Also known as the Italian bacon, pancetta is cut from pork belly and cured with salt, often seasoned with spices like fennel, nutmeg, garlic, dried ground hot peppers, and peppercorns. After it has been cured and dried for a few months, it is often rolled (rotolata) into a spiral so that the fat and meat form a cylinder, alternating each other. Pancetta is also sold as a slab (stesa) so that most of the fat is located only on one side. Rolled pancetta are usually cut into paper-thin slices and then fried while slab pancetta is chopped into cubes before it is cooked or added into a dish.
The distinctive spicy flavor of pancetta makes it a popular flavoring to pasta and other Mediterranean and Italian dishes. It is also delicious as a sandwich and a refreshing substitute to the usual smoky taste of American streaky bacon. Pancetta may vary by region in the way that it is made and flavored, and is also popularly produced in Spain.
It is often used as a lardon, where the grease is melted and used for sauteing or pan-frying meats, fish, seafood, or vegetables. It can be cubed and used in lieu of, or often as a better alternative to, beef or chicken cubes, adding savory flavor to other dishes, soups, and stews.
Within Europe, certain varieties of pancetta have gained Protected Geographical Status under the Italian Government to certify their place of origin, quality, and genuineness. For example, pancetta from Piacenza gained PDO status in 1996, while pancetta from Calabria gained PDO status in 1998. Also known as Prodotto Agroalimentare Tradizionale, this label certifies the status of the product and guarantees its quality, tradition, and place of origin. Since the 90s other forms of pancetta have gained protected status under the Italian government.