Bresaola della Valtellina

Bresaola – Picture courtesy of Consorzio Bresaola della Valtellina

All the artistry of Italian salami can be found in this scrumptious delicacy.

A product with ancient roots which has proved to be suitable for the dietary needs of modern man, both in terms of nutritional content and because of its flavor and means of consumption. Within this dual benefit lies all the strength of Bresaola della Valtellina IGP, a typical salami from the upper Lombardy valley made with salted, seasoned beef to be eaten raw.

It can easily be considered ancient because it comes to us from a production process which has been known to man since time immemorial. The salting and drying of meat was developed for the preservation of foods in times of abundance or when required by the slaughter of an animal, in order to get by through more challenging times when food was scarce. And it’s not by chance that, in addition to bresaola, there are products with similar production techniques in many other parts of the world, from bindenfleisch or salted Swiss meat, a close relative of Italian salami, a traditional product from southern Russia, Slavic lands, Canada, India, and more exotic foods from Africa, Brazil and other parts of South America. Naturally, these are products with very different characteristics, yet this wide range allows us to understand how great a problem the preservation of foods has been for man at all latitudes ever since he began to inhabit the planet.

The first historical references to the preparation of bresaola in Valtellina date back to the XV Century, but the salting and drying of beef goes back even further, when production was limited to families for home use. The origins of the name “bresaola” is uncertain. Some believe it refers to the brace or “embers” (brasa in local dialect) used during drying, while others feel it refers to the salting process.

The bresaola made by these forerunners of modern-day producers was very different from what we find in our days. Back then it was a dry, salty meat suitable for the hearty palates of mountain dwellers. Only in the 1800s in Valtellina do we find the creation of a network of artisan bresaola producers which was stable enough for the fame of this typical local salami to venture outside its area of production and reach the surrounding plains and nearby Switzerland. Only in recent times, with the remarkable refinement of the production techniques – which led to the creation of a softer, sweeter and more palatable salami – has bresaola become a full-fledged “national” product which has succeeded in crossing over the Italian borders to be enjoyed in foreign markets.

Bresaola della Valtellina (which enjoys EU protection as an IGP product, one of Protected Geographical Indication) is made from various cuts of beef (including loin, underloin, and a choice loin cut called the punta d’anca, or haunch tip). As outlined in guidelines established by the consortium which works to protect and promote this product, the production procedure calls for trimming and subsequent dry salting of the meats. The meat is covered with salt containing natural flavorings such as spices, sugar and wine. While working within the consortium’s guidelines, each producer adds the flavorings of their choice, this making for a personal touch which carries on the tradition of each family having its own, special recipe for bresaola. During the salting process, which must last at least 10 days, the meat is rubbed down thoroughly so that the salt penetrates deep below the surface. When this stage has been completed, the meat is wrapped in casings (natural or artificial) to then move on to a drying process done in small boxes of low humidity with a temperature ranging between 20°C and 30°C. Here, the meat is quickly drained of its liquids, particularly in the first days, and prepares for the subsequent ageing process. This is done in cool areas (12-18°C) with higher humidity and the constant exchange with external air. The drying and ageing processes must last at least four weeks.

Bresaola della Valtellina IGP is bright red in color and has very light streaks of fat. It is served in thin slices so that the soft, smooth consistency of the meat may be fully enjoyed. For some time now there have been disputes among culinary experts and bresaola enthusiasts as to how it should be presented at the table. Some insist that it is best eaten on its own. Others believe it is best when dribbled with olive oil and sprinkled with black pepper. Still others feel that the slices should be flavored with oil, pepper and lemon. This last approach, which is deemed an abomination by supporters of bresaola al naturale, insist that the use of lemon is a true heresy which destroys the natural flavor of this extraordinary meat. But who can say which of them is right?
Author: Davide Bernieri
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