Monday, 27 July 2015

Cured hams - an Iberican speciality

Whether you are a vegetarian or not, whilst in a bar or market cafe in Southern Spain you can’t help but notice the legs of ham hanging above you. Well I can’t anyway, with my  eager “modern medieval food” eyes wide open. Some hams, I notice, have white trotters and some, producing the superior quality “pata negra”, have black trotters - or at least black toes.

And then there are stacks of hams in the supermarkets all year round. In years gone by you might only have seen them in the supermarkets in the run up to Christmas, but why not celebrate any special occasion with “jamon serrano”?

Curing a hog’s leg with salt goes back to time immemorial. Cato the elder wrote over 2000 years ago in  “De agri cultura”  “On farming” as follows: “Spread salt in bottom of (my edit: very large!) jar, lay a ham cover with salt, lay another meat not touching, cover with salt. After five days, remove and reverse order hams are placed in. 12 days later remove hams, brush off salt, hang in a draught for 2 days. On the 3rd day clean with sponge and rub with oil (my edit: olive oil of course). Hang in smoke for 2 days. On the 3rd day take them down, rub in a mixture of oil and vinegar, hang in the meat house. No moths or worms will touch them.”

This method of curing the larger cuts of meat from swine (hogs, pigs) changed very little in 2000 years in today’s artisanal ham making - except the time allowed for curing is much longer - up to two years for a jamon serrano and up to 4 years for a jamon iberico. The curing process alters the flavour and the natural enzymes have longer to break down the tissues and make the ham mouth wateringly tender. Patience is rewarded!

History bears witness that the pig (hog or swine) produces the world's best tasting flesh, it is the only animal where a specific vocabulary has developed for its different meats - namely pork, ham and bacon. Pig meat of all three types was highly valued by all classes of Medieval society, and it was no exaggeration to say that every part of the animal was eaten. MedievalMorsels models ham legs and ham sides at 12th scale for your period or contemporary dollshouse, roombox or diorama. My online shop re-opens on 1 August after a short holiday break. take a look then!

The pig (Sus scrofa domesticus) is the oldest domesticated creature besides the dog. All pigs are descended from the wild boar (Sus scrofa). Bones from Turkey show human/pig association as early as 8000 BC, pre-dating man's cultivation of barley and wheat. This seems to disprove the commonly held theories first, that goats and sheep were the first domesticated animals and second, that man engaged in crop growing before animal husbandry. Pigs were, however, domesticated at different times around the world.

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