You may be tempted to substitute bacon in recipes that call for pancetta but don’t. Some of Italy’s most iconic dishes use pancetta and rely on this Italian native ingredient and its big brother guanciale (Italian salt-cured pork jowl) to add an authentic depth of flavor. Neither translate into bacon.
Pancetta differs from American bacon in the meat seasoning and curing methods. Bacon is brined, smoked pork belly, pancetta is dried pork belly treated with salt, pepper, nutmeg and culinary spices for flavor and curing. As pancetta ages (over a period of 2-3 months) it develops the true cured pork taste. In the market, pancetta is usually sold rolled like a sausage. Americans are all about the deep smoky flavor of bacon while Italians appreciate the purer pork flavor of pancetta.
The bottom line is that bacon is not a substitute for pancetta. Nothing can match the flavor and taste of true Italian pancetta. So when you find it buy enough. Pancetta can be preserved for several months in the refrigerator and kept in the freezer. Pancetta freezes best in 1- to 2-inch-thick slices that you can cut into smaller pieces while still frozen.