The Ham Project
Hanging cured hams must be one of the signs of a happy dwelling. Restaurants, bars and homes across Portugal, Spain and Italy feature hanging hams which can receive as much attention as a small Picasso on the wall! Presunto, jamon and prociutto are not so much a food stuff as a synthesis of methods, techniques and tastes particular to each region and community.
The Ham Project is an experiment in investigating the creation of taste cured ham, from pig raising to delicate slicing. This is not an exact science by any means and a lot of crucial parameters are, shall we say, prone to indeterminacy. How long was that smoker actually on for? Is it true the pigs ate scrapings from the chicken factory? Our initial experience in dealing with ham in a serious manner came in the shape of a paleta iberica bellota (Spanish acorn fed cured ham) which transformed a kitchen corner into an obligatory shrine for two weeks over Christmas last year. The joy of gently carving a few thin slices of rich tasting ham was shared by everyone. Next step was of course to experiment with our own curing.
After butchering half a pig with a focus on ham and chorizo making, a front and a back leg became our first experiments in brining and dry salting respectively. Two weeks of brining (water, salt, bay, coriander, black pepper) and three weeks in salt were followed by a few days in a smoker that to the uninitiated may look like a tea light and a sieve of wood shavings inside a locker from an old gym. After a couple of more weeks of hanging, the brined front leg tasted fresh and subtle if somewhat too moist, almost the colour of smoked salmon. After opening and further hanging it developed a slightly more mature taste and a deeper colour. As for the back leg, it went through a further treatment of white wine and paprika and is now hanging for 3 months.
Another couple of months and tasting commences! I look at it hanging in the kitchen everyday (now wrapped in a muslin cloth because someone thought it a good idea) and I’m happy that it is still to come!