The pig is the world’s most useful animal. Many cuisines use every part of the carcass. First domesticated in Asia Minor around 7000 B.C., the pig is a very important protein source for many nations particularly because of its relatively short life cycle (four to five months)
Although the pig was domesticated in Asia Minor, today all Middle Eastern courtiers inhabited mostly by Muslims and Jews farm very few or none whatsoever, since Islam and the Kashruth Laws prohibit the consumption of animals with clown feet among others.
There are many strains of pigs and scientists still crossbreed pigs in an attempt to create another lean, or more tasty, or faster-growing strain.
Chinese long-backed and lean pigs are famous not only in China and but also in other Far Eastern countries. Danish pigs are heavier, fatter, and have bigger hind legs.
Spanish black pigs are famous for their dried hams, as are those carefully raised around Parma in Italy for prosciuto.
In Smithfield, Virginia (U S A), pigs finished with a peanut diet yield extraordinarily tasty hams famous in that country.
In China, the word pork means meat. Other meat animals are less popular as they require more land and China has only 11 percent arable land within its borders to feed approximately 1.4 billion people.
There are three popular Chinese pig strains: The Shanghai (black with a few white spots); the Cantonese (black with white spots) and the Imitchin (black and white)
In 1760, Robert Blackwell of Leicester (England) successfully crossbred the Danish with Chinese in an attempt to create a plump but lean pig.
A pig’s diet has a pronounced effect on its taste. Peanuts, acorns, chestnuts, hickory- or beechnuts, peaches, sugar beets, whey and parsnips change the flavour considerably and fort the better.
Ham is the cured leg of pork. Almost all-modern ham contains saltpetre as a preservative and flavour enhancer. Potassium-and sodium nitrate is also employed as preservatives. Hams are marketed bone-in, or boneless, for convenience. Boneless cured ham tends to be less tasty. North Europeans like smoked hams, whereas southern Europeans simply prefer salt-cured and dried hams.
The dimension and shape of hams differ wieldy. Some are round (breakfast ham), others are square (4 x4”) or rectangular or full legs or boned legs. Breakfast hams are sliced and cooked, others, are simply sliced. Canned Danish and Polish hams were quite popular a few years ago, but these days the population prefers fresh pork.
Of late Parma ham from Italy has become popular at least in large Canadian and American cities. Parma ham is a D O P (Denominazione di Origine Protetta) product, and may be produced only from pigs raised around Parma in Emilia Romagna, by traditional methods using only sea salt for curing and air drying. (Prosciutto production is strictly controlled and the product is always of consistent quality).
Spain has its jamon Serrano and jamon Iberico. Both are superior sea-salt cured and air-dried hams, widely consumed in Europe. Spanish hams will be available shortly in Canada pending on government approval. Up to recent years the Canadian government blocked the importation of European cured hams for fear of contamination. Local producers had an opportunity to market their hams within North America. Canadian hams are expertly made and flavourful, particularly those from Italian manufacturers in Montreal and Toronto. There is a range of tasty Italian-style hams on the market. Those from Bona Foods in Toronto stand out with their pleasant appearance, bright colour, smooth texture and taste. Widely available across the country they are consistent in quality and offer excellent value. In addition, they come in small sizes for economic reasons.
Multinational manufacturers and marketers have a wide distribution network and export to the U S A but their products by necessity are geared to satisfy the lowest taste common denominator and priced accordingly. They lack taste.
British love ham and several counties evolved their owns styles like, York-, Cumberland-, Bradenham-, Wiltshire- and Suffolk. Parma and San Danielle are two famous hams from Italy. Parma ham is now available in fine grocery stores and popular with connoisseurs.
Jamon Serrano and - Iberico hail from Spain, and taste very fine particularly with ripe figs, avocado, or asparagus or on its own.
Germany’s Westphalian and Blackforest smoked hams are not only famous in Germany, but throughout northern Europe. Many German manufacturers in Toronto produce German-style hams available in German delicatessens.
Grison or Graubunden air-dried ham from the eponymous canton in Switzerland is famous, as is the beef. The latter enjoys a wider and better reputation.
The French are famous for their jambon de Bayonne on the Atlantic coast, but little, if any, is exported to North America due to high demand in the country and Europe
American Smithfield ham from Virginia is succulent and derived from pigs that have foraged on harvested peanut fields. Their diet may be enriched with acorns for an additional taste dimension. After curing, Smithfield hams may be aged for one or two years. Skillfully and carefully produced ham taste delicious, offer many combination possibilities, and enhance the flavour of a range of salads.
Always buy a quantity to last a few days only, and serve hams at room temperature for best results.
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu
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