Speck is South Tyrol

Speck is South Tyrol

Find out which spices are an absolute must, how best to store it, and why you should definitely eat the fat as well.

In addition to lush green meadows and extensive forests, you may also encounter a few pigs while on holiday in Vöran near Meran/Merano. Fifty pigs live year round at the Obertimpflerhof farm on the village edge at an altitude of 1,280 metres. These pigs are perfectly at home in the stable and on the pasture. Fresh mountain air, plenty of space to roam and GMO-free feed ensure excellent meat quality and delicious South Tyrolean Speck.

Some of South Tyrol’s farmers still keep their own pigs, and Franz Innerhofer is one of them. He produces South Tyrolean farmer's Speck, ham, Kaminwurzen cold-smoked sausages, and farmer's salami according to old traditions directly on the farm.

Franz, where do your pigs come from?
We do not breed the pigs ourselves. As a member of Red Rooster, however, the pigs must come from South Tyrol. Ours are born in the Pustertal valley and come to us at the farm after ten to twelve weeks.

How do the animals live?
Our pigs are free range, which means that they are free to go outside throughout the year, even in the snow. We feed them with hay and Gruemet (second grass cuttings) and in summer with fresh grass as well. By in large, however, they mainly eat grain, which we buy from GMO-free businesses.

How is your delicious farmer's Speck prepared?
Our pigs are slaughtered at ten to twelve months of age in the neighbouring municipality of Mölten/Meltina. We still process the entire pig into Speck (not just the ham part) as is tradition. We do not use curing salt and nitrite, but instead use sea salt and mainly Himalayan salt.
Curing salt gives the meat a rich red colour and keeps the bacteria in check. However, some do not tolerate the nitrite in the curing salt very well.
Which spices are still a must in Speck preparation?
I'm still using my mother's recipe, which means we still use the same spices as always. The ingredients themselves are also no secret: salt and pepper, juniper, a bit of coriander, bay leaves, a bit of garlic, a pinch of piment. That's all!

How do you smoke the Speck?
Our smoking process also remains unchanged. Traditionally, we smoke with juniper. At two months, we smoke longer than industrial companies. After that we leave the pancetta to mature in a stone cellar for 7 to 8 months and the ham parts for 12 to 14 months.

And that's where the special aroma comes from?
Many factors ensure the delicious aroma. Just as we did in the past, we still cure the meat for three weeks. This means that we salt and turn the meat parts every few days. Industrial producers no longer take this step. Instead, the brine is typically injected directly into the meat.

All these factors, from curing to smoking and storage in the stone cellar, influence the taste and quality. Naturally, of course, the raw material is also different if the pigs have been kept and fed well.

What is the proper way to store Speck?
South Tyrolean Speck tastes best if sliced fresh and consumed immediately. Alternatively, you can buy, vacuum pack and then freeze a small piece. Then you can store it for half a year without any problems.

Remove the Speck from the freezer in due time and let it thaw. Then wrap it in a cotton tea towel and store it in the fridge.

Vacuum packing may only retain 95 percent of the taste, but that's much better than storing the Speck in the cellar.
Why shouldn't the Speck be stored in the cellar?
The problem is that most cellars today are too dry and too warm. 70 to 80 percent humidity in the cellar would be ideal. Otherwise, the Speck dries out in a few weeks, becomes rancid and inedible.

What is the best way to slice Speck?
Like any meat in general, always slice against the fibre. Not too thick and not too thin. Personally, I find that Speck tastes best when I cut it with a good knife and not with a slicing machine. But that is perhaps also just my imagination (laughs).

And of course the fat should be eaten with it?
I always explain this to people at tastings on the farm. If Speck is stored long enough (this is very important) then the white portion tastes really good. The fat is very flavourful and high-quality Speck fat will melt on the tongue.

How do you like to taste your Speck?
I prefer Speck with a good amount of fat: at least half red, half white, and complemented by a good cheese, some potatoes and a glass of red wine. For me, there is nothing better.

Franz Innerhofer welcomes one and all to drop by at any time and take a look at the stable and the smoking cellar – whether during a guided tour of the farm or privately. I don’t know about you, but some delicious South Tyrolean farmer's Speck sure does sound good!
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