Bacon and speck: their smoky aroma envelops you as soon as you get within mouthwatering distance of these two cured types of meat, both of which are made from pork. At first glance, they may look similar with their thick rectangular-shaped slices but, in actual fact, they are worlds apart. Let's find out the differences between speck and smoked bacon.
Bacon is mainly made from pork belly. However, even today, its production involves various parts of the animal: the belly, of course, but also the back, loin, jowl, and sides. Hence we have back bacon which comes from the loin and is less fatty; jowl bacon, made from the meat around the cheeks (similar to guanciale); cottage bacon, deriving from the shoulder; slab bacon, made from the less expensive side cuts. The bacon produced from belly pork goes under the name of streaky bacon.
Speck is also made from pork but, in this case, the leg is used, after being completely boned, opened up and flattened. Following this process, the piece of meat is long and thin in shape, with a slice that is elongated and narrow.
Area of production
Bacon has various origins and variants. The British bacon offering is generally streaky (made from pork belly) or back bacon. In the United States, the term bacon refers exclusively to the belly cut. Moreover, in the US, bacon may be cold or hot smoked, but invariably smoked. There is no consortium to certify smoked bacon but there are many craft producers. For the purposes of this article, we shall be referring to American-style bacon.
Instead, the Speck Consortium - Consorzio Tutela Speck Alto Adige - gathers 29 producers. South Tyrol is the Italian region on the border with Austria whose 300 days of sunshine a year make it a very favourable area of production. 'PGI Speck Alto Adige' may only be produced in the area of the autonomous province of Bolzano–Alto Adige (South Tyrol).
Bacon is subject to dry processing: described as dry cured, it is carried out by sprinkling the piece of meat with a mixture of salt and spices, allowing enough time for the salt to penetrate the meat and dehydrate it. Alternatively, it is wet-cured in brine, by immersing the meat in a mixture of water, salt and spices. Then the bacon may take one of two different directions: it may either be smoked or unsmoked. The smoked variant is the one which most closely resembles speck.
In the production of speck, the pork leg is rounded at the tip, trimmed and cleaned. Then it is placed in a tub of brine with flavourings and additives where it stands for about 15 days, during which time it is turned over repeatedly. After the brining process, the speck undergoes two alternate phases: smoking and air-drying.
Normally, the smoking process of bacon takes place over a fire of apple wood, which is not so thick as oak or cedar wood. The temperatures used for bacon are higher than those of speck and have to reach 60 degrees at the centre of the cured meat.
The smoking process of speck is lighter and can only be carried out using wood that is not particularly resinous. The beech wood fumes used for smoking should never exceed 20 degrees centigrade. In this way, the smoke can penetrate the ham pores which would otherwise close at higher temperatures.
On the palate
The basic difference is that smoked bacon is hardly ever eaten raw. It is the primary ingredient of a full breakfast, enjoyed crisply fried and accompanied with eggs. The mixture it is sprinkled with contains salt, brown sugar, pepper, juniper and garlic. These are the flavours that linger on the palate, unlike speck which maintains the sweet notes of its marinade with pronounced hints of umami.
The pigs used for producing speck must be born on farms in EU countries and are subject to strict controls. The spicy rind is a typical characteristic of this cured meat and confers a unique aroma. The legs of pork are sprinkled with salt and spices mixed with bay leaves, rosemary and juniper, red garlic, coriander or cumin. With regard to spices, every producer adds a personal touch to their speck, which is a jealously guarded secret often passed down through the family. This makes each piece unique.
Speck can be enjoyed at its best when cut into fine slices with a sharp knife. It pairs up beautifully with the acidity of gherkins. When aged, it produces a light layer of mould which protects the meat and regales a typical rounded and subtle favour with notes of walnuts and spices, bay leaves and rosemary.