Alto Adige's best-kept secret, along with Ötzi.
Speck (bacon in German) is a product of the green, mountainous region of Northern Italy, Alto Adige, in English - South Tyrol. Bordering Austria and Switzerland to the North, Alto Adige swings between German, Italian and Ladin culture, both German and Italian languages are studied in schools here and spoken throughout. In Alto Adige, one can clearly see the Austrian influence in architecture, culture and cuisine, even road signs are bilingual.
The region has a checkered past, having belonged to Rome, Austria, Germany and Italy, in fact many traditional South Tyroleans still see themselves as 'separate' from the rest of Italy with South Tyrol entitled to a particular state of independence financially.
There is a slightly stronger Italian culture in the larger towns like Bolzano and Trento but step inside a bakery and you'll be transported over the close-by Austrian border or step into a hill-side restaurant and tankards of beer are flowing amongst wooden tables with table cloths of dainty Tyrolean embroidery.
Speck is I.G.P. (defined and protected geographically), made exclusively from pork leg of the region, it's brined for 3 weeks in juniper berries, rosemary and bay leaves, then smoked and matured for 22 weeks. With a particular, next-level flavour to bestie Prosciutto Crudo, Speck, in contrast, is more intense in colour, texture and taste, thus is often added as tiny cubes to pasta, dumplings (canederli), or gnocchi, lifting the umami and salty flavour.
Speck can be sliced thinly and served on an antipasti board (tagliere) with local cheeses like the delicate cow milk cheese Casolet, alongside a couple of pickled gherkins and Tyrolean breads like Schüttelbrot, crunchy rye crackers flavoured with cumin and fennel, or hard, dark rye-bread slices.
When in South Tyrol, or anywhere in Italy, order a tagliere and you will not be let down. It is one of our favourite ways to jump straight into local tastes and cultures, ten tastes in one go... a foodie explorer or discerning traveller's dream.
Look around and point to what 'they' are having, especially if the menu is in German and you aren't fluent. Don't expect a menu in English here, especially if you are dining out of town. When in South Tyrol, go with the beers and the local wines, the clear Alpine sunshine, cowbells jingling and soft respectable chatter, people are not loud here, there is a fine art to everything.
Pair Speck beautifully with these local reds:
soft, juicy Pinot Nero Alto Adige or full-bodied Alto Adige Lagrein Doc
and these Tyrolean whites:
floral Müller Thurgau or fruity and aromatic Gewurtztraminer
Speck and gorgonzola, on pizza or in lasagne,
Speck and radicchio, in risotto or as an antipasto,
Speck and brie, as a classic pizza topping,
Speck and walnuts, in pasta like tagliatelle or in warm salads,
Speck and porcini mushrooms, a classic Autumn taste, on anywhere to be honest.
New blog post on the horizon: What to order in Bolzano.