Bresaola of Valtellina
Bresaola is a product typical of and exclusive to Valtellina. It is obtained through the salting and aging of particular groups of muscles from the bovine thigh. Even if it is part of an ancient tradition, bresaola was known only in the area around Sondrio until the 1940’s. After the Second World War it began to spread to Northern Italy, and since the 1960’s, it has spread throughout Italy and abroad. It is difficult to establish precisely where it gets its name. It might come from the expression “salaa come brisa,” for the use, at one time, made of salt in conserving food and for the fact that in Chiavenna “brisa” was the term used to indicate a bovine gland that had a very salty taste. Some people trace the origin of the name to the term “brasa” (local dialect for “brace” or live charcoal), since once upon a time the product was dried in rooms heated by charcoal braziers fed with Pine wood, juniper berries, thyme and bay leaves. Through the years the name has mutated from “Brisaola” to “Bresaola.”
To make the bresaola, the pieces of meat are arranged in large tubs and covered in the so-called “pickling,” a mix of salt, pepper and spices. Brine is formed with the help of the juices from the meat. The meat is turned several times to absorb the mixture well. After this first stage, when the artisans consider the correct degree of salting has been reached, the meat is dried, cleaned and, when necessary, put in a press for several days. It then moves on to the casing, then the drying period and finally to the ageing. Bresaola is ready after one month of being kept in rooms with controlled temperature and humidity.
Bresaola from Chiavenna is in high demand. Chiavenna boasts the title of the birthplace of this particular bresaola-making process and of a type of bresaola much appreciated by bresaola lovers: Smoked bresaola scented with sweet wood.
What distinguishes bresaola from other kinds of dried meats, typical of the areas outside the alpine passes of the Swiss Cantons of the Grisons, is its tenderness.
There are three types of bresaola, depending on the cut of meat used:
The tip of the haunch. It is the most prized cut and has a minimum weight of 2.5-3 kilograms (5.5-7 lbs). It corresponds to the rump of the adductor muscle.
Lower rump. It weighs at least 2 kilograms (5 lbs) and corresponds the lateral portion of the thigh muscles.
Topside. It weighs at least 1 kilogram (2 lbs). It also comes from the lateral thigh muscle.
Bresaola is eaten cut into thin slices and should be enjoyed plain, but it is becoming ever more popular to flavour it with oil, pepper and lemon. It is usually served as a starter.