Let’s Talk About Speck, Baby

There were two things on offer pretty much every day during my hiking trip in the Dolomites:  Strudel and Speck.  Considering I don’t generally have a sweet tooth, there were days I passed on the Strudel (oh, the horror!), but I never missed an opportunity to indulge in Speck.

Simply Speck
Simply Speck

Speck is a smoked and cured ham from the province of Alto Adige (also called South Tyrol) in northern Italy, bordering Austria. The meat comes from the hind leg of a pig (as does Prosciutto) and is rubbed with spices, such as juniper, rosemary, salt, pepper, and bay leaf, and dry cured for three weeks before being smoked and aged.

After a little research, I found out that the smoking process is very gentle for Speck, and is done at carefully controlled temperatures so that the meat remains sweet while taking on the mild smoky flavor. Smoking takes place over several months for a few hours at a time. This is some high maintenance ham!

Speck ages for six months in ventilated rooms that let the Alpine air in, helping to mellow and balance the flavors.  If you’ve breathed in that Alpine air yourself, you can just imagine it soothing the meat and making it taste better. Speck has an “IGP” (Indication of Geographic Protection) for Alto Adige, which means that how it’s made is carefully regulated.

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Alpine Air for the win!

Just like the Dolomites, Speck combines the traditions of Northern Europe, where hams are more heavily smoked, with the Mediterranean, where hams are subtler in flavor. It’s truly the best of both worlds.  (To eliminate any cultural confusion, in German Speck generally refers to pork fat, or lard, and is not the same as Italian IGP Speck.)

Speck is insanely delicious, and can be found at restaurants and rifugios* all over the Dolomites. I had it simply sliced thin with rustic mountain bread and served with cheeses and vegetables, on pizza, cooked in pasta and risotto, and in the heavenly bread dumplings called Canederli. It adds much more flavor than Prosciutto, but doesn’t overwhelm as much as bacon.  Believe it or not, you can find it on Amazon, and I am sure you can purchase it at specialty stores in your area. I myself am dreaming of adding it to a mushroom frittata next weekend. Buon Appetito!

*Side Note:  Rifugi are mountain huts, mostly owned by the Italian hiking organization (Club Alpine Italiano) and family run, where you can stop in for an espresso or a beer, sit down for a hearty meal, or reserve a bed for the night. Most are only accessible via foot. These are not your average base lodge cafeterias. The food here is varied, and you’re sure to get a soulful, satisfying meal and friendly Alpine hospitality.

Discovering the Boston Dining Scene; The Butcher Shop

Screen Shot 2018-01-21 at 10.26.51 PMMassachusetts is one of my biggest markets for wine sales, so I have been spending more time in Boston than when I was a Connecticut high school kid kicking around Faneuil Hall. My main objective when in town is to visit restaurants and fine wine shops in hopes that they will find a place on their list or their shelves for my selection of California wines.  Selling wine all day can make a girl seriously hungry, so my secondary objective is exploring the local restaurant scene for some well earned drinks and dinner.

Having lived in New York City for 25+ years, I have a high standard for dining out; it’s what we do best in New York. The first restaurant that opened my eyes to the possibilities of Boston dining, was a bit of a lucky break. On a bitter, shivering cold Saturday night in December, my friend snagged us a last minute reservation at The Butcher Shop. I was so busy working and hosting wine tastings that I didn’t even research the place, which is totally unlike me. I honestly wasn’t expecting anything special, focusing solely on the chance to catch up with a good friend. But just walking in to The Butcher Shop on a cold winter night makes you feel welcome and cozy, and warm to the core.

The various cuts of meat, sausages, and salumi are on display in retail cases — this is an actual butcher shop after all — and there is a giant butcher block in the back where guests congregate to wait for their tables. After a glass of wine at the butcher block, my friend and I were seated at a high top table and promptly ordered a selection of pate and terrine, accompanied by a few more glasses of wine.  Keep ‘em coming, it’s Saturday!

Terrine is absolute heaven to me, and we enjoyed our selections fully, with a deliciously crusty baguette, before even thinking about ordering a main course. I didn’t feel that hungry but ended up ordering the prime sirloin, medium rare, served with fingerling potatoes and sautéed spinach. Our server may as well have put my plate back in rotation after I was done, because there was not a trace of food left on it. Simple, perfectly prepared and delicious food served in a causal atmosphere — my favorite way to eat. This place had my heart.

Next visit, I will dig deeper in to the wine list, which is extensive and covers old and new world regions, but mostly old world. This time, we opted to go by the glass and try some of the nightly specials. The good news (and believe me, this is not generally the case) is there are plenty of exceptional options available by the glass.

The footnote to all of this, is that I started reading Barbara Lynch’s book, “Out of Line: A Life of Playing with Fire” about a week after this memorable experience at The Butcher Shop. I hadn’t realized at the time that this was one of Lynch’s restaurants. It all started to come together as I tore through the pages of the book, and I vowed to try more of Barbara’s restaurants during my visits to Boston.

I have since been to No. 9 Park, another Barbara Lynch restaurant, and am attending a book club to discuss “Out of Line” in a few weeks time. More on that later, but for now I suggest you don’t miss the food and wine experience at The Butcher Shop if you find yourself in Boston. Special shoutout to my friend Deb for taking me there!

The Butcher Shop

552 Tremont Street

Boston, MA 02118

www.thebutchershopboston.com