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The A-Z’s of Ham
By Chef Tim Tibbitts
Jun 5, 2013 - 3:27:47 PM

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Pork is the top consumed protein in the world with over 99 million tons consumed last year. And there is good reason. It’s absolutely delicious. It’s also incredibly versatile in the things you can do with it. Different cultures all over the world have all taken to finding their own ways to get the most from the beautiful pig and from that we get today’s topic. Today we are going to discuss Ham. Not just ham but the complete A-Z of ham. So without further adieu let us dig in.

Traces of production of ham has been found in Tuscany, in the Etruscan civilization and dates back to the fifth century BC. In De Agricultura Cato described the process of making cured ham, in Latin called perexutus, that meant “without any liquids”.

Bayonne Ham is an air dried salted ham that takes its name from the ancient port city of Bayonne in the far South West of France. The city is located in both the Basque Country and Gascony. The hams were rubbed in salt produced in the salt pans of the Adour estuary.

Also known as boiled ham, the meat is cured, shaped, and cooked in steam or water. A ham that has been heated during some part of the processing to an internal temperature exceeding 58°C (137°F) but less than 64°C (148° F) is defined partially cooked. If the temperature exceeds this upper limit the ham is then called full-cooked.

Dry-cured is a meat preservation process applied to ham production. Through dry-curing, the ham can be stored for several months. The raw materials and the ripening conditions have a significant influence on the final texture and flavor. Drying can occur simply by exposing ham to air, or through smoking (smoked ham).

Eisleker Ham or Jambon d'Oesling is a specialty from the Oesling region in the north of Luxemburg. Traditionally, it was prepared by marinating the hams in herbs and vinegar for several days, then hanging them in a chimney for long periods of cold smoking.

Ham and pork meat in general is strictly forbidden (or highly restricted) according to different religions: Jewish, Islam, Seven-Day Adventists, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Rastafarian traditions exclude pork from diet.

You can obtain excellent ham from goose, also knows as “kosher ham”. It was recently officially approved by Rabbis (the official leader of Jewish congregation) and introduced into kosher diet.

Ham on Rye
Ham on Rye is an autobiographical novel by American author Charles Bukowsky. Written in Bukowski’s characteristically straightforward prose, the novel tells of his coming-of-age in Los Angeles during the Great Depression.

In Istria (a region shared by Croatia and Slovenia) ham is protected by origin, made only with natural herbs (garlic, sea salt, bay leaf, black pepper), and dried without smoke. It is covered with green mold and without fat and skin.

Spain produces some of the most acclaimed hams (in Spanish jamon). There are two big families of jamon: serrano and iberico. The first one is obtained from white pig, jamon iberico from the black Iberian pig.

Slicing cured ham by knife is an art, and even after the introduction of meat slicers, for some kinds of ham – especially the most seasoned – is the best way to cut slices. Louis XVIII of France was very proud of his ability to slice ham with a knife. He used to say that before he became king (in 1814) cutting ham was his favorite pastime.

Lacón Gallego
Lacón Gallego is a dried ham product from Galicia region, in Spain. The product is only made with the shoulder, rather than the whole leg, as is usual with other jamons.

Marc Twain
There's a famous quote by the American writer Marc Twain that is supposed to have been said during a coach-trip across United States: “Ham and eggs ... ham and eggs and scenery, a 'down grade,' a flying coach, a fragrant pipe and a contented heart—these make happiness. It is what all the ages have struggled for".

Norcia is a little town in Umbria, Italy, renowned for the production of ham. The fame was so wide spread that in the central regions of Italy, like Umbria, Tuscany and Lazio (Rome) the shops dedicated exclusively to ham are called norcineria.

The oldest ham is more than a hundred years old. It was produced in 1900 by Pembroke Decatur Gwaltney, Jr., scion of the Gwaltney Foods Empire. He wanted to see how long the Gwaltney curing process would keep it "alive." Mr Galway died in 1936, his ham is still with us.

One of the most appreciated hams is Prosciutto di Parma, a dry-cured ham produced in the province of Parma, in northern Italy. It distinguishes itself for having less salt than other dry-cured ham. The seasoning process lasts at least 14 months up to 24 months for the best ones.

Marco Polo reported the preparation of cured ham in China in Il Milione, but China's ham tradition was developed under the Qing Dinasty, starting from 1644. One of the best-known Chinese hams is the Jinhua ham, a dry-cured ham used to prepare an energetic dish known as “Buddha jumps over the wall”.

Raw ham refers to pork that has been cured using salt and air but not using a smoking process. It is also known as dry-curing.

St. Petersburg
At the Ermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia, there's a painting by Pablo Picasso named The Tavern but also know as The Ham. It was painted in 1912 with oil and sawdust on cardboard.

Prague Ham is a salt-cured ham that is smoked over beech wood. It was produced for the first time in the capital of Czech in the beginning of 19th century but it became an Italian specialty thanks to his production in the town of Trieste, which, just like Prague, was part of Austria-Hungary until 1918. Prague ham is usually sold warm and sliced by knife.

Council of the Parmense Industrial Union is an organization founded in 1963 to promote the original Parma Ham and defend it from counterfeiting. The Union rules the regulation for the production of the protected designation of origin (PDO).

Green Eggs and Ham is one of Seuss's "Beginner Books", written in a very simple vocabulary for beginning readers. The vocabulary of the text consists of just 50 different words and was the result of a bet between Seuss and a friend of his. Published in 1960 it became the 4th-best-selling English-language children's book of all time.

The Wiltshire cure is a traditional English technique for curing bacon and ham. The technique originated in the 18th century in Calne, Wiltshire. Originally it was a dry cure method that involved applying salt to the meat for 14 days. Storing the meat in cold rooms meant that less salt was needed.

A Christmas ham or Yule ham is a traditional ham dish associated with modern Christmas, Yule and Fennoscandian Jul. It dates back to Germanics as a tribute to a god associated with fertility. It was later popularized by the Catholic Church as a test of truthful conversion from Judaism (that prohibits the consumption of pork).

Xuanwei Ham, produced in Xuanwei county in the northeastern Yunnan province in China, has a history of more than 250 years. The salt coming from western Yunnan also contributes to the deliciousness of Xuanwei Ham. Shaped like lutes, it is also known as “lute pettitoes.”

The Zlatibor region, a mountain region of Serbia, feels the influences of Mediterranean and continental climates; the mixing of winds from the sea and from the mountain is one of the main reason for production of quality ham. Delicatessen products include beef, swine and sheep ham.

So there you have it! The A-Z of ham in all its glory. I would like to try a cure my own ham using the local Abaco wild hog. That gives me something to shoot for this summer! Until next week, remember there’s more to food than cooking and eating!

Tim Tibbitts is the chef and owner of Flying Fish Modern Seafood in Freeport Bahamas. Flying Fish is the #1 rated restaurant in the Bahamas on tripadvisor.com. You can see what Flying Fish is all about at www.flyingfishbahamas.com or www.facebook.com/flyingfishmodernseafood and follow Tim on twitter @flyingfishfreep

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