What is bresaola?

beef bresaola

Written by Liz Wakefield

20th January 2018

A common question

So what is bresaola? Bresaola is cured, air-dried beef. A type of charcuterie. It comes from Italy – the mountainous area of Valtellina in Lombardy to be precise – and dates back to the 15th century, when preparing food for the winter months was essential. Italian families passed recipes from one generation to another and then professional production started in the 19th century.

Bresaola is now picking up popularity around the world. It’s low in fat, high in protein, vitamins and minerals and rich in flavour.

You may have seen bresaola in supermarkets but whether you’re in the UK or Italy, the supermarket version is not what it should be in my humble opinion. Here’s three reasons why:

  • For a start, it tends to be made with beef that’s been grain-fed (which means produced as fast as possible from farm to plate) which compromises taste and has a high environmental impact.
  • It’s mass-produced in factories, which results in a consistent product that looks uniform but tastes… well, to be honest, meh. There really isn’t much flavour in it at all. Proper artisan bresaola can be found at Italian markets and from a handful of artisan food producers in the UK, of which Sussex Gourmand is proud to be one.
  • The third and important point to note about bresaola and many charcuterie products, is that they contain additives to extend shelf-life and make the meat look pink and attractive. The ingredient is called prague powder or curing salts and the additives are listed as sulphates and sulphites. These additives have been linked to bowel cancer and some people prefer to avoid them.

A truly artisan British product, proudly Sussex

The word artisan has become a bit over-used, with many mass-produced packaged goods coining the term. But the very definition of artisan food requires the use of traditional or non-mechanised production methods and high quality ingredients. To us, this means the very best provenance and small batch production that enables our obsessive focus on quality and taste.

The very best provenance

Our beef is sourced from farms recognised for best quality, animal welfare and ethical practice. Our beef is grass-fed, native-breed and naturally reared in Sussex, which has long been revered by the agricultural community. An 1850’s survey of Sussex by the Board of Agriculture refers to Sussex cattle as “unquestionably ranked among the best of the kingdom…” Grazing maintains the South Downs landscape and wildlife, making Sussex beef a really good choice of meat.

We also make wild venison bresaola, as Sussex has a plentiful supply of wild deer and a long tradition of hunting, dating back to the thirteenth century when the Ashdown Forest, was a royal hunting park. Deer culling is vital to the countryside and more so ever than now, according to scientists, with record levels of deer in our countryside, that can damage crops, kill trees, reduce coppices and impact the number of woodland birds.

Small batch production

Of course there’s a place for large scale food production, but we prefer to use organic, natural and home grown ingredients and rely on human skill and attention to detail to produce our bresaola. Like many people, we’re conscious of the need for responsible meat consumption, so we’d rather keep our bresaola output small volume and big on flavour and quality.

No additives

When we started out, we used curing salts in very small amounts as part of our detailed food safety system, but whilst lab testing confirmed minute residual amounts in our bresaola, we were concerned about the scientific links between sulphates, sulphites and bowel cancer. We’ve since developed our recipes to deliver similarly excellent microbacterial quality (which we lab-tested) without these additives. Natural sea salt works the curing magic on our bresaola.

Both our beef and venison bresaola won Great Taste Awards in 2017. The judging panel, which includes food critics, chefs, cooks, restaurateurs, producers, food writers and journalists, described our Sussex beef bresaola as this:

“Lovely smokey aroma, winey colour and good fat distribution. The herby aroma is really appealing… lots of smells of the countryside.”

Why bresaola?

I started making bresaola because I love charcuterie, but to be really honest, I struggle with the chunks of fat in salami and outer rim of fat on hams. So bresaola is ideal for me, as it’s got all the hallmark flavours of charcuterie, but none of the fat. A curious interest turned into an obsession, as I experimented in my quest to make the perfect bresaola.

How bresaola is made

Silverside is the cut of beef used to make bresaola. Often used for pot-roasting, it is also made into salt beef.  It’s lean and flavoursome, but as it comes from the hindquarter it’s not as tender as the fillet, but when it’s cured and air-dried, it’s melt-in-the-mouth delicious.

It’s first cured in a mix of salt and seasonings, (we use home-grown, organic rosemary and bay leaves, as well as other spices and a secret ingredient, which is foraged locally from Sussex fields) to extract moisture (which preserves the meat) and impart flavour. It is then air-dried at a temperature of around 12 degrees in a humid environment.

Some recipes call for the meat to also be marinated in red wine.

Inspired by Spanish cured meats, I’ve added another step to the traditional process, namely cold smoking the meat, briefly, to add another flavour dimension without detracting from the meat.

It takes a minimum of six weeks to air-dry, but some people leave it for even longer. The greater the time it air-dries, the more intense the flavour and dryness. What’s crucial is both the temperature (which needs to be between 12 and 16 degrees) and humidity

How to serve bresaola

Beef bresaola is a lean, tasty snack ideal for a sharing platter of cold meats and cheeses. If you’re serving it on its own, do as the Italians do and eat it on a bed of rocket with parmesan shavings and a drizzle of olive oil on top. Bresaola works as a great topping on any form of salad, crispy or leafy and it also makes a great pizza topping – but add it after the cook as a last-minute garnish.

To go with an aperitif, a slice of bresaola, a grape and a chunk of parmesan on a cocktail stick is the tastiest no-carb accompaniment you can get. The freshness of the grape, the salty parmesan…. and then the beef makes for a winning combination. Yum!

Another great way to enjoy beef bresaola with a drink or two, with all the flavours of Italy redesigned as a flavour-packed bite, try our field canapé kit which you can order online, but bear in mind the minimum order quantity is two kits… a perfect opportunity to taste test two different types of bresaola: beef vs venison! The venison canapé kit is called forest and is paired with earthy forest mushroom thins and a sage and almond pesto.

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Great Taste Awards 2021

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