Pancetta is a type of Italian cured meat product made from pork belly. The cut and looks have gotten it stuck with the label of “Italian bacon,” and while they share similarities, there are significant differences in texture and flavor.
Pancetta has a very delicate and smooth texture, with only slight chewiness. Gourmet-quality pancetta is melt-in-your-mouth silky. On the one hand, its flavor is more robust and meatier compared to that of bacon, purely pork, not overtaken by smoky and earthy notes. On the other hand, it also has a strong undertone from various spices used during the production process. Black pepper is almost always present, with chilis, garlic, rosemary, and juniper being other common options.
Pancetta typically comes in two forms: either flat, like bacon, or rolled.
The flat, bacon-like variety is called Pancetta Stresa. It’s often cut into thick slices and served grilled or cut into cubes (Cubetti di Pancetta) and used in various dishes, like pasta, quiches, and salads.
The rolled one is called Pancetta Arrotolata. Pancetta Arrotolata is mostly sold thinly sliced and is traditionally consumed raw, either as an antipasto with cheese and crackers or in a sandwich.