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Bresaola (or in Italian dialect brisaola) is air-dried, salted beef that has been aged two or three months until it becomes hard and turns a dark red, almost purple colour. It is made from top (inside) round, and is lean and tender, with a sweet, musty smell. It originated in Valtellina, a valley in the Alps of northern Italy's Lombardy region.
A strict trimming process is essential to the rich taste. Legs of beef are thoroughly defatted and seasoned with a dry rub of coarse salt and spices, such as juniper berries, cinnamon and nutmeg. They are then left to cure for a few days. A drying period of between one and three months follows, depending on the weight of the particular bresaola. The meat loses up to 40% of its original weight during aging.
In Valtellina, a similar process is applied to smaller pieces of meat. This produces a more strongly flavoured product, slinzega, which is similar to South African biltong. Traditionally, horse meat was used for slinzega, but now other meats, such as venison and pork, are used, as well.
As an antipasto, bresaola is usually sliced paper thin and served at room temperature or slightly chilled. It is most commonly eaten on its own, but may be drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice or balsamic vinegar, and served with rocket (rucola, arugula) salad, cracked black pepper, and freshly shaved Parmesan cheese. Bresaola is sometimes confused with carpaccio, which is made from raw beef. Sliced bresaola should be stored well wrapped in a refrigerator.
The bresaola produced in Valtellina is now a protected geographical indication (PGI) under EU Regulation 2081/92. Since this designation, dried beef made outside Valtellina may carry a generic name such as viande séchée or "beef prosciutto". There are traditional products from several other areas that are similar:
- Bündnerfleisch (Bindenfleisch): from across the border in Grisons, Switzerland
- Brési: from the Doubs region of France
- Carne de sol: from northeastern Brazil
- Cecina: from León, now used elsewhere in Spain and Latin America (Cecina de León also has PGI status)
- Charque: from southern Brazil
- Chipped beef: from the United States
- Dendeng: from Indonesia
- Nagelhout: from the east of the Netherlands
- Pastırma: from Turkey, the Middle East, Caucasus and the Balkans
- Pemmican (Pemmikan): from North America
- Suho meso: from the Slavic countries