Speck is the sleeper of the dry-cured ham world. Produced in Northern Italy and Southern Austria from the rear leg of the hog, these boneless hams are aged for at least 22 weeks and up to a year. The hams are cured with juniper and salt and then cold-smoked over beech and maple. The resulting ham is firm, with a sweet herbal flavor and a pronounced smokiness. The name Speck means bacon in German, though speck bears little resemblance to traditional bacon, a fattier cut from the belly of the pig. The Italian Speck, produced in the Alto Adiege region of the country and known locally as baffe, very recently became available in the United States. The Austrian version, which is also available stateside, is a worthy alternative.

a dish featuring speckTraditionally, Speck is part of a feast that includes whole-grain bread, boiled potatoes, pickles, and rich mountain cheeses. It’s also used as a topping for pizza and often accompanies seafood. Very delicious served with fresh figs and melon.

Austrian and Italian Speck can be found at fine delicatessens, and can be ordered online at Ingredients Gourmet Boutique. A domestic version is produced in California by Niman Ranch, which uses naturally raised pork. Austrian Speck can also be ordered from GermanDeli.com.

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