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The master of the senses

Lukas Spada has been monitoring the quality of Speck Alto Adige PGI for over 20 years. The most important tools of his trade? A horse bone and an ultra-sensitive nose.

He uses the sharpened bone, which looks a bit like a giant needle, to bore a hole in the ham. Working carefully, he draws it out again, sniffs it with his eyes closed and confirms with a slight nod of the head: this Speck Alto Adige meets the highest standards.

The horse bone, known as a “ham needle”, enjoys a venerable tradition in the butcher’s trade. “No instrument, regardless of how high-tech it is, can replace this natural tool,” says the food inspector. Because the bone is porous, it absorbs aromas in a matter of seconds and releases them just as quickly, allowing any number of Speck hams to be tested without generating conflicting smells.

Indebted to tradition

Lukas Spada works for the independent Italian quality control institute IFCQ (Istituto Friulano Controllo Qualità), which tests the quality of Speck Alto Adige PGI. “PGI” stands for “Protected Geographical Indication”, a European seal of quality reserved for products that are made in a certain region using a traditional method. In order to preserve the unique Speck Alto Adige, a handful of producers formulated strict criteria for their South Tyrolean smoked ham and obtained the PGI seal of quality for it in 1996. Lukas Spada is one of the inspectors who monitor compliance with these criteria: only if a product meets the specifications in terms of maturing time, lean/fat ratio and salt content will the producer be allowed to brand their ham with the “Alto Adige” mark.

Looking, smelling, feeling, tasting

There are now 28 producers in South Tyrol following the PGI requirements. Lukas Spada turns up unannounced on their premises several times a month. In the incoming goods area, he measures the temperature of the raw pork legs. He scrutinises all the work steps, right the way through to labelling. He also takes samples for the lab in order to make sure, for example, that excessive salt is not being used for curing and the products are free from artificial herbs and spices. But it is actually his five senses, which he can rely on totally, that tell him the most: “I look, smell, feel, taste…” And the fifth sense? “…is probably my experience.”

A natural process

It takes 22 to 24 weeks on average for a leg of pork to mature into a piece of Speck Alto Adige PGI. Made just like it used to be in a farmhouse cellar, the process draws heavily on its traditional conditions. The smoke in the smokehouse is made using chips of low-resin beechwood, while fresh air from outside takes care of the drying. Although the finished Speck Alto Adige ham weighs less than a third of the original pork leg, it packs a real aromatic punch and is amongst the tastiest but also the longest-lasting specialities to come out of South Tyrol.

Pleasure with care

What’s the best way to store Speck Alto Adige?

If you don’t have a cellar, you can keep it in the fridge in a damp tea towel. If you bought it vacuum-packed, you should let it breathe for at least an hour at room temperature after opening before you eat it.

What’s your favourite accompaniment to some Speck Alto Adige?

A hunk of South Tyrolean mountain cheese and a slice of traditional Vinschger Paarl bread.


Text: Edith Runer

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