Gammon, Ham and Kassler production
The production processes and tastes of ham, gammon and Kassler are very similar. What exactly distinguishes a ham from a gammon and what makes Kassler unique?
Many meat manufacturers and deli-butcheries make their own gammon, kassler and ham products, including the German variety black forest, while Italian hams are imported.
Like gammon, ham comes from the hind leg of the hog, can be smoked or unsmoked, and is available in bone in or out form. Gammon, however, is uncooked, and ham can also be made from dry-cured silverside and rump of pork, such as is the case with black forest ham.
Gammon is in fact the hind leg cut from a side of bacon after mild curing, but people are getting into the habit of calling any bacon joint suitable for boiling and baking a piece of gammon.
Kassler or Kasseler is a cured (salted), slightly smoked cut of pork from the neck, loin and ribs, although shoulders and bellies can also be used. Kassler come in ribs, steaks and rolls.
The types of hams incorporate fully cooked hams (Gypsy, sandwich, glazed), which can be smoked or unsmoked; cured hams, which are uncooked and can also be smoked or unsmoked (country, hickory and Continental hams such as black forest, coppa and prosciutto); York Ham – a pickled and smoked leg of pork; and tinned or canned ham.
In the case of tinned ham, the ham itself is usually formed from smaller cuts of meat cooked in the can, and is often covered in an aspic jelly during the canning process.
Cooked hams are made by employing the wet curing processes, i.e., brine injection or immersion in a curing solution, followed by tumbling, whereas dry curing involves rubbing the fresh meat with a mixture of salt and other ingredients.
Dry cured hams are aged from a few weeks to a few years. Six months is the usual length of time for a dry curing process but can be shortened depending on the temperature. Dry cured hams are safe to be stored in even at room temperature because they contain very little water and bacteria can’t multiply in them.
Hickory ham must have been smoked using only hickory. The ham is smoked by hanging over burning wood chips in a smokehouse or receiving a spray of liquid smoke. Injecting “smoke flavour” is not legal grounds for claiming the ham was “smoked”.
Gypsy ham, a beautifully smoked leg ham which is dark in colour and has a tender texture and delicate smoke flavour, comes from the original Gypsy camps, where it was traditionally smoked over fire.
Black forest ham, Schwarzwälder Schinken in German, is a variety of smoked ham produced in the Black Forest region of Germany. The production of this ham can take up to three months.
Black Forest ham is made by salting and seasoning raw ham with garlic, coriander, pepper, juniper berries and other spices. After curing for two weeks, the salt is removed and the ham cures for another two weeks. The ham is then cold smoked at a temperature of 25°C for several weeks, during which time the ham acquires its deep red colour. The smoke is created by burning fir brush and sawdust, which gives the ham much of its rich flavour.
Italian hams are famed throughout the world for their quality. They are made from different cuts of pork and then cured for a lengthy period of time. Italian hams are used in many dishes, including the classic antipasti, and also form the base for many risottos and pasta dishes such as spaghetti carbonara.
Prosciutto, from Latin meaning “deprived of liquid”, come in m any varieties, with the best known being prosciutto di Parma. The difference in taste is related mainly to the diet on which the pigs are fed. Prosciutto cotto is cooked prosciutto, while prosciutto crudo refers to the sweet and fragrantraw salt-cured, air dried variety.
To prepare prosciutto, producers first hang pork thighs for at least a day. Then, once the fat has been trimmed, salt is massaged onto the meat on a daily basis for a month. The ham is then dried and greased with a combination of salt, lard, pepper, and flour. It is subsequently aged for up to a year.
Coppa (also known as coppocolo or capicola) is a salted, cured, raw ham. It is similar to prosciutto, but is cut from the shoulder of a pig as opposed to the leg. Coppa tends to be more expensive than other Italian hams and is a component of gourmet antipasti dishes.
With Christmas not too far off in the future, it is time for butchers and deli owners to prepare for the pork feast rush.