiello, who recommends mail-ordering the cut from producers including his own farm, Murray's Cheese, or La Quercia and looking for it on the menu in a select few restaurants such as New York's Babbo. The flavor is big enough and bold enough that this great Italian tradition seems destined to take off stateside.