The tradition behind the speciality of Westphalian ham on the bone
The most prized part of the pigThe member companies of the Schutzgemeinschaft Westfälische Schinken- und Wurstspezialitäten, the association protecting the interests of regional ham and sausage producers, use only selected meat to handcraft Westphalian ham on the bone. The race of pig, the animals' feed, the conditions in which they are kept and their weight and age at slaughter are important criteria. Therefore the pig is the starting point, with the animals originating from German piggeries - by far the most of them in Westphalia. This is because pig breeding and fattening enjoy a century-old tradition in Westphalia. Originally, Westphalian hogs even spent their time in the wild, living freely in the oak forests that existed at that time until reaching maturity. This resulted in large, well-grown and above all healthy animals with relatively low body fat. Nowadays, when the hams (weighing up to 15 kilograms each) are supplied by trusted farmers and breeders they are first of all tested carefully for temperature and pH value.
The pH value in particular is immensely significant for deciding whether the meat qualifies for use. If the quality of the meat is lacking, no craftsmanship in the world can produce a top-quality product from it deserving the designation "Westphalian ham on the bone".
Secret of the tasteA main ingredient in the recipe for success and the secret of this Westphalian culinary specialty is the salt.
This is of course not just any salt. Instead, it is distinguished by its special consistency (the granularity of the crystals) and by the addition of herbs or spices; however, what exactly is a secret known only to the producers of Westphalian ham on the bone. In any case, the role of the salt is to preserve the meat, make it soft and tender and to slowly draw the water out of the ham. The salt is naturally rubbed in by hand. The same applies for turning and stacking the ham, checking its maturity, resistance to pressure and aroma and taking samples for tasting at regular intervals over the course of several weeks. However, as the salt also intensifies the flavours already existing in the meat, it also ultimately influences its good taste. Another important criterion adding to the taste is the long bone that remains in the ham up to the last minute.
Good things take timeA ham prepared in the way described, salted by hand and washed regularly, is given plenty of time to mature into Westphalian ham on the bone. This is yet another ingredient in the recipe for success.
The hams are given at least six months (although a full year is even better) to dry in aging rooms which have various temperatures and humidity contents. During its journey through time Westphalian ham on the bone loses more than half its original weight.
Due to the size of the ham and because the bone is left in the meat all of the time, it is natural that a long drying process is needed. (Note: sounds more positive)
The characteristic consequences are the dark red meat and golden yellow rind of the ham and its particularly mild, nutty flavour.
While most of this dried ham on the bone remains in a climate controlled room right up to the last minute, towards the end of the drying period a few hams leave for the smoking chamber where they are turned into smoked Westphalian ham on the bone by smoking them over beechwood and other sorts of wood (another well-kept secret of the trade).
Real Westphalian craftsmanshipThe long bone is only carefully removed once all the aging and drying processes are complete and the Westphalian ham on the bone reaches the retail trade, either air-dried or smoked, and then ends up on bread or on the plates of gourmets (incorporated in a refined recipe including fish, meat, fruit or asparagus, the king of vegetables).
It is clear that this requires special tools combined with experience and skilled craftsmanship (Note: emphasises title even more). In the same way as the traditional production process this knowledge is also passed on from generation to generation. When the Westphalian ham on the bone is finally sliced into individual pieces ready for retail, it has been through a process of real craftsmanship (in the truest sense of the word) up right up to the point of delivery.