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What is good ham and where do I get it?

bgbc Jun 5, 2010 12:58 AM

Sorry if this has been discussed before -- couldn't see anything via search.

I love ham. But I buy it at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's where I've only had the soft kind that comes sliced and is also a little gummy. Whole Foods used to carry whole Niman Ranch hams to slice but I haven't seen them in a long time.

So, where do I get the kind of delicious ham I had once at Cesar, for example? It was dry, thin, fragrant and meaty, and I haven't ever seen it in supermarkets. I'm guessing I'm looking for a good jamon or prosciutto -- or am I wrong?


  1. wolfe Jul 10, 2010 08:30 AM

    New contender Mangalica from woolly-haired Mangalitsa pigs. Hams from the pigs are being cured near Segovia Spain The slices, streaked with mellow fat, are rich, salty and sweet, similar in color and flavor to Iberico ham from Pata Negra pigs, but more buttery. Imported by D'artagnan at $550 for 15lb bone in and $500 for 7lb boned.

    1. s
      SteveG Jun 7, 2010 03:01 PM

      If I were you, I'd go to DeLissio market on Oak/Broderick in San Francisco. They have a really nicely curated selection of hams, from gently cooked French hams to Prosciuttos to Jamon Serrano, they're all universally good. They also have friendly meat carvers who range from somewhat informed to meat nerds, and they give me samples when I buy.

      What you had at Cesar was almost certainly Jamon Serrano. If it was $30-$40 for a small serving, then it might have been Jamon Iberico.

      2 Replies
      1. re: SteveG
        wolfe Jun 7, 2010 04:21 PM

        Too high Steve, Barlata has a tapas plate of Iberico on the online menu $16, must be a few slices from the piece I saw on my 1 visit.

        4901 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

        1. re: SteveG
          Robert Lauriston Jun 7, 2010 04:48 PM

          As I recall the Iberico was something like $35 when Cesar first had it, but they've dropped it to $21.75.

        2. b
          boris_qd Jun 6, 2010 10:05 AM

          La Quercia prosciutto is excellent and while not local is made in the US (Iowa). It's available at some whole foods stores - much better freshly sliced then pre-sliced. I've tried it side by side with some good parma and like La Quercia better. (Best still though are some of the better Spanish hams. I've had Iberico that was just in a league of it's own: buttery, sweet, nutty, meaty.)

          2 Replies
          1. re: boris_qd
            osho Jun 7, 2010 03:54 PM

            To your knowledge, which locations carry La Quercia prosciutto ?

            1. re: osho
              boris_qd Jun 7, 2010 04:44 PM

              I saw it pre-packaged at the Noe Valley Whole Foods (but have never tried it). A couple of months ago it was on sale at the California Whole Foods (there they will slice to order).

              According to their website Cowgirl Creamery is the local distributor but I've never noticed it in the Ferry Terminal shop (which is not to say that it isn't there). There's a long list of other places to find it but certainly not all of them sell retail.


              If anybody goes and checks out La Quercia sellers I'd be interested in a report back on prices (which I believe can vary quite a bit).

              Cowgirl Creamery
              1 Ferry Building, San Francisco, CA 94111

          2. c
            cakebaker Jun 5, 2010 03:15 PM

            Spanish Table has a selection of spanish ham slices and they are very well informed about the product. My favorite ham comes from Snake River Farms in Idaho. They are Kurobuta hams and have tremendous flavor but they aren't inexpensive. Something new they have that I tried this year in under the "Collections" section of their site...a 6 pack of small "Karver" hams that are about 3lbs. I was skeptical at first but they are very meaty little hams instead of a whole or half. You have to buy 6 at a time for $90.00 but they really go a long way even though it doesn't sound like much. I keep them frozen and they are really special.


            Spanish Table
            1814 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley, CA 94702

            9 Replies
            1. re: cakebaker
              Melanie Wong Jun 5, 2010 04:30 PM

              I stumbled on a stash of the Snake River carver hams after Christmas at Ray's Supermarket in Cloverdale for $1.89/lb. I bought 9 of them (avg. weight 5 lbs) and I'm sad that there's only one left. I asked the Snake River guys which cut this is and I think he said it's from the hip joint.

              1. re: Melanie Wong
                oldunc Jun 6, 2010 08:43 AM

                Have seen the Jamon at Spanish Table and was blown out by the prices- anyone know why? I sort of remember reading something somewhere about the USDA not allowing certain types of cures used in other parts of the world, and something involving rawness or cookedness- anyone have any hard information on this?

                Spanish Table
                1814 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley, CA 94702

                1. re: oldunc
                  Robert Lauriston Jun 6, 2010 10:16 AM

                  Jamon Serrano should cost about the same as first-rate Italian prosciutto such as San Daniele. The next step up, Jamon Iberico, is expensive even in Spain. Jamon Iberico de Belota, the next step up, ditto.

                  The USDA certification required for export to the US adds to the cost.

                2. re: Melanie Wong
                  cakebaker Jun 6, 2010 11:21 PM

                  How lucky! I wonder if they are the same as I ordered. The web site states the "mini hams" are 2-3 lbs but all mine were over 4. Great ham!

                  1. re: cakebaker
                    Melanie Wong Jun 8, 2010 08:22 PM

                    Here's the photo I took in the store.

                    I did some mental calculations of how much space I had in the refrigerator and freezer to decide how many to buy. Spot on, guess I could have thrown away the milk and eggs to make room for one more . . .

                    1. re: Melanie Wong
                      cakebaker Jun 9, 2010 04:07 PM

                      thanks for the picture...those are exactly the little knuckle hams they call "Karver" hams on their website. each one is $15.00 on their site. I wish I could get to Cloverdale! Ps. re: making room for the hams...we think alike.

                3. re: cakebaker
                  boris_qd Jun 7, 2010 09:54 AM

                  I couldn't tell from the web page, but are any of these hams made without sweeteners? A good quality ham is naturally sweet but I have yet to find an American producer making it that way. If these are indeed sweetener-free that would be a major find.

                  1. re: boris_qd
                    cakebaker Jun 8, 2010 02:12 PM

                    Per Snake River Farms...they use only smoke which accounts for any "sweetness" but no sweeteners are used. FYI..the small "Karver" hams are cut from the knuckle.

                    1. re: cakebaker
                      boris_qd Jun 8, 2010 03:14 PM

                      I'll be on the lookout for these. Thanks!

                4. o
                  OldTimer Jun 5, 2010 12:25 PM

                  If you are interested in real country ham, order a packet of sliced Virginia country ham from Smithfield Collection. A few suggestions: unless you have acquired the taste, avoid true "Smithfield" ham...it is very salty. A whole ham is really too much, unless you are having a big party. The packets of sliced are really a better buy, no waste. Don't get a country ham you have to cook...it is an ordeal. Don't mess with Smithfield ham you see in Chinese markets...they use it for seasoning, and it is not cooked when sold.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: OldTimer
                    wolfe Jun 5, 2010 12:39 PM

                    Ffom above:I have seen Smithfield ham in assorted cut chucks at my local Ranch 99. Don't know how to prepare though. Does it still require the soaking process the the whole ham needs?

                    Do those chunks have to be soaked before cooking?

                    1. re: wolfe
                      OldTimer Jun 5, 2010 03:12 PM

                      As I said previously, Chinese use Smithfield (closest thing to China ham) for seasoning. They WANT the strong, salty flavor. I have never tried cooking chunks of ham, only the whole ham, Big pain. I can only assume that a ham chunk is just as salty as a whole ham. I have had Chinese banquet dishes where the dish was ham seasoned, and it was very tasty (only small slivers of ham, I recall). One thing you might want to try if you can find it in Chinese market, is Smithfield shoulder. We used to eat it like bacon when I was little.

                  2. b
                    boris_qd Jun 5, 2010 12:15 PM

                    There are two basic distinctions and you'll want to figure out which one you're looking for.

                    There's dried - like prosccuito and serrano. It can also be smoked like Speck or Westfalian Ham, or spiced like Copa. In all cases it is cured by salting and is not cooked. When sliced it has a translucent quality and is a little rubbery.

                    The other kind is cooked - usually boiled but could be boiled and baked. For me good quality here means no preservatives and sugar and can be hard to find. Try Prosccuito Cotto which is frequently flavored with Rosemary or if you're lucky some German brands. You can also find some nice stuff in easter european delis out in Richmond The american style can be super sweet - flavored with sugar, honey and maple syrup - and for me is inferior to a good naturally sweet one.

                    When you say "Gummy" I'm thinking you mean airdried, but when you say "whole Niman Ranch" I'm thinking you mean cooked. Maybe you could clarify?

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: boris_qd
                      Robert Lauriston Jun 5, 2010 03:41 PM

                      Boiled ham (like the kind that comes in a can) is often kind of gummy from all the water they pump into it.

                      1. re: boris_qd
                        bgbc Jun 6, 2010 09:23 PM

                        Yup, I was thinking gummy because it often has a thick, sticky residue around it and because the -- boiled? -- meat is soft.

                      2. Robert Lauriston Jun 5, 2010 09:16 AM

                        Costco has some pretty decent Italian prosciutto in complicated packaging that keeps the slices in good shape. Any decent Italian deli will have a selection of prosciuttos they can slice to order.

                        Berkeley Bowl has a good selection of hams, including Niman, domestic and imported prosciutto, and Black Forest. That's pretty common at upscale grocery stores. Are you sure Whole Foods doesn't have ham?

                        There's another branch of Spanish Table in Marin.

                        Spanish Table
                        800 Redwood Hwy 123, Mill Valley, CA

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Robert Lauriston
                          bayareatiger Jun 6, 2010 10:01 PM

                          The Fra'Mani uncured ham at Berkeley Bowl West is fabulous, even at $14.99/lb.

                          Highly recommended.

                          Berkeley Bowl West
                          920 Heinz Ave, Berkeley, CA

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston
                            Joan Kureczka Jun 8, 2010 12:20 PM

                            Whole Foods (at least the one on 16th) carries several of the Framani hams (I'm partial to the Little Ham, myself) as well as La Quercia and Italian prosciuttos, plus other more usual hams. These are all in the deli area, not the racks by the meat counter.

                          2. wolfe Jun 5, 2010 08:10 AM

                            The old thread on Spanish hams suggests a price of $45 for Jamon Iberico. The present price range I have seen is $99 to more than $150/lb. Seen at Bi Rite, Dean and Deluca and Spanish Table. Serrano is also available but at a much lower price. I have also seen speck at A.G. Ferrari. I have seen Smithfield ham in assorted cut chucks at my local Ranch 99. Don't know how to prepare though. Does it still require the soaking process the the whole ham needs?

                            Spanish Table
                            1814 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley, CA 94702

                            1. m
                              Mick Ruthven Jun 5, 2010 04:54 AM

                              There's a whole other type of ham, "country ham", cured with long-ago methods. I grew up with Missouri country ham on special occasions from some farmer the family knew who cured and sold hams. There are also the famous Smithfield (Virginia) hams as well as other regional country hams. For some people, country ham is an acquired taste. Salt is an essential part of the cure. Some like to soak the ham in water to remove a lot of the salt; for others (like me), that is heresy. Currently, Burger's in California, Missouri, is the only source I know of for Missouri country ham. Their Attic Aged Country Ham ( http://tinyurl.com/burgershams ) is the real thing and is available cooked or uncooked, whole or half or slices, etc. For Smithfield ham, I have no current experience or recommendations; a google search will turn up many sources.

                              If anyone knows of Bay Area sources for these hams, please speak up.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: Mick Ruthven
                                Spatlese Jun 5, 2010 03:15 PM

                                I was at the Ferry Building farmers' market this morning, and wandering thru the shops inside, I saw that Chris Cosentino's salumi outfit, Boccalone, was apparently selling Allan Benton's country ham as a special - didn't see what the asking price was. https://bentonshams.com/order/index.php

                                1. re: Spatlese
                                  Mick Ruthven Jun 6, 2010 06:30 AM

                                  Do you remember if they were selling only whole hams?

                                  1. re: Mick Ruthven
                                    Spatlese Jun 6, 2010 10:10 AM

                                    No idea - it was just scrawled on a little "specials" chalk board - Benton's ham - no price listed. Didn't stop to ask more about it, so I don't know how they were selling it.

                              2. p
                                paul balbin Jun 5, 2010 04:18 AM

                                It is possible to improve a grocery store ham. Buy a "Cook's" ham from the grocery store.
                                You may have to look around to find one. They are usually available really cheap after
                                easter and Xmas since they are a by product in the production of ham slices for the holidays.
                                Roast the ham at 220 for 8 hours. After cooling place in the refrigerator uncovered for 2
                                weeks to allow the ham to dry out some. When it reaches the point of dryness you prefer
                                wrap with plastic film and enjoy it. I roast them in a small smoker myself as I prefer a
                                smokier ham.
                                Good luck

                                1. m
                                  Mr_Happy Jun 5, 2010 02:27 AM

                                  If it was at Cesar it was probably a jamon iberico or a jamon serrano. I found an old thread about iberico ham here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/376366

                                  The Pasta Shop in Oakland and Berkeley also carries iberico. It's pretty expensive. Don't remember if they have jamon serrano.

                                  1. y
                                    yogalilly Jun 5, 2010 01:18 AM

                                    Lucca Deli on Valencia Street.

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