The art of speck, in Alto Adige
What people eat, and how they make it, tells us a lot about the history, customs and the spirit of a place. Speck, the ham made in the border region of Alto Adige, is the delicious result of what happens when the culinary cultures of the mountains and the Mediterranean meet.
A little smoke, a little salt and a lot of air
Speck is made by combining two methods of preserving meat: smoking (a technique typical of Northern Europe) and salt-curing (which is common in more Southern regions).
The first recorded mention of speck dates back to the 13th century and describes how meat was preserved to ensure families had a supply of meat to eat throughout the year, not only in the immediate aftermath of the butchering of pigs at Christmas time.
To have a well-stocked larder was especially important in the mountains of Alto Adige where, in the winter, communities were often isolated for months.
Alto Adige's speck, made in the area around Bolzano and, in particular, in Val Senales and Val Pusteria, has been awarded IGP status
What to eat with your speck
Ideally, speck is served accompanied by rye bread, or 'Schüttelbrot'; a flat, crisp, bread flavored with coriander, cumin and fennel seeds.
Using the Brettlspeck technique, speck is cut, first into thick slices, and then into vertical strips and presented on a platter with a few gherkins.
There are a number of festivals devoted to the specialty. The Speckfest in S. Maddalena in Val di Funes is one of the most popular. Each year, during the first weekend of October, thousands of speck fans descend upon the little town to devour the delicacy.
Another important festival is held in Bolzano in mid May, the time of year when the speck has completed its seasoning and is ready to eat.
Best buys in Bolzano
- Giuliano Masè (via Goethe 15, tel. 0471/978685): is famous for his würstel, kaminwürze, and charcuterie made with wild game. Customers travel for miles to buy his speck, produced in the family's "laboratory" in Val Rendena, where the meat is left to season in the mountain air. Those in the know ask for his Bauernspeck, which is still produced according to the centuries old tradition, with the half carcass of the pig.
- Peter Egger (piazza Erbe 7, 0471/975535): makes a vast assortment of cold meats.
- Weissensteiner (tel. 0471/345188): you'll need to take the Renon cable car to Soprabolzano to reach the butcher shop which sells Franz Lang's artisan made speck
- Heinrich Grandi (via Bottai 18, tel.0471/976148) has been baking over 40 different types of bread for 50 years. The bread with fennel seeds, rye bread and the disk shaped schuttelbröt are especially delicious.
- Tammerle (piazza Gries 13, tel. 0471/281659) is another excellent bakery which sells traditional breads and a superb speck too.
Brunico's grand master of speck
Karl Bernardi runs the family business founded by his great grandfather Karl Oberhofer (the first producer of tinned meat in Alto Adige). His delectable speck, made with pork loin, shoulder and chuck, is now a patented brand. In his "laboratory", in Brunico, he produces wonderful würstel, smoked ham, Kaminwurzen goulash, venison goulash and goulash soup too.
Bernardi has recently opened a wine bar next to his butchers shop in Via Stuck 6, where customers can taste his seasoned meats, accompanied by a selection of the region's wines. In the summer, you can eat and drink outside. In the winter, the cellars in which the speck is matured provide the perfect venue for tastings.
Alto Adige shopping spree
If you're in Rio di Pusteria, stop off at Fran Pichler's butcher shop (via K. Lanz, 68 o tel. 0472849721) which has a vast choice of typical Tyrolean products and one of the finest specks in the whole of Alto Adige.
In San Vigilio carnivores should go to Call (strada Lanz, 20 o tel. 0474501041), where they'll find a range of locally sourced meats and typical cold cuts from Alto Adige; from speck to würstel and Kaminwurze (small smoked sausages)
Plan Panetteria (via Fanes, 4 o tel. 0474501015) bakes a tempting selection of pastries and breads, including strudel, krapfen, rye breads and Bavarian Brezel.
There's a "Limited Edition" speck too: the Bauernspeck, made with the meat from pigs bred in the masi of Alto Adige. You can purchase this highly prized delicacy from Macelleria Kofler ( Malgasott 2 Senale San Felice Tel + 39 0463 885032), a family-run butchers which, for more than 30 years, has been producing perfectly smoked and seasoned pork.
The chance to stock up on speck is not the only reason to take a break in Bolzano, check out our Bite-Size Guide to Bolzano
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