While there isn’t much historical information available about the development of pancetta, called Italian bacon, records from the 15th century indicate its routine purchase to provision long ocean voyages. This places pancetta firmly in the tradition of curing meats with salt that developed around the Mediterranean.
The making of pancetta, a cured, unsmoked meat, is part of a well-established system for preserving meats with salt dating back to at least 900 B.C. and the Greek salt gardens. The Romans adapted this practice for preserving pork as early as 200 B.C. In practice, nitrates in the curing salts inhibit the growth of bacteria while preserving fat and most of the nutrition in the meat.
Much more is known about the process for making pancetta. Pancetta comes in two basic forms, including “piacentina” from northern Italy and "pancetta Calabrese" from extreme southern Italy. Like American bacon, pancetta comes from pork belly and contains salt and other spices such as nutmeg and fennel. Processors salt the meat, season it with spices, cut it into slabs like bacon or roll and form it, and then dry it for months. The result is a salty, distinct pork flavor with a texture that’s a cross between bacon and soft jerky.