11.12.14 – This Week’s Special – Guanciale Calabrese

Tonino Sansone’s Guanciale Calabrese is steeped in the traditions of southern Italy. La guancia is the cheek, a cut favoured particularly for its tender fat. Sweet and delicately spiced when served as is, it is also classically used in carbonara and amatriciana sauces, and the Nero Calabrese pigs are famous for it.

As late as the 1960s these pigs roamed villages across southern Italy, though they are now a rare breed. However, farmers in the province of Cosenza in Calabria are starting to farm them again. Deputy mayor of the village of Cervicati, Tonino keeps four hundred nero calabrese pigs which live outside all year round in thirty hectares of woodland comprising holm oak, buckthorn and strawberry trees. Once a day they are fed a mix of barley, beans, bran and maize, all sourced locally to support struggling Calabrian agriculture, and they are slaughtered at 24-26 months.

Like the well-known Spanish pata negra, the pigs’ acorn diet and ability to practise their natural foraging habits make the meat fattier than pigs raised in confinement, and particularly rich in omega-3 and monounsaturated oleic acid, known to promote LDL (‘good’ cholesterol) and lower HDL (‘bad’ cholesterol). These unsaturated fats are also meltingly tender, giving the guanciale its distinctive texture.

Tonino’s wife and sisters-in-law salt the cheeks for 12 days, then rub them with peperoncino they grow on the farm and age them for six months. This chilli is also strongly associated with the region, having quickly become the poor man’s black pepper after its introduction in the 15th century. It lends both spice and sweetness to the guanciale, and is also used in Tonino’s nduja. Unusually, the family use no preservatives of any kind in their salumi production.