Italy is the home to a vast array of fine artisan food products, exquisite wines, decadent cheeses, and delicious…Bacon? Pancetta, the iconic salt-cured pork belly is a staple salumi that delivers an unbelievable, meaty flavor to your taste buds. When used properly, it can provide a transformative food experience.
But how do you accomplish that exactly? The first step is to brush up on your Italian cured bacon knowledge. We’ll provide you with a comprehensive course starting with the most important question of the lesson: What is Pancetta?
First, let’s address some of the most fundamental questions about Pancetta.
What is Pancetta?
On a broad level, Pancetta is a type of salumi or cured pork product. Like many other Italian cured meats, it is allowed to age rather than to be cooked directly or indirectly over heat. It is salt-cured meaning that the meat is treated with a liberal amount of sea salt, spices, and seasonings for curing, making it safe to eat.
Pancetta is a salumi cut from the pork belly, a notoriously flavorful and fatty portion of meat that is extremely popular around the world. It’s high-fat content, combined with it’s curing preparations and attentive care, create a world-renowned product that imparts a distinctively robust flavor wherever it’s used.
How is Pancetta Made?
Crafting Pancetta is a deceptively simple process. Artisans source the pork belly and prepare the meat with either a dry salt and spice mixture or a liquid brine with similar ingredients. Spices and seasonings that are typically used include pepper, fennel, chile flakes, allspice, and nutmeg.
These mixtures preserve the meat and imbue it with some of its flavors. The rest will develop as the meat cures and ages. The meat is also rolled, creating that signature spiral shape of Pancetta slices.
Every batch of Pancetta can be a little different due to aspects like regionality or spices used but all batches contain the signature bold, meaty taste it’s become famous for.
Where does Pancetta come from?
Pancetta is a style of cured meat that originated in Italy. Across the country, it’s common for it to be served as part of an antipasto plate, the first course of a traditional meal. Many people also add it to simple pasta dishes, sprinkle it over salads, or render it over chicken is a simple way to elevate everyday meals.
Can I eat Pancetta raw?
Absolutely. The curing process inhibits bacteria growth and makes Pancetta safe to eat. The end product is an aesthetically pleasing spiral of meat that is just as safe and even more delicious than cooked varieties of the same cut – we’re looking at you, Bacon.
There are regional styles of Pancetta that are smoked, a method that uses indirect heat and penetrates the meat with a hearty flavor as it’s cooked over time. Try both styles and see which one tantalizes your taste buds more!
What’s the difference between Pancetta and Bacon?
This question comes up a lot. It’s understandable because both Pancetta and American bacon are from the same raw cut of pork. However, in taste, texture, and uses these two have key differences.
First, as was said previously, Pancetta is cured, not cooked over heat while Bacon is a smoked meat. Pancetta is described by the spices used to flavor and cure the meat whereas Bacon’s many varieties are derived from the different wood pellets used to impart its signature smoky flavor. Applewood or Hickory-smoked Bacon are amongst the most popular varieties, distinct in their earthy, smoky yet sweet flavors.
In contrast, Pancetta receives its flavor from the curing spice blend used and the aging process. The cut receives a bold, meat-forward taste that is accented by the spices that have been absorbed.
Next, Bacon has a range of textures that coincide with how it’s prepared. Most often one will find bacon in a semi-firm to crispy state. When it is cooked on its own, the fat of the cut renders and cooks the slices in its oils. The longer bacon is cooked, the more it will begin to shrink and take on a crispy texture.
Pancetta is incredibly versatile and can add a unique depth of flavor to many dishes. For a simple snack, take a thin slice of it and place atop warm toasted bread or give it a rough chop and add to your favorite pasta dish, sofrito, omelet, or broth.
How long does Pancetta last?
If Pancetta is kept in its original packaging, it can stay good for many months. However, after you open a container of either sliced or diced Pancetta, it’s necessary to store it in a sealed container to prevent outside air from getting in. When properly stored in the refrigerator, the meat should last for up to 2 weeks.
Pancetta Tips, Tricks, and Pairings
Now that we’ve covered the fundamentals of this “raw” meat, we can start talking about how best to use it. We’ve gathered an assortment of recommendations, techniques, and recipes to leverage the awesome flavor of Pancetta.
It wouldn’t be an Italian delicacy if there weren’t an assortment of adult beverages that paired beautifully with it. Pancetta’s fat content and bold spices pair well with a full-bodied red wine like Brunello.
If wine doesn’t interest you, also consider a dark stout beer to accompany your sliced Pancetta. The roasted barley in the stout will provide a complementary presence to your palate and enrich the tasting experience.
How do I serve Pancetta?
In Italy, you will often find Pancetta traditionally served alongside various vegetables and meats in an antipasto course, providing the perfect offering for entertaining guests. Pair it with pepperoncini, castelvetrano olives, grilled artichokes, and various cheeses to please a crowd (even if the crowd is just you).
In terms of preparation, much of the handcrafted work has been done for you by trusted artisans. Either use pre-cut slices on various boards and dishes or look for our products at your local deli and ask for some specific cuts
You can add a layer of flavor to your everyday dishes by cooking chopped Pancetta. Sprinkle some of the meat over your favorite chicken recipe, a leafy salad, or any other number of dishes that could benefit from a bold meaty flavor.
Pancetta elevates everyday meals and pairs perfectly with a variety of meats and seafood. It can also be used to provide a robust meaty flavor and bring a deeper, more complex taste to your favorite recipes.
Looking for inspiration? We’ve hand-selected our favorite Volpi Pancetta recipes for you to try.
Check out this recipe for remarkable fried chicken with a Pancetta gravy. Or a very Volpi take on a classic Thanksgiving favorite. If vegetables are your favorite try this flavorful dish that elevates a veggie staple.
Finally, if you’re in the mood for something creative and sweet, you can’t go wrong with this amazing Volpi dessert.
With food that is this good, the possibilities are endless, so get to work and start experimenting!
Congratulations! You’ve taken your first big steps in becoming a Pancetta master. It will treat you well as you continue to learn more about this versatile artisan good and the many ways it can take your cooking to the next level.
Who knows? Maybe you will discover the greatest hidden application for the cut that doesn’t quit. Regardless, you’ll be sure to enjoy the superior bacon.