The most prominent cured meat in the Alto Adige region is its smoked prosciutto, known as speck. Not to be confused with the German speck, which is known in Italy as “lardo”, an Italian speck is a prosciutto, which prior to the 18th century was referred to as “bachen”, or bacon, in Tyrol. Here, you see once again the merging of influences characteristic to the foods of this region; the smoking method from the Austrian and Germanic cuisine to the north, and the salting and spices from the Adriatic regions to the south.
North of the Alps, ham is traditionally preserved through smoking techniques. In the south, in regions like Emilia Romagna, prosciuttos are typically air-dried. Tyroleans combine both methods to create their typical Speck Alto Adige: alternately lightly smoked and cured in the fresh mountain air; in keeping with ancient traditions. Historically produced in the local farmhouses, today, modern methods are used to season, smoke and cure the speck.
Like prosciutto, speck is made from the hind leg of a pig, but, unlike prosciutto, speck is deboned before curing. After deboning, it is divided into large sections called “baffe”, which are then salted and cured in a spice mixture, the specifics of which would be carefully guarded by each producer, but typically would include juniper, pine, cinnamon, nutmeg, bay, garlic and coriander. After several weeks of curing, the speck is smoked. Smoking occurs slowly and intermittently, for only 2-3 hours per day, over a period of one week to 3 months. The goal is to allow the flavors of the wood - pine, beech and juniper - to thoroughly permeate the meat. Today, a cold-smoking process is used, in well-ventilated smokehouses that benefit from the cool climate of the higher altitudes in the mountainous region, but historically speck was smoked by hanging the meat in your chimney above your family fire. After smoking, the speck is then aged for approximately 22 weeks, the actual time determined by the final leg weight, before it is ready to enjoy.
Today, the quality of speck produced in Alto Adige is protected by a PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) or, in Italy, IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta)designation. This status assures the buyer that the product has originated and/or produced in Alto Adige (DOP indicated originated AND produced). In the case of speck, the hams must adhere to a strict set of criteria, including fat to lean ratio, weight, and PH. The curing and smoking methods and aging must adhere to specific regulations. The legs that pass the final inspection are branded four times or more on the rind with the Sudtirol logo.
In the Alto Adige, speck often eaten thinly sliced as an antipasti. You will also find it in pastas, risotto, on pizzas, and alongside hearty whole-grain breads. It will sometimes accompany shellfish or scallops, or served simply rolled around a bread stick or a spear of asparagus.