What is Special About Speck?

This specialty ham hails from a province in northeastern Italy, but has a Bavarian background.

For those not familiar with speck, a cured and smoked ham, looking at its origins presents a conundrum.

The German name for bacon, speck originates from South Tyrol, which, although located in northeastern Italy, has both Austrian and German influences.

The region is a young one compared to other European cities, as it was established in 1948. Prior, it was part of the Austro-Hungarian County of Tyrol until 1918, before Italy occupied the region after World War I.

Also known as Südtirol or Alto Adige, South Tyrol is considered one of Italy’s hidden gems. This is due to its mountainous terrain dotted by the scenic Dolomite mountains and year-round mild climate.

Speck Specifics

Because speck meat comes from a pig’s belly, it is often considered Italy’s bacon. Although many have confused this type of ham with prosciutto, specifically Prosciutto Crudo, it has its own unique identity.

La Cucina Italiana defines speck as a cold-cured, lightly smoked ham or bacon typical of the northeastern regions of Italy.

Chef Cesare Casella, owner of Hurleyville, NY-based Casella’s restaurant as well as consultant and educator, considers speck a type of prosciutto.

“It has distinguishing characteristics due to the smoking and spices,” he says. “It also has limited aging, but otherwise is similar to prosciutto.”

Casella says that while smoking provides speck’s unique flavor, it also helps preserve the meat.

According to Bon Appetit, the thinnest slice of this dense ham has big flavor. Speck typically is boned out before it’s rubbed with spices that may include bay leaves and juniper. It is then air dried and lightly smoked before being aged for an intense ham experience unlike any other.

Authentic speck is known as Speck Alto Adige IGP. This label guarantees the product’s authenticity and quality, as each ham must be carefully inspected by a governing consortium.

There are currently 29 authorized producers of Speck Alto Adige IGP. It’s important to note that Speck Alto Adige gained IGP recognition in 1996, and there are specific regulations in its production.

For example, this speck meat must be sourced from pigs that have been raised on a certain diet, and it cannot be frozen for transport. Each pork thigh cannot contain more than 5% salt to meet the consortium’s standards. The meat is deboned prior to curing, then rubbed with a proprietary spice mixture that typically combines salt, juniper, bay leaves and pepper. The meat is then marinated in the rub for three weeks minimum in a room that is temperature controlled, with legs constantly rotated to ensure spices are well distributed and the meat is saturated.

The speck is then lightly smoked at no higher than 68 degrees, typically outside to incorporate mountain air into the process. It is then placed in a cellar for curing, with the aging process taking about 22 weeks. This allows the spice rub to create a type of seal on the meat, locking in moisture.

According to Lizzie Roller, director of merchandising at Murray’s Cheese, based in New York City, speck is unique because it is both cured and smoked.

“I like to say it’s a cross between prosciutto, pancetta and a country ham. While it’s similar to a ham, speck is usually lean meat and with a fat cap on top,” says Roller. “Speck is typically made out of slightly different cuts, usually the front leg — which is known as the shoulder.”

Murray’s speck is produced by a family-owned operation in northeast Italy in the Alto Adige region, where it’s smoked over beechwood fires and rubbed with sea salt until it reaches an ideal taste and texture. The ham is also coated with a mix of juniper, pepper and other spices that create a crust, which Roller says is one of speck’s most unique characteristics, compared to other whole-muscle meats.

“Our speck is then aged for up to 24 weeks in the same region, where the cold air of the Alps meets the Mediterranean breeze, determining its texture and moisture levels which could be dry and fine or chewy and fatty,” says Roller.

Flavors & Characteristics

In appearance, speck has a darker hue and denser texture as compared to Prosciutto Crudo. This meat is marbled and elastic, with a smoky and savory taste that brings out its spices of juniper and bay leaf. Some contend that this meat’s aroma evokes its Dolomite Mountain roots.

There are a number of regional varieties of speck, including:

  • Frühstücksspeck: A German term for breakfast speck.
  • Austria’s Gailtaler speck: This has a PGI or EU-protected designation and has been made since the 15th century in the Gail Valley in Carinthia.
  • Schinkenspeck: In German, the term Schinken means ham, and this is made from a flat cut with fat on one side similar to bacon, then soaked in a juniper and peppercorn brine for many days.
  • Speck Sauris PGI: Originates from Sauris, Friuli, in Italy.
  • Tyrolean Speck: From Austria’s Tyrol region, like Gailtaler this variety has PGI status, and has been made since at least the 15th century..
  • Ukrainian salo: Eastern European cured slabs of pork subcutaneous fat with or without skin and with or without layers of meat.
  • Proshute: An Albanian speck variety.

One of the top providers of IGP speck is Principe Foods, based in Columbia, MO. It describes its speck as a dry-cured smoked ham that has been lightly seasoned for a minimum of 22 weeks with delicate hints of flavor and spices. The meat tends to be a dark, rich color, with pale pink fat; it is distinguished by its cured texture with alpine, smoked aroma as well as a mild/delicate flavor, not overly spiced, very natural and rustic.

Another notable speck provider, La Quercia, based in Norwalk, IA, offers Speck Americano. This version is lightly cold smoked over applewood for a deep, sweet flavor. Produced from Heritage pork that is vegetarian fed and humanely raised, this speck is antibiotic free.

“Our Speck Americano is like all cured meat, as it has experienced tremendous growth in the last three years due to interest in charcuterie boards,” says Rob Sheard, head of marketing for La Quercia. “It is driven from Instagram and TikTok during COVID and hasn’t slowed down.”

He adds that the demographic is shifting.

“There are newer consumers entering the category as well as a younger demographic,” he says. “As a segment of the prosciutto category, speck is growing like everything else.”

New York City’s Murray’s Cheese offers sliced speck produced from pork shoulder. Aged approximately nine months, the meat originates from the Alto Adige province of northeastern Italy. It is seasoned with herbs including juniper and pepper, then smoked before curing.

Serving Suggestions

Speck is most often served as part of a charcuterie or cheese board, although it is also a great flavor enhancer for a wide range of recipes. It is delicious paired with cabbage similar to a corned beef and cabbage dish. Speck also can take the place of prosciutto in a sandwich or salad.

Roller says speck is so versatile and can be enjoyed in a number of ways.

“Slice it up for a charcuterie board, enjoy it on a baguette with cheese or cook it till it’s crispy to top on pasta or salad,” says Roller. “In Italy, speck is often wrapped around a piece of cheese — like a bloomy rind — and then crisped. The meat is rich and adds a lot of flavor to anything you like.”

When thinly sliced, speck can also be served in small slabs as a flavor enhancer to pasta dishes, sauces, soups, stews and vegetables.

Casella recommends serving speck with fruit, such as melon, which complement its smoky flavor.
“It’s also not recommended to cook speck too much, or it will be salty,” he says.

Sheard at La Quercia recommends using speck as a pizza or omelet topping.

As for cheeses, speck has a lightly smoked taste which pairs perfectly with the sweet and nutty flavor of Asiago. It also goes well with harder cheeses that have a Parmesan texture, such as Piave.

Murray’s Cheese recommends bold pairing for its sliced speck to bring out its botanical flavors, such as Taleggio and fig spread.

For an authentic South Tyrolean meal, speck is the perfect addition to canederli, bread dumplings that are common in Italy’s Trentino Alto-Adige region. It also is a good accompaniment to red radicchio dishes.

When it comes to wines, the most common pairing for Speck Alto Adige PGI is with Gewurztraminer, which has a crisp flavor with floral notes, from the village of Tramin, in Alto Adige. Other recommendations include Red Blaye or Red Castillon from Côtes de Bordeaux.

Sheard at La Quercia notes there are always opportunities for marketing and merchandising at the store level, but samplings are best.

At Murray’s, speck is merchandised alongside prosciutto and other cured meats.

“I think more people are discovering Speck as smoked flavors are increasing in popularity,” says Roller.

• • •

Speck and Mushroom Pappardelle

(From Inside the Rustic Kitchen, Emily Kemp)

Delicious speck and mushroom pappardelle pasta made with a simple and delicious creamy sauce and fresh ribbons of pappardelle.

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 4 people


3.5 oz. speck or smoked pancetta cubes
10.5 oz mushrooms
1 cup cream
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove , finely chopped
1.1 lbs fresh pappardelle
a small sprig of thyme
½ Tbsp. Parmesan, freshly grated
1 Tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper, to season


  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add the olive oil to a large pan and fry the mushrooms until browned. Add the speck or pancetta and the finely chopped shallot and garlic along with the thyme leaves.
  2. Fry for a couple minutes then add the cream. Add the fresh pappardelle pasta to the salted water and cook according to package instructions (around 3-4 minutes). Stir the simmering cream sauce for a few minutes until it’s started to thicken slightly. Add a pinch of salt, pepper and the grated Parmesan. Take off the heat and stir.
  3. Drain the pasta and add to the creamy sauce, toss until evenly covered and serve.

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