Here comes Speck Ham and Asiago Cheese

Dario Chiarini of Colangelo PR invited us recently to A Presentation and Tasting of  Asiago Cheese & Speck Ham (two gourmet food products from Northern Italy) at  Vivere Restaurant, 71 West Monroe Street, Chicago.

I sat down with Vivere’s Executive Chef’s Robert Reynaud for a quick 101 on these “really yummy” products.

And at the dining table, Chef Reynaud wowed us with his array of “mouth-watering” dishes:  a) Sliced speck ham with Asiago Pressato (soft cheese to die for, really!), Asiago d’ Allevo (aged) and Anjou pear wedges, b) Rye flour tortelli (ravioli-like) filled with cabbage, caraway seeds, speck ham and asiago pressato (and he topped these ravioli bites with crunchy panko bread crumbs and more caraway seeds) and c) Guinea hen (small bird I was told by Glenn) breast wrapped in Speck ham with asiago Vellutato and mushrooms.  Next time you visit Sam’s club or Costco, make sure to include a block of asiago cheese in your cart.  Or try Wendy’s Asiago Chicken Sandwich with a spread of ranch dressing.

And for a truly innovative and contemporary Italian dishes, dine at Vivere, voted as one of America’s “10 Best Italian Restaurants”.  Let me add, at the dinner table, I enjoyed the company of Michele Barsanti (, writer Barbara Revsine and Debra Murphy of Allocation Distributors, Inc.

Speck Alto Adige IGP is  a lightly smoked raw gourmet ham

*Produced in the heart of Europe and celebrated throughout the continent for its balanced taste and traditional heritage.  With a taste slightly more mild than northern smoked hams yet stronger and less sweet than ham produced in southern European regions,  each ham undergoes an eight-step process over a twenty-two week period. To begin the process the ham is selected based on a strict fat/lean ratio, weight, temperature, and meat PH control criteria. Once the thighs have been selected a seal is impressed on the rind stating the production start date.

*Following the selection of the meat, the thighs are prepared by hand and dry-corned for roughly three weeks. The thighs are turned several times during the three-week process to make sure that the brine is evenly absorbed. This is the only step in which the producer may choose to add their own flavor to the ham, giving them a distinct taste and aroma from other Speck Alto Adige producers. At the end of the three-week process, smoking and drying begins. Smoking and drying of the ham must be precisely followed using prime wood at cool temperatures (68°) to ensure that the distinct taste is present in the ham.

*The aging process begins the fifth step of the ham’s journey. The length of this process usually lasts around 22 weeks but is ultimately determined by the final leg weight. At the end of this process a thin layer of mould accumulates on the outside of the ham. Speck Alto Adige IGP is the only ham that uses mould in the production process. The mould prevents the crust from becoming too hard and guarantees the uniformity of the inner seasoning and smoking.

*Once the ham has been given significant time to age the mould is removed and the hams are inspected to ensure the ham is worthy of the Speck Alto Adige IGP seal. Finally, the legs are branded several times, a minimum of 4, on the rind with the Sudtirol logo guaranteeing the traditional production process and thorough inspection the ham has undergone.

*Speck Alto Adige IGP can be served without the crust for a mild taste. For those who prefer a more distinct taste, keeping the crust on the ham will ensure a rich flavor full of the many spices used in the production process.

Asiago Cheese

*Beginning with the cows, milk used for Asiago cheese is selected from dairy herds with a strict feeding regiment. Once the cows are selected, the cheese makers also inspect the quality of the milk.
After the milk has been collected, bovine enzymes are added to stimulate coagulation, usually at a temperature of 104° degrees. As the cheese reaches a thicker consistency the curd is cut and placed in a mold for forming. Next, the curd is worked with repeated cutting, salting and turning. This is an important process in the formation of the cheese that gives Asiago DOP its distinct taste.

*The curd is then placed in the mould again and pressed for compacting. Shortly after this the presalting operation begins, usually occurring at a temperature of 55-60 degrees for a period of 36-96 hours. Lastly the cheese enters the aging process. During this time the cheese is stored at 55 degrees and 80-85% humidity. Depending on the desired sharpness of the cheese, this period can last anywhere from 20 days to a year.

*Asiago DOP also has two distinct tastes depending on the length of time the cheese has been allowed to age.  Fresh Asiago, also known as pressato, is made from whole cow’s milk and is matured over a period of 20-40 days. Soft to the touch and pale in color, pressato is very mild and sometimes sweet in flavor. Mature Asiago, or d’allevo, is made from skimmed cow’s milk and matures over a period of 3-12 months. More distinct in flavor, this dark, hard cheese can vary in the sharpness of its taste depending on the length of the aging period.

Speck Alto Adige IGP & Asiago DOP – Nutrition

*Its high protein content and low cholesterol give Speck Alto Adige IGP nutritional value and make it a great source of amino acids and a healthy protein substitute for fish, meat and eggs.

*Asiago is also a healthy source of protein.  An excellent choice for all ages, Asiago DOP is highly recommended for the elderly due to its easy digestion and high calcium content. Rich in vitamins A, B, B2, and PP, Asiago is a healthy snack to eat alone or add to any meal. Asiago DOP can be used in soups, pasta dishes, pizzas, and desserts.

*Together, Speck Alto Adige IGP and Asiago DOP can also be served with fruit, pasta, or vegetables, or eaten alone for a unique and healthy snack.

Visit website: for more information and recipes.

Speck Alto Adige PGI & Asiago PDO Panino
We have updated the everyday “Ham & Cheese” sandwich here with a true Italian twist from the Speck Alto Adige & Asiago to the Panini Grill.  Yield: 1 sandwich
* 1/2 cup fresh Arugula
* 1/4 cup thinly sliced Radicchio
* 1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
* 1-2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
* 1 Italian roll or 6″ piece of Focaccia or Ciabatta
* 3 ounces sliced Speck Alto Adige PGI
* 1 ounce sliced Asiago Fresco PDO
* 1 small tomato
Place Arugula & Radicchio is small bowl. Drizzle with Extra Virgin Olive Oil & Vinegar and mix well. Set aside. Slice the roll (or bread) and layer with the Speck Alto Adige, Asiago, Tomato & the Arugula & Radicchio salad. Top with the remaining half of the roll (or bread) and place in preheated Panini Press until golden on the outside.
Chef’s Tip:  If you do not have a Panini press, any grill or sauté pan will work. Place the sandwich in the sauté pan and “press” it with another pan on top.

Speck Alto Adige PGI & Asiago PDO Pinwheels
These pretty little pinwheels are the perfect do-ahead hors d’oeuvre to enjoy with your favorite apperitivo or Prosecco.
* 1 sheet frozen Puff Pastry
* 2 ounces sliced Speck Alto Adige PGI (about 10 slices)
* 1 cup finely shredded Asiago Stagionato PDO
* Baking sheet
* 2 sheets of Parchment paper cut to fit the baking sheet
Defrost puff pastry sheet in the refrigerator for a few hours.
Place one sheet of parchment paper on the baking sheet. Place the other on your work surface. Unfold the pastry on the parchment paper and go over it with a rolling pin to make it smooth. Lay the speck over the pastry and sprinkle with the cheese. Start with one of the long sides and tightly roll like a jelly roll. Wrap with the parchment paper and place in the freezer for 15-20 minutes so that it becomes firm enough to slice. Unwrap and move to a cutting board. Using a serrated knife, slice thinly and place each “pinwheel” on the parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 6-8 minutes or until golden brown.
Chefs Do-Ahead Tips:The uncut rolled & stuffed pastry can be frozen for a month or two and sliced when you want to have a hot, fresh hors d’oeuvre.The baked pinwheels can be stored in an airtight container for a day or two and reheated at serving time.

Speck Alto Adige PGI & Asiago PDO Soup
This soup is reminiscent of a wonderful dish I had in Courmayeur, Italy in the Italian Alps. Speck Alto Adige PGI & Asiago PDO are perfect ingredients to use.Serves 2
* 1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
* 1/2 cup finely diced onion
* 1/2 cup finely diced Speck Alto Adige PGI
* 4 cups shredded cabbage
* 4 cups chicken stock
* 2 thick slices of whole grain bread, toasted until crispy
* 1/2 cup coarsely shredded Asiago Fresco PDO (about 2 oz. by weight)
Place olive oil and onion in medium soup pot. Sauté onion until it becomes translucent, about 3 minutes. Add Speck and cabbage. Mix well. Cook 3 minutes until cabbage begins to soften. Add stock. Simmer 15 minutes.
Place bread in ovenproof soup bowls or small pie plates. Add soup and top with cheese. Bake in a 425° oven for 8-10 minutes until cheese is golden brown.  Serve immediately.

Asiago PDO & Speck Alto Adige PGI Breakfast Sandwich
Breakfast is very important and can be quick, easy & delicious with Asiago PDO cheese & Speck Alto Adige PGI.  Yield: 1 sandwich
* 1 multigrain English muffin or roll
* Extra Virgin Olive Oil or Olive oil pan spray
* 1 fresh egg
* 1/4 cup grated Asiago Fresco PDO
* 4 slices Speck Alto Adige PGI
Toast English muffin or roll.
Brush small sauté pan lightly with Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Heat pan and add egg. Cook egg until white becomes opaque. Turn. Place Speck in pan and warm. Remove from heat. Place egg on bottom muffin half. Top with Speck. Sprinkle with cheese and cover with 2nd half of muffin.


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