The step-by-step specialty ham production process

To make outstanding quality speck,
producers must use only premium ingredients

Only speck that has been created in accordance with the traditional methods may bear the quality seal of approval Speck Alto Adige PGI. Speck Alto Adige PGI owes its supreme quality to the traditional principle “use a little salt, a little smoke and lots of fresh mountain air.”

Production & Smoking Speck

The smoked ham production process in South Tyrol combines two methods into one: the Mediterranean approach and the Northern European one. The unique feature of the Mediterranean method is the dehydration process, which uses salt and air-drying to pull the water out of the ham hock; the result is air-dried ham. The Northern method, on the other hand, utilizes techniques such as salting, seasoning and smoking to conserve the ham.

As a country that melds two different cultures, South Tyrol has created its own typical production process. It combines both ham production methods, i.e. smoking and air-drying and it thus reaps the benefits of both. It is this symbiosis that makes Speck from South Tyrol so unique and unmistakably authentic. All producers still safeguard their secret family recipes for smoked ham today and they are handed down from generation to generation.

The large and the small producers of Speck Alto Adige PGI share one unique trait: their artisanal skilfulness and their strict compliance with the provisions for traditional South Tyrolean smoked ham production. Stringent inspections guarantee the best possible quality. The production of South Tyrolean Speck is an art all to itself, which takes five concisely coordinated phases: from the selection of the raw material to seasoning and smoking of the speck to the ham curing process and the final inspection.

 

The entire step-by-step process
has to be completed to create this specialty ham:

Step 1Step 1: Careful Selection of the Raw Material  
It all begins with the choice of the raw material. The attainment of great quality hinges on the selection of a premium base product. In South Tyrol, the production of speck complies with concisely defined instructions. To make certain that the speck retains the hallmarks of a true specialty, numerous factors - from the diet the pigs are fed to the curing the meat – have to work together perfectly. The speck producers of South Tyrol are keenly aware of these facts and have been practicing this principle for decades. Hence, they only use lean, full meat thighs from pigs that have been properly raised to produce Speck Alto Adige. Careful Selection of the Raw Material These thighs are selected in compliance with stringent quality criteria and cut in accordance with traditional methods. Even the transportation conditions for the raw material meat are subject to strict regulations. For instance, it is not permitted to import livestock or frozen meat for the production of Speck Alto Adige PGI. All ham is produced exclusively from pig thighs that have passed through concisely defined inspections. This is the only way to ensure compliance with the high quality standards to be met in the production process and to obtain the specific taste of Speck Alto Adige. The hams are marked with the production start date, which is a guarantee that provides a basis for future inspections and the time allotted for curing that cannot be deleted. It also allows consumers to track the history of the product.
Step 2Step 2: Typically Seasoned  
The typical seasoning crust is the one ingredient that gives Speck Alto Adige PGI its very special aroma. The fragrance of the carefully applied rub on the hams exudes the aroma of juniper berries, rosemary, oregano and bay leaves. Some producers also add garlic, coriander or cumin. While the basic ingredients in this ham production process, such as salt and pepper, are always the same, there are vast differences between the individual artisans, when it comes to the composition of the special seasonings. The individual spices used by the producer add a very personal touch to the speck. Typically Seasoned Prior to smoking, the ham hocks are marinated in their rubs in cool rooms for up to three weeks. During that time, the hams are turned several times to allow the marinate crust to penetrate the meat. The turning frequency during the ham speck production depends on the speck producer’s individual recipe. While some prefer to baste the marinate over the sides of the speck repeatedly, others allow it to drain. The finished product must not contain more than 5% of salt. The seasoning used in the production of Speck Alto Adige is based on each producer’s own recipe, which is a strictly guarded family secret that is handed down from generation to generation. This is what makes each piece of speck so unique.
Step 3Step 3: Typically Smoked  
The smoking of the speck, after the curing process, is one of the key contributors to the flavour of the product. The entire hams are carefully smoked in the traditional manner, following the golden rule: use little smoke and lots of fresh mountain air. The ham hocks are finished in an alternating process of lightly smoking over low resin wood and air-drying. This is the part of the production process that gives Speck Alto Adige PGI its unrivalled mild taste. Typically Smoked Beech wood is still the primary fuel used for the speck smoking process. The smoke temperature must not exceed 20 degrees Celsius. This allows the smoke to penetrate the pores. If the temperature were higher, they would close. The hams are exposed to light smoke for a while; then to the fresh South Tyrolean mountain air. This process is repeated until the ham is done and is the only method that will ensure that it develops its unique aroma: wonderfully savoury and mild. Simply irresistible!
Step 4Step 4: Typically Cured  
After smoking, Speck Alto Adige needs some time to cure quietly and mature into a one-of-a-kind specialty in harmony with nature. In the past, it achieved maturity during the ham production phase in the cellars of South Tyrolean farms, were temperatures were consistently cool and provided the optimum level of moisture. Even today, hams are still matured in well ventilated rooms filled with healthful South Tyrolean mountain air. The time to maturity depends on the weight of the hams and averages 22 weeks. During this time, the speck loses about a third of its original weight and thus acquires its typical firm structure. During this phase of the ham production process, a natural, aroma enhancing edible layer of mould develops on the air-dried ham, which is washed off once the ham has cured completely. Typically Cured It is an indication that the maturation conditions are optimum and that the speck is of premium quality. The layer protects the ham from drying out too much during the curing phase, which would result in the formation of dried-out edges on the surface. Thanks to the mould, the speck cures evenly on the inside. It is also a major factor that gives this air-dried ham its unique flavour since it rounds out the intense taste notes resulting from the smoking process and the seasoning. This is how Speck Alto Adige acquires its typical flavour – mild, balanced and a little nutty.
Step 5Step 5: Stringent quality checks yield top quality  
You get exactly what the brand mark promises: consumers can rely on the fact that stringent quality checks are conducted during the production of Speck Alto Adige PGI before the quality seal of approval is applied. In order to be able to guarantee the quality and authenticity of Speck Alto Adige, the Speck Alto Adige Consortium, in partnership with the independent auditing institution INEQ (Istituto Nord Est Qualità) has developed a quality control system that warrants compliance with all quality criteria – from the choice of meat to the production of the ham to the ready-to-sell speck product. Stringent quality checks The auditors have full access to the production sites at any time. During and after the smoked ham production process they verify the time allowed to cure the ham, the balance between lean and fat content, the salt content, the consistency, fragrance and of course, the flavour of the product. Only smoked ham that complies with all quality criteria and passed through all inspections will be branded with the South Tyrol logo in several places of the rind. Only this quality speck may be sold with the South Tyrol quality seal of approval in green. Hence, the brand “Speck Alto Adige PGI” guarantees the supreme quality and absolute authenticity of the Speck.