Tradition you can taste
The production of Bündnerfleisch (air-dried Grisons beef) and other meat types has long become a tradition in Switzerland. This craft has been nurtured from generation to generation, and the result is a real treat!
It is a well-known fact that Switzerland is a country of specialities. Whether Bündnerfleisch, cured ham or Walliser Trockenfleisch (Valais air-dried beef); Swiss meat specialities are produced from the finest raw products and stand for traditional craft. They are local in character and are refined by specialised businesses that have been devotedly passing on their craft from one generation to the next. This ensures quality and guarantees pure enjoyment for customers not only in Switzerland, but also increasingly in Germany.
One of the numerous specialised, tradition-conscious businesses in Switzerland is Sulai AG. This meat drying plant is situated in the municipality of Churwalden, in a valley offering ideal climate. Here, the finest pieces of meat mature in the cool, clean mountain air of the Graubünden Canton, thus becoming naturally preserved. Around 700 tonnes of meat specialities are produced here every year. Most recipes are secrets which have been carefully guarded for generations, and they demand patience – Bündnerfleisch requires 16 weeks to mature. Cured ham needs 20 weeks, and Bündner coppa can only be consumed after 10 weeks.
The refinement begins with the salting
The first work stage is carried out in the salting plant. Here, the selected pieces of meat are rubbed with a mix of salt and spices by hand, and are then tightly stacked and put into barrels. Depending on the size of the pieces, curing takes between 14 days and 4 weeks. During this time, the raw products are restacked and covered with their own brine once in a week.
After the salting process has been completed, the natural drying can begin. During this time, the meat is not heated or smoked – it only matures in the fresh air. For this purpose, the pieces are first pushed separately through a funnel into a net. This gives them an even shape, which simplifies further processing. After that, the pieces hang in a curing and drying chamber for about four to five weeks, losing some weight through drying. Based on the solidity of the products, the worker in charge decides individually whether the process is finished and whether the next steps can be initiated.
Windows regulate temperature and humidity
The next work stage is pressing. Here, the meat pieces are piled, as if on a shelf, and separated from each other using special profiles. Different weights press them into their traditional square form over a period of several days. After that, they rest in the drying chambers for four to five weeks. Here, the right temperature and humidity are critical, and are regulated by opening and closing the windows. The key element here is experienced workers with the right instinct. Unlike industrial production, no air-conditioned chambers are used in natural drying.
The meat receives its finishing touch in the last drying chamber. The pieces mature for another three to four weeks until the ideal drying level is achieved. It is also during this time that the weather dictates when to open and close the windows, which, in turn, affects the quality of the end product. Until the last moment, quality is continuously controlled by measuring the product’s solidity and weight.
After removing the edible mould, the products are finally packaged. Now it’s time to enjoy them! By the way, the Swiss prefer eating meat specialities in a very traditional way on an Apéro platter. Of course, they take their time and drink a glass of good wine, too – without any rush.