Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Specs on Speck

Speck is smoked proscciutto and I'd never heard of it until last week, when I came across it as an ingredient in some dish. Next day, there it was in the Trader Joe's meat case, so I bought a package. To be frank, I'm not that crazy about prosciutto since it takes forever to chew it up enough to swallow it.

Of course, I had no idea what I'd actually do with it, but it's always good to have hors d'oeuvre fixins during the holidays. Then I was saved by the bell -- literally -- Bob called and invited us over to meet three of their grandsons, along with two of their girlfriends. With a shout of glee, I accepted and grabbed my speck! A tasting panel in the offing!

The panel's ages varied; we had five men and four women, none of whom had ever tasted speck, but all of whom were familiar with prosciutto. Hands-down, we all preferred speck. It has a tougher texture than prosciutto; it has tiny flakes of salt - much like dried beef -- and the same coloring as it, too -- a darker red meat with a whiter fat than prosciutto.

Belatedly curious about what I'd eaten yesterday afternoon, this morning I looked it up. Speck originated in the 1300s in northern Italy and German when it was hung up to smoke inside the peasant's kitchen chimney. Today it's "cold-smoked" (never higher than 68 degrees) in modern, well-ventilated facilities. Traditionally, it's smoked for two or three hours a day -- for three months.

"Speck" in German means "lard" and comes from "bachen" or bacon.

Mario Batalli wrote about speck -- a pork leg is cured in salt and a choice of flavorings -- juniper, pine, cinnamon, nutmeg or coriander over a pine or juniper wood fire. Naturally he touts Speck della Alto-Adige, Italy, which formed a committe that oversees production and name rights and believes theirs to be the only authentic speck to be found.

Don't tell Trader Joe ...

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