Speck, the lightly smoked, cured ham is one of the most celebrated foods in South Tyrol or Alto Adige, a region in northern Italy that borders Switzerland and Austria. This unique Italian ham has a distinct flavor as a result of the combination of traditional Northern European smoking methods and the outdoor curing techniques of the Mediterranean.
It comes as no surprise that to this day producers of Speck abide by the ancient rule of “a little salt, a little smoke and a lot of fresh air.” Let’s take a look at the delicate production process to give you an idea of what makes Speck special.
Did you know? According to records of Tyrolean princes and butchers, the origins of Speck date back to the 1200 as Speck was featured as the main course for feasts and banquets.
5 Stages of Production
In 1992, the organization for producers of Speck Alto Adige, known as the Consorzio Tutela Speck Alto Adige, was established by 17 producers, initially under the administration of the Bolzano, Italy, Chamber of Commerce. Working closely with various local and national institutions, the consortium established strict controls for all five stages of production.
1. High quality raw materials
To achieve an exceptional finished product means using the highest-quality raw materials. Producers use only lean, firm pork thighs from pigs raised on renowned, quality-controlled farms that are sealed on the rind with the date production as a guarantee, and reference for later inspections.
2. Flavoring and curing
Flavored with a special blend of aromatic herbs and spices, including salt, pepper, juniper, rosemary, and laurel, Speck hams are cured for three weeks at controlled temperatures and turned periodically to ensure the curing permeates the meat.
While producers add their own personal touch on their ham by using their own secret recipes, often handed down for generations, the only restriction is that the final salt content must not exceed 5 percent.
3. Smoking and drying
After the curing process, the hams are exposed alternately to smoking and drying. Light smoking takes place at mild temperatures, never exceeding 20C/68F, and done over low-resin wood to provide a pleasantly mild flavor.
4. Slowly aged
The smoked hams are hung to dry in rooms. It is during this stage that the clean, fresh air of the South Tyrolean mountain valleys plays a part in contributing to the unique flavors of the Speck. The aging process, which lasts about 22 weeks, is ultimately determined by the final weight of each ham. During that time, Speck hams lose part of their initial weight and acquire their characteristically firm consistency.
5. Strict controls
To guarantee the quality and authenticity of Speck Alto Adige, inspectors may visit the production sites at any time to ensure that procedures are in compliance. Finally, only hams that meet the stringent production criteria are fire-branded with the Speck Alto Adige seal.
Further assurance of the quality is the well-respected IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta / Protected Geographical Indication) label that identifies products that have been produced in a specific area.
Ways to enjoy Speck
Speck Alto Adige, in its vacuum-sealed package, can be stored for many months in the fridge. When you first open the package, allow the Speck to “breathe” at room temperature for a few hours before eating it as this enables the Speck to develop its full aroma.
Once unpackaged Speck can be kept in the fridge for a few weeks wrapped in a piece of cloth or placed between two soup dishes, always making sure it isn’t placed next to pungent foods.
While most enjoy thinly sliced Speck, there are many uses of it in the kitchen, which include Speck that’s diced and julienne. However, for the best results, always cut the Speck perpendicular to the grain.
Recipe: Canederli with Speck (Bread dumplings with speck), a typical dish from South Tyrol
(Serving: 4 people)
100 g diced Speck Alto Adige IGP
200 g white bread (diced)
40 g flour 50 g braised onions
1 tbs. finely chopped chives or parsley
3 eggs milk
Salt to taste
Mix together the diced bread and speck, flour and the braised onions, and season with the salt and parsley (or chives).
Add the eggs and some milk and bring the mixture together until all the ingredients have combined well.
Let it rest for 10 minutes, then shape the dumplings and cook for 8-10 minutes in salted water.
When cooked, remove them with a slotted spoon. Place 2 canederli in each bowl with stock and serve hot. Here’s a short video to show you how easy it is to make this dish. Enjoy!
Here are more recipes with Speck. If you have other recipes using Speck, share them with us in the comments below.