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What is Speck? Everything You Need to Know

What is Speck? Everything You Need to Know

Speck's secret can be enclosed in one simple phrase: "Little salt, little smoke, and plenty of fresh mountain air."  Discover how this smoky cured meat is produced,  the story of Recla (our premium speck producer), and how to serve it with our guide below.

WHAT IS SPECK? 

Speck is a type of cured, lightly smoked ham. It's typically made in South Tyrol, a province in northeast Italy known for its snow-capped Dolomite mountains and strong German-Austrian influence. Although a close cousin to prosciutto crudo, speck is worthy of its own distinction when it comes to cured hams.

HOW IS SPECK MADE?

First thing's first: true authentic speck is known as Speck Alto Adige IGP. This label guarantees the product's authenticity and quality, as each ham must be carefully inspected by a governing consortium. There are currently 29 authorized producers of Speck Alto Adige IGP. (Wait, what's IGP? Refresh your knowledge of Italian certifications here.)

It all begins with selecting high-quality raw materials. Only the best pork legs are chosen, sourced from pigs fed a specific diet and raised in a certain way. Strict regulations stipulate how the meat is transported to the production facility, including the fact that it must never be frozen.

After that, each pork leg is carefully rubbed with a spice mix, usually including salt, pepper, juniper berries, and bay leaves. Every producer's spice mix recipe varies slightly, although salt and pepper are always used. Each pork thigh cannot contain more than 5% salt to meet the consortium's standards.

Alto Adige

Next, the pork thighs are left to marinate in their spice rubs in cool rooms for up to three weeks. The legs are turned several times to allow the spices to saturate the meat evenly.

One of the key contributors to speck's unique flavor is the smoking process. This is typically done outside, following a special technique that incorporates "a little smoke, and lots of fresh mountain air." The smoking temperature must not exceed 68 degrees Fahrenheit – any higher than that and the smoke won't be able to penetrate the meat!

After smoking, it's off to the curing cellar. The hams are aged for about 22 weeks in cool, well-ventilated rooms. The spice rub layer creates a sort of protective mold, allowing the speck to maintain some moistness and cure evenly on the inside.

Finally, each pork thigh is inspected by the consortium before it is packaged and shipped to the market!

WHAT DOES IT TASTE LIKE? 

Unlike its prosciutto crudo cousin, speck tends to be browner in color and much denser. It's well-marbled with a highly elastic texture and deep flavor. It has a savory, smoky taste that's laced with spices like juniper and bay leaf. On the nose, it gives off aromas reminiscent of the mountains.

Crostini Speck Asiago Honey | Eataly Magazine

HOW TO SERVE SPECK

Speck is excellent served on its own as a savory snack or antipasto. You could also create a meat and cheese board pairing slices of speck with cheese like Piave DOP, which has light fruit flavors that contrast perfectly to the smokiness of the speck.

In the kitchen, speck can be used in a variety of dishes. For an authentic South Tyrolean meal, you can use it to make canederli, bread dumplings typical of the Trentino Alto-Adige region. It also pairs well with red radicchio, eggs, and pasta dishes.

Explore our speck recipes below!

Crostini con Speck, Asiago, e Miele
Fusilli con Speck e Radicchio

WHY WE HAVE CHOSEN RECLA SPECK

Here at Eataly, we work with the best small-scale producers to carefully source each of our products. We have chosen to sell Recla's Speck Alto Adige IGP because of their dedication to quality and authentic tradition. A family-run business now in its third generation, Recla has been producing cured meats for nearly 400 years. The first establishment began in 1620 when it was known as Gebrüder Recla, or Recla Brothers.

Today Recla is based in Silandro, between the Ortles and Palla Bianca glaciers. Here the air is very dry, fresh, and pure – an essential ingredient of the Recla recipe since their meats are dried outdoors 90 percent of the time.

The company was among the founders of the Consortium for protection of Speck Alto Adige IGP, a group that works to guarantee the product's authenticity and quality.

Recla Speck Alto Adige IGP

Get a taste at your local Eataly. Need some inspiration? Try this speck recipe or this one.