Bresaola is air-dried salted beef that has been aged about 2-3 months until it becomes hard and a dark red, almost purple colour. It is made from eye of 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.
The word comes from the diminutive of Italian dialectal bresada, which is the past participle form of brasare, meaning to braise, from French braiser.
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 follows, of between one and three months depending on the weight of the particular bresaola.
Up to 40% of the meat's original weight is lost during aging.
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 extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice or aceto balsamico, and served with rocket (rucola, arugula) salad, cracked black pepper and freshly shaved Parmigiano Reggiano.
The similarity to carpaccio, which is made from raw beef, sees that name being used (incorrectly) for bresaola dishes as well.
Sliced bresaola should be stored well-wrapped in a refrigerator.