Speck – A South Tyrolean specialty that’s no small thing

I love to try new foods when I am traveling, don’t you?  And I am delighted if I can find them locally when I get home.  I recently had a wonderful trip to the South Tyrol region of Northern Italy and was introduced to Speck Alto Adige. 

Speck, as it is commonly called, is a lightly salted and smoked pork that is unique to this region.  While new to me, it is hardly new with records documenting production dating back to 1200 AD.  The name likely originates from German, “spek” and ”spec” meaning fat, something thick.  It’s distinctive flavor results from the spice rub containing juniper and bay leaf, and production that follows the traditional rule of “a little salt, a little smoke and a lot of fresh air.”  Speck is much more than a delicious cured ham, it is a part of the culture and traditional fare in the South Tyrol.

One evening I tried speck as part of a meat and cheese platter which is typically served along with pickles, bread and wine. It was thinly sliced which brings out the distinct robust flavor.  Then much to my surprise and delight, it was served again at breakfast along with cantaloupe melon.  What a delicious combination of sweet and savory flavors, and from that point forward I was hooked.  As we traveled in the region I enjoyed a thick slice of speck as a main course, thinner slices in salads, and fried pieces paired with eggs at breakfast.  You can eat it by the slice and include it meals using these recipes.

Speck is celebrated at an annual festival, SpeckFest. in Northern Italy and widely available throughout the region.  But you don’t need to travel to enjoy this Tyrolean treat.  Speck is available locally in Brno at supermarkets and specialty shops.  Be sure to look for Tiroler Speck g.g.A. / IGP indicating it is an authentic product obtained from high-quality ingredients and using specific processing methods.

As cured pork meat, along with protein, speck provides a lot of fat and salt, so aim to include small amounts as part of meals that include lots of vegetables, fruits and whole grains.  With a big flavor, a little bit goes a long way to enhance many foods, and I encourage you to share your experience with this Specktacular food!

Special thanks to Urs Zemp for his contributions to this posting.

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Victoria Hawk is an American Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with more than 15 years of clinical and research experience.  She is living in Brno with her husband Jon, who is working here on an expat assignment. Victoria enjoys learning about local foods and plans to share her experience through this blog series.

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