“What’s speck?” I found myself asking recently while on a culinary tour of Carmel, CA.
I’m a rather well-traveled guy. I’m a guy who eats everything and I’ve been bumping around this planet long to enough to know a thing or two about food. So I was surprised to hear the phrase “what’s speck?” forming on my lips. How had I never eaten speck before this week? I simply don’t have a good answer for that.
In case you want to join me in asking: “What’s speck?” I’ll answer the question quickly. Speck is a style of Italian cured, smoked meat– a type of salumi in today’s foodie jargon. But my mom would have simply called a plate of speck– cold cuts.
Like I said, I recently had speck for the first time and I’ll never forget the experience. How many foods can you definitively say that you remember the very first time they crossed your palate? Not too many I’d bet. (Pop-Rocks & Shake-a-Puddin’ don’t count as food– so don’t bring them up). When it comes to real food I can pinpoint my first bite of sushi, my introduction to Norwegian whale (yes, I’ve eaten whale) and the moment I lost my (umm) fig cherry (offensive terminology maybe, but I couldn’t resist). The funny thing about this list of mine is that it’s comprised entirely of what I’d call difficult foods. Foods most people say they don’t “like”. This post is not about the foods people don’t like, though that is indeed one of my favorite rants. However, if this were a post about the foods people don’t like I’d say this: adults don’t dislike food. Kids can get away with not liking food but adults simply prefer not to eat certain things. There is a difference.
2011 Tenuta "Sarno 1860" Fiano di Avellino
Pairs well with most seafood especially swordfish, lobster, shellfish; as well as goat cheese, charcuterie.
First Time Foods
I’m sure you can understand a person remembering the first time they ate raw fish. To many of us it just seems counter-intuitive to eat raw fish (especially if you were raised in 1970s America). So the first time revelation of it becomes a life moment. As far as whale goes, I’ll just say this: I would need an entire post to explain how I made the decision to eat whale (in fact I have one here). Let’s just suffice it to say, I never want to be accused of cultural elitism. So when in Rome (or Norway) I honor the local customs as best I can.
Figs however are a different story. Figs are ubiquitous, right? Well, as a Californian I would say yes. Figs are everywhere. They grow on trees– everywhere. There are so many figs in my neighborhood that I simply refuse to actually buy figs. Hmmm. Does that make me a cultural elitist? It just might because figs don’t grow on trees everywhere.
Growing up, the only figs I knew were the chewy little bits in granola, and the jammy stuff inside Fig Newtons. As a kid I did not like figs and I grew into an adult who simply preferred not to eat figs. Then we bought a house in California. It had a fig a tree that changed my notion of figs. It happened on the very first bite of the very first fresh fig I’d ever eaten. That fig was so ripe that the jammy juice was oozing out from its deeply purple black skin (which was just firm enough to contain the delicious mush within). That was some kinda life changing fig. I now prefer figs any which way I can get them. Raw, cooked, even fried– you name it. I’m particularly fond of the classic combination of figs and prosciutto.
Which is why I so vividly recall the first moment I tasted speck. Speck is a lot like Parma prosciutto, but it’s firmer and more salty because it’s often made from less glamorous cuts of meat. It also has a slight hint of smokiness because it’s pressed and aged for 6 months in a cold-smoke process typical of the Alto Adige area of Northern Italy. Eat speck with figs and I promise you will remember the experience.
Speck stands up to big flavors, so I threw together a salad with goat cheese dressing and lots of big flavors. There’s also an Italian wine today to round out the experience, 2011 Tenuta “Sarno 1860” Fiano di Avellino. GREG