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favorite hams...prosciutto? serrano? american country? chinese?

a month or so ago i tasted an american smoked country ham sliced "raw" like prosciutto, which was delicious. i bought a bit of prosciutto later on, and just bought a stash of serrano ham, from spain. i like them all.

i've heard about another spanish ham where the pigs are fed on a diet of acorns, and the cost is exponential. i'm not in a position to try this one out, financially. but i'm curious....

of all of the wolds best known hams, which are your favorites? do you lean towards spain, or italy, or france, or the US, or china, which apparently makes a fantastic ham that isn't available here in the US? or some other version which i've never heard of or tasted? what are your favorites, and why?

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  1. My faves are:
    Prosciutto di San Daniele - cured ham using very little salt, but with garlic salt and sugar added to the cure.

    Prosciutto di Parma - similar to the San Daniele but with considerably less salt.

    Jamón Serrano - from Trevélez. A nice low salt, sweet ham.

    Jamón Ibérico Bellota - the ham which is made from the pigs that only eat acorns.

    I find American hams to be much too salty for my taste, with the possible exception of a true hickory smoked ham.

    15 Replies
    1. re: Gio

      I have to edit my post above. I mixed up the description of the Parma and Daniele Prosciuttos. It's the San Daniele that has less salt. The Parma cure uses salt, garlic salt and sugar. I've been thinking about this all morning and I had to correct the descriptions.....

      1. re: Gio

        Prosciutto di Parma is cured using salt only.
        No sugar.
        No garlic salt.

        1. re: cap

          Well to a certain extent you're correct, however, the Tuscan prosciutto crudo has pepper, garlic, rosemary and juniper in it's cure.

      2. re: Gio

        It's been a while since I've had a good Virginia ham, but I remember always loving every last moist slice of Virginia ham while feeling intoxicated with sodium after a few slices of prosciutto or jamon serrano.

        1. re: JungMann

          I am confused by the recent country hams I have ordered from Wisconson snd from Kentucky...they were really, really salty. They are now composting as they were (to our tastes) inedible....so what hams are out there that are moist, traditional and not so darn salty. I realize (now) we should not try to eat a country ham like a regular ham. I know it is our tatste and not the product itself (which I belatedly understand is what a real country ham is), I just want to find an awesome ham, traditionally cured and not salty...what should I look for (if not a "country ham") and from where should I order! I will ship them in from anywhere, but I don't want another salty mess.

          1. re: foodiesnorth

            Try steaming some slilces next time.

            1. re: foodiesnorth

              I'll have to let someone else field this question as my family used to receive the hams as gifts from relatives out in Maryland. If you found the ham excessively salty, perhaps you might have needed to simply increase the soaking and scrubbing for your second attempt.

              1. re: JungMann

                soaking? scrubbing? Wow did I ever screw that up! Thaks for the insight...I gotta research this better next time!

                1. re: foodiesnorth

                  Yeah - pretty big screw up if you thought you could serve it in large, honey baked ham-style slices!

                  If you read above in the original post, the poster says "a month or so ago i tasted an american smoked country ham sliced "raw" like prosciutto, which was delicious." This is one way to enjoy this kind of ham, sliced thin and eaten in small amounts. The other way involves lots of soaking and scrubbing to remove some of the salt.

                  1. re: foodiesnorth

                    The Charlotte (NC) Observer recently did a great article on Country Hams, and was discussed on Cohwohund's South message board:

                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/582856

                    Vannoy Hams are still made in the mountains of NC the old fashioned way, with salt, brown sugar and then air cured.

                    Whole country ham usually has mold on it when you open the package. Just scrub off the mold, and soak it in water for a day or 2 to draw out the excess salt. Cook it & serve the slices paper thin.

                    1. re: Jibe

                      I'm a Kentucky girl who winces at the notion of soaking country hams to wash off some of that uber-salty flavor--to me, that's the sine qua non of country ham. I "do" wipe off the mold!

                      Fry it up in a well-seasoned cast iron skillet till you get lots of fond, then deglaze with strong coffee, and--if you're bold--a shot of bourbon-- (red eye gravy) and serve with White Lily biscuits. Heaven.

                      While I've eaten a few of the other varieties, not savvy enough to rate them.

                      1. re: pine time

                        You are right on the money pine time. My mother was a Kentucky girl (1902 - 2002) and all of my aunts and uncles were born in the 19th century. There was no refrigeration back then and salt & smoke were necessary to keep meat edible during the hot summer months. A light scrubbing to get rid of mold and then just eat smaller portions if you worry about the salt content.

                        It must not be too unhealthy because my mom made it to one hundred eating like that. The youngest age at death of any of her siblings was eighty-eight. Good idea to go heavy on the veggies also, especially beans seasoned with country ham. I still fry country ham in a skillet that my grandmother got when she married in 1873, it is well seasoned!

                        1. re: charliesommers

                          About those veggies: for us, it's a pot of cooked-to-death green beans, but flavored with bacon grease. Never said it was a healthy meal! (Especially with honey bourbon butter on those White Lily biscuits...)

                2. re: foodiesnorth

                  Some foods that are exceptionally salty are delicious but intended to be eaten in moderation. I should like to point out some of the Japanese salted fish dishes like "shio sake" (salted salmon) are in this category. If you lessen the salt you take away the taste. The Japanese eat small portions of this toothsome delicacy along with large bowls of plain boiled rice, yummy!

                  If a country ham is prepared whole by the process of boiling, the salt is not excessive and the flavor is unsurpassed in the ham world. Give it a try!

              2. re: Gio

                looking forward to trying some Bellota

              3. I really pretty much like all of them, but when I visit my local deli where I have a few kinds to choose from I almost always go for the Serrano. That said, if money were no object, there is nothing on earth that compares with Iberico Bellota (about $200/lb around here). You really should spend a few dollars for a slice or two just to see how good it is, but be prepared to be spoiled for life.

                2 Replies
                1. re: FlyFish

                  tonight my boss brought in a few slices worth of the iberico bellota. while i definitely appreciated the depth of flavor, and the texture, and a feeling of sensing the elements of the earth and climate, i'm really glad i did not pay for these slices. i was worried i'd be spoiled off the rest of the competition, but i'll be able to go back to the other good stuff intact. it was superb product, for sure, no mistake. but it was tasted a bit hastily before dinner right after finishing a bar shift (and no i was not drunk. yet). i'll look for it for special occasions, like holidays or birthdays, but i'll be fine in the meantime with my more affordable serrranos, proscuitto di parmas and san danielles. but right now, i think i might be giving a bit of an edge to spain, with high hopes for dedicated american producers. italian-leaning fans are more than welcome to argue their point. i'm hungry.

                  1. re: augustiner

                    You're lucky it wasn't sliced off the leg right in front of you -- then you'd be ruined!

                2. Vande Rose Artisan Duroc Ham - Hormone and antibiotic free, no added phosphates (no water added). It's a lovely ham from Iowa. I read about it in Saveur and found it at a local gourmet grocery store in town. I have to admit, I've only consumed it cold, right out of the deli wrappings (sliced super thin). Trust me, Iowa knows pig.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: sebetti

                    right out of the deli wrappings is just how i like to eat it, one foot holding the fridge door open. although when more patient i like it to rest a bit to room temp. but i believe you about iowa knowing pig, and the reason i put this out there is that huge, widely removed and incredibly different portions of this world know pig, too. but few seem to think about the US in regards to top quality ham, and when they do, they tend to think of the south, as do i. so thanks for this rec. i'll be keeping an eye out for it.

                  2. Iberico available at Cheese on 62nd in NYC for $120 lb, wondeful item. for cured not cooked the best, for cooked Groff's in Lancaster, Pa is lower salted and has been my Christmas ham for 20 years.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                      I googled & couldn't find a website for Groff's. Is it the Groff restaurant in Mt. Joy, PA?

                      1. re: ceekskat

                        Not Mt Joy but Elizabethtown; google Groff meats. Get the bone-in, not the boneless.

                    2. Smoked capybara from the market in Pucallpa, Peru.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                        Doesn't ham have to involve pork?

                        1. re: Humbucker

                          Isn't capybara related to guineaPIG?

                          1. re: mnosyne

                            Capybara, the world's largest rodent! I've mentioned this before: On some American Hoiliday and with several Americans at our researchers' house in Pucallpa, Peru, I found smoked and salted capybara in the market and prepared dinner around it. Steamed the meat to get rid of some of the salt; made applesauce (the only "American" fruit I could find), potatoes, rice, steamed veggies. The capybara meat turned out to taste and look just like a good ham. I told people I had brought in a Virginia smoked ham ... and everyone believed me!!! Wish I had capybara here in Colombia.

                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                              They also make great gloves from the hide, inexpensive and last forever, elegant as well. Regret never saw the meat, got the gloves in rural Argentina.

                      2. You are probably referring to Iberica. I can't bring myself to spring for $100 per pound to try it.

                        My favorite: Prosciuitto di Parma. San Danielle and Serrano are close seconds.

                        I also like Madrange French Style Cooked ham.

                        1. Don't forget Black Forest Ham. I have no idea how it's made, but I do know how it's eaten.
                          With gusto :)

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: billieboy

                            ten years of my childhood spent in germany and i kick myself for not being able to recall the taste of real black forest ham. supposedly, its protected in the EU, but not in the US, so hams here can be labeled black forest without truly being such. at least according to wikipedia, so...

                            anyone able to weigh in on the jambon de bayonne, from basque france?

                            1. re: billieboy

                              « With gusto »

                              Ach, nein ... you meant to say "lustig" ! :-)

                              1. re: billieboy

                                Black Forest ham was what came to my mind. Very smoky and sweet. I remember walking into Karl Ehmer's Deli in Arlington, NY once, and I don't know if they had had a smoker there, or if they had just brought some in, but the smell just captivated us. We do prefer smoked ham to those simply cured and hung, and while I've never smoked a ham, we've really have gotten to enjoy the flavor that the different woods imparts to various foods.

                              2. Speck - it tastes like a smoked prosciutto. It's my go-to ham for Paninis

                                1. This summer i followed the suggestions of some nice chowhounders and bought a few slices of belota (about 10 dollars for 3). DH and i really loved the Belota, but not enough to shell out 3 dollars per slice on a regular basis.

                                  Actually, i think the experience made me appreciate my spanish serrano even more. Certain notes in it remind me of the Belota:)

                                  1. Yes, I don't think I've ever seen proper Chinese ham ("kam wah fo tuy" in Cantonese) for sale around. I find it's a very lean ham, and quite salty. I do remember having it in one of my favorites chinese dishes, sliced thin, inserted in between slices of poached chicken and chinese mushrooms and then braised (?). Mom likes to throw a small piece into some of her chinese soups to give the soup a little extra boost but due to scarcity has taken to using prosciutto ends instead.

                                    8 Replies
                                    1. re: bdachow

                                      Near me is an asian supermarket called Kam Sen that sells something that they mark as Chinese Ham (or at least Chinese style ham, I doubt they import it from China) Yes it is indeed very salty (I found that out the hard way, the day I tried to grill a slice to eay a breakfast!)

                                      1. re: jumpingmonk

                                        Oh my, that doesn't sound pleasant at all, knowing how salty the darn thing is!

                                        1. re: bdachow

                                          I wasn't on the other hand the stuff is GREAT if your making winter melon soup (I actually like the version with the ham and melon only far more than the "eight treasures" version most of the local Chinese resturaunts offer.

                                          1. re: jumpingmonk

                                            Oooohhhh...forgot about dropping a chunk into winter melon soup. Gives it such a nice extra kick in the flavor. Sadly, don't get winter melons in Bermuda, go figure! Lol.

                                            1. re: bdachow

                                              I've never tried them, but a friend of mine (who was also in a position where winter melon was unavaliable) did give me two "fake out" ways to substitutue; call it "mock winter melon soup" which I will pass on in the hopes that one of them helps. One is to use the white part of a watermelon (its a little more sour than real winter melon but this is largely covered by the sauce/broth) the second is if you actually have garden space (i.e. the limitng factor is not that you dont have space to grow melons, but that (as in your case), Winter melons don't do well in your climate. If you do then you might want to go online and seach around the Heirloom seed sellers (make sure you, make sure that the ones your looking at can actually ship to Bermuda (I'm sure there are some) to find seeds for something called a "preserving melon" or a "citron melon" . This is a fruit related to the watermelon with rock hard flesh that, in old times was sometimes candided to be used as citron in areas where trie citron )citrus medica) peel was unavailable. You'll have to grow your own since pieces sold as fruit tend to be pre candided for your convenince. a few places that do sell sell it (bear in mind I do not know if any of there will ship to bermuda are La boutique du Kokopelli(http://www.kokopelli.asso.fr/boutic/i...) (these people used to ship to me in the US from France, so they may ship to Bermuda (Note: if you do do this, you may have to find some other seeds to make their mimimum order, some of my recomendations (if they have them) are the Paiute corn and the de Djerba carrot both of which are real conversation starters come harvest) P.P.S. it helps if you have someone who can read French as they are not all that good at remembering what language you paced the order in.) and Baker creek (www. rareseeds.com) hope something here is of use to you.

                                              1. re: bdachow

                                                I made the winter melon soup with a small chunk of Prosciutto di Parma shank (the end part of the leg that my local butcher can no longer slice for prosciutto for sale and so he sells by the whole end chuck). The flavor was INCREDIBLE! And I used captical words because it was really unbeliveable! The soup flavor had so much more depth and fragrance! From then on I have been making winter melon soup with prosciutto leg end ever since.

                                                1. re: bdachow

                                                  You can use cucumber as a substitute.

                                                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                    Thanks for all the tips everyone!
                                                    JM, thanks for the info, sounds fascinating but alas, no garden, real estate is a premium here!
                                                    Sam..hadn't thought about using cucumber, but that's a good thought. Will have to give it a try sometime and will definitely be hitting up the market to see if they have any prosciutto ends to drop in. Just in time for Chinese New Year's too, not a traditional dish but am lucky just to have any Chinese at all!

                                        2. Absolute Favorite: Jamon Iberico de bellota - This is one thing that I feel guilty eating because it is so expensive, yet so ethereal! I can't resist.... If bellota is not available, I will settle for jamon iberico.

                                          - Close second: Prosciutto di Parma - I like it better than San Danielle. Just a personal preference. (Note: di Parma should be saltier than San Danielle, contrary to what others mentioned above).

                                          - I have also enjoyed American smoked ham raw like you did. My favorite is Benton's smoked Country Ham.

                                          For Prosciutto and Country Ham, they must be sliced ultra thin, and leave the fat on!

                                          1. Westphalian ham--

                                             
                                            1. I love them all. Having grown up in Virginia I think longingly of a thin slice of Smithfield ham covered with a mound of blue crab, dotted with butter, and heated but not crisped under the broiler.