It is easy for people to become confused about bacon, prosciutto, and pancetta. They are all pork products, look the same, taste similar, and are often substituted for each other. So what’s special about pancetta?
In defining the differences, let us first point out that bacon and pancetta have the most in common. They are both usually made from pork belly, and both are “raw” and need to be cooked before eating (although pancetta can be eaten raw), and both have been “cured” for a length of time. The difference between them is in the curing process. While both are cured in a similar way using salt, pancetta may also have spices such as black pepper and other aromatics added. But the big difference is that whereas bacon is then often smoked, pancetta is never smoked. This is not the place to go into bacon smoking, so we won’t. But they key thing to remember about pancetta is that it cured but unsmoked.
Pancetta can either be sliced thin or cubed and it is sold in both forms.
Thin-sliced pancetta can be wrapped around vegetables or other meats before cooking. Cubed pancetta can be used in a wide variety of recipes, such as risottos.
Thin-sliced pancetta can be eaten raw as part of antipasti or just as a sandwich filling.
In northern Italy, the uncut pancetta is often rolled around a strip of capocollo (a traditional Italian pork cut made from dry-cured muscle) in the centre and the roll is then thinly sliced like a sausage.
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