Speck is a distinctively juniper-flavored ham originally from Tyrol, a historical region that since 1918 partially lies in Austria and partially in Italy. Speck's origins at the intersection of two culinary worlds is reflected in its synthesis of Italian salt-curing and central European smoking.
The first historical mention of Speck dell'Alto Adige was in the early 1300s when some of the current production techniques were already in use. "Speck dell'Alto Adige (Südtiroler Speck)" is now a protected geographic designation with PGI status.
Like prosciutto and other hams, speck is made from the hind leg of the pig, but, unlike other prosciutti, speck is boned before curing.
A leg of pork is deboned and divided into large sections called "baffe", and then cured in salt and various spice combination which may include garlic, bay leaves, juniper berries, nutmeg and other spices, and then rested for a period of several weeks. After this the smoking process begins.
Speck is cold-smoked slowly and intermittently for two or three hours a day for a period of roughly a week using woods such as beech at temperatures that never exceed 20°C (68°F).
The speck is then matured for five months.
The production process of Speck Alto Adige cannot depart from the approved method that complies with the guidelines filed in Brussels for the Protected Geographical Indication.
If the salt exceeds 5% in the final product, the speck cannot be sold as Speck Alto Adige.
The eight stages
1. Removing the bone
6. Mold formation
The most important element in a superior speck is the choice of the raw ingredients, followed by the seal showing the date of production, and the blend of spices. In a process that must follow strict guidelines, each individual producer can personalize his product in the flavoring phase, deciding what spices to use according to secret recipes handed down through the generations.
The flavor is also influenced by the corning and smoking, which is done using low-resin wood at a smoke temperature of 20°C.
Only fire-branded speck is PGI Speck Alto Adige.
The hams are then aged and periodically exposed to the bracing air of the South Tyrol valleys, giving the speck a particularly light and mildly smoky flavor. Ageing is done in special areas, kept under strict temperature and humidity controls. An effective control system ensures that the EN45011 regulations set forth by the European Union are scrupulously followed.