Baked, Smoked,... What Is Ham?
Updated: May 24, 2018
Have you noticed how heavy most of the ham that we buy as lunch meat here in America is? It usually and regrettably is full of salt, sugar, water, nitrates… Mmh…
We consider ham a standard consumer product, and most of us have no idea that ham can actually be a fine, gourmet, charcuterie/deli item… only if it is processed by a real butcher who loves being a butcher and knows his meats.
We still have a lot of those in Europe, where the grandfather and the father were true butchers and now the grandson runs the shop.
A true butcher knows how to cut the meat and make suggestions on how to prepare it. He is skilled with the knife and can remove the bones, the muscles, and the fat. He knows if a particular piece is going to be tough or tender. And he has good ham. What is GOOD ham?
A good ham starts with a good pig, a pig that is fed natural grain, a pig that has space to run around, a pig that grows at his own pace without growth hormones, a pig that is stress free all the way to its destiny.
The ham is usually the hind leg of the pig. Baked, it should be lean, light, and tasty.
Smoked, it should not be too salty. The butcher cleans it, sprinkles it with a bit of salt, and leaves it alone for several weeks. The conditions must be favorable. The room must be damp and cold – Damp so that the meat does not get too dry, and cold so that it does not spoil. Sometimes it is even left in the open and pure air of the mountains for weeks to dry. It likes the natural environment of the mountains.
After several weeks, the salt gets washed off, and the ham is hung again for months, up to two years. And that is when you see it hanging above the deli counter at the butcher’s shop in France, in Spain, in Italy, and many other European countries. And it is so good!
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