Knödel, Apfel & Speck | Posted: 07 July 2015
Self-guided walking holidays in Italy
Self-guided walking holidays in Italy
Self-guided walking holidays in Italy

I know this may sound like a German firm of solicitors, but in fact Knödel, Apfel and Speck are three important foods that have long characterised the wonderful cuisine of Italy's South Tyrol.

From as long ago as 1200AD, South Tyroleans have been well-versed in the art of making Speck, a dry-cured, lightly smoked ham. Traditionally, in northern Europe, meat was preserved by smoking, while in the lands of the southern Mediterranean salting was the preferred option. Intriguingly, and perhaps not surprisingly, given their position somewhere in between, the South Tyroleans salted and smoked theirs, producing a dry-cured ham that combined the features of both. From that day forward, the three secrets of producing fine Speck have been a little salt, a little cold smoke and plenty of fresh air.

While once considered a precious food to aid survival through the harsh winter months, Speck now belongs on every platter of South Tyrolean cold cuts, as well as being a flavour-enhancing ingredient in many a regional recipe. The declining population of pigs, however, has led to something of a crisis, at least as far as locally produced hams are concerned. So, given the increasing levels of imported meat, artisan producers of genuine, South Tyrolean Bauernspeck have gained in importance. Their product, characterised by fine marbling and a crumbly consistency, carries PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) status and must be produced from pigs which are born and reared – using only GM-free fodder – on farms in the region.

Virtually the whole animal is used: in addition to the hind leg, the neck, shoulder, chops and belly are all processed into Speck. But the flavour depends not just on the cut of meat itself, but also on the way it is cut, whether sliced by machine (thinly or thickly, with or without the ‘crust’); or diced, cut into squares or pared into ‘matchsticks’ by hand.

The method chosen depends on the meal you are preparing: if you break your walk for some well-earned sustenance at a South Tyrolean mountain hut, you will doubtless be served a hunk as thick as your hand, which you ‘carve’ yourself; whereas finely diced Speck is combined with herbs, eggs and breadcrumbs to create the most popular dish of the region, traditional Knödel, or dumplings.

Related Holidays

The High Alpine Way

Enjoy plenty of hearty Knödel and tasty Speck on a fabulous walking holiday that follows the High Alpine Way from Lake Reschen near Italy's northern border with Austria to the imposing Schloss (Castle) Juval at the mouth of the dramatic Val di Senales.

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in the South Tyrol >

After a long day’s walk, nothing will fortify weary limbs more than a starter of Speckknödelsuppe (small Knödel in a clear broth), followed by Ziegenbraten (slow roasted goat steaks with hearty full-sized Knödel). And if you’ve still room for dessert, what better than an Apfel strudel made from locally-grown apples.

Almost a million tonnes of fruit are harvested from South Tyrol’s apple trees between mid-August and the end of October, which corresponds roughly to one in every ten apples eaten in Europe, and every third one crunched and munched in Italy.

Numbers aside, this is a serious undertaking, and growers have had to develop their expertise to counteract the vagaries of the elements. Although 300 days of sunshine impart the required sweetness to each harvest, frost can strike the valleys as late as May and particularly chilly nights can be devastating. So when temperatures drop, overhead irrigation systems are activated, cocooning the fragile blossom in delicate cases of ice, to thaw out in the morning sun.

It is ancient perceived wisdom that apples promote good health, and new positive properties have been discovered recently, such as their ability to protect from the sun due to valuable carotenoids. Long ripening times and the region’s remarkable microclimate – the Val Venosta, for example, gets the same rainfall as Sicily – give the 16 varieties grown here their characteristic fresh aroma, tangy flavour and crunchy pulp.

With Knödel, Apfel and Speck leading the way, it is little wonder that the South Tyrol continues to be a mecca for gourmets and aficionados of unadulterated food.

Shirley Booth
16 varieties of apples are grown.
23/07/2015 21:25:24

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