Pancetta at a Glance
Italy, South Central Europe
Type of Charcuterie
Dry Cured Meat
Pork belly, kosher salt, pepper, garlic curing salt, nutmeg, bay leaves, thyme, juniper berries, rosemary, brown sugar
Pancetta tessa, pancetta coppata, pancetta arrotolata, pancetta rotolata, Italian bacon, Boccalone pancetta, pancetta de Piacenza, pancetta piacentina, pancetta di Calabria, pancetta Calabrese, pancette
Pancetta is a type of salumi or cured meat made from pork which originates from Italy in south central Europe. Although there is no exact date or written literature as to the beginning of pancetta making, this meat preserving process goes back thousands of years.
This particular preserved meat is unlike sausage, and more like bacon. As a matter of fact, this is often referred to as Italian bacon. The name pancetta comes from the Italian word "pancia" which literally refers to the belly of the pig. This is the same cut from which bacon is made.
However, despite the similarities with the type of meat used, the process for making pancetta and bacon is different since there is no smoking done. Rather, the meat is salt cured and air dried. Traditionally, no sugar is used in this process but modern day pancetta making often uses a salt cure and sugar as well. More often than not, this cured meat is made from pure pork belly, not including sides. The meat slab is rubbed with a mixture of salt, pepper, garlic, sugar, curing salt, thyme, juniper berries, nutmeg, bay leaves and rosemary then left to dry for several days or weeks.
The cured meat is then washed and sliced thinly. The herbs and spices from the washing are then applied onto the slices to give flavor on the inside. Another way to prepare pancetta is by rolling the meat into a log so the spices are on the inside. This is then sliced thinly resulting in round pancetta. In Italy, it is common for this to be sold in slabs.
The preserving method results in cured meat that is bright red to pink in color. Since it is not smoked, the meat is moister and has a more delicate flavor compared to bacon. Pancetta is an excellent alternative to bacon, especially if the smoky flavor is not favored. It is also a popular ingredient in many dishes including pasta, stews and soups. Pancetta strips may be added or it may be cubed to help render fat and produce more flavor.