Top tips for picking a Christmas ham

Top tips for picking hams from a professional fleischmeister.

Horst Schurger says that the best way to find a good ham is to start with a good butcher. "If he takes care of the meat, chances are he'll take care of the ham, too."

We spoke to the German-born fleischmeister and master butcher as he was judging the National PorkMark Ham Awards for Excellence in Sydney with a view to picking up some tips on what makes a good ham.

When you're tasting, he says, you're looking for a balanced cure, a natural meaty texture (wet or rubbery is a big no-no) and a good smoky flavour. If you have to choose without first tasting the ham (a practice no fleischmeister would condone), look for smooth, even skin and an even colouring. "And if the knuckle is sunken, it's overcooked, which means the whole ham is overcooked."

A buckled or uneven rind is another sign of dryness and if there's a cut ham on display, look for smooth, well-bound meat with no bubbles (they result from fermentation, an indicator of an inferior cure).

Size and age matter, too. Older pigs make for tougher eating, and younger pigs have less flavour, making hams around the 10kg-12kg mark the sweet spot.

The take-home message? Find a good butcher and don't be afraid to ask questions: whether you can taste the ham, where it comes from, the sex of the animal it was cut from (female is best), and what kind of wood was used to smoke it.

And finally, for the best possible results, opt for fresh Australian pork. Hams can be made in Australia using imported frozen meat; make sure the ham you buy has been made with Australian meat (look for the pink "Australian Pork" label for your guarantee). "It supports the Australian farmers," says Schurger, "and, of course, it's better quality."

To see the National PorkMark Ham Awards for Excellence winners and for more information, visit pork.com.au.


Looking for some Christmas ham recipes? Check out our Christmas recipe slideshow

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