The tradition of producing and consuming dried meat has been passed down for centuries in the Canton of Graubünden.
Made from cuts from the hind legs of the cattle, mostly the Grey Alpine breed, the dried beef was a staple of the local diet until the post-war period, stored for eating during the long winter months and guaranteeing food self-sufficiency for families. At the end of the fall, part of the herd, generally cows at the end of their useful life, would be slaughtered so that the remaining animals would have enough hay for the winter.
To make the dried beef, the fresh meat must be trimmed of fat and tendons, seasoned with salt and spices (pepper, garlic, ginger, juniper and bay) and briefly brined. The pieces are then washed under running water before being wrapped in netting and hung up to dry.
The drying takes place at a temperature between 0° and 18°C and can last from three to six months. During this period, the pieces of meat are frequently pressed, sometimes many times a day, giving them their typical rectangular shape. The pressing also helps the moisture become evenly distributed and stops the edges becoming too dry and hard.
The natural drying requires much time and patience. For several months, the butcher must visit the room where the meat is hung, generally up in the attic, on a daily basis, to assess the situation, open or close the windows depending on the temperature and perhaps change the position of some pieces.
In recent decades, given the rising demand, many producers have abandoned the traditional techniques and switched to industrial processing, which is much faster but does not give an authentic result.
The dried beef is traditionally eaten as a starter, cut into thin slices like prosciutto, with bread and butter or as an ingredient in soups.
The Graubünden Dried Beef is also a Slow Food Presidium.