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Australia's best ham revealed

Jose Pereira of Sunshine Meats

Jose Pereira of Sunshine Meats

That office Secret Santa gift might be a hasty, vaguely regrettable decision, but your Christmas ham should be a purchase made with a bit more care and deliberation. Fortunately, Australian Ham Week (November 30 to December 6) is here to celebrate locally produced ham and educate us on the finer points of selection in time for Christmas. 

First question: bone-in or boneless? As part of Ham Week, The Australian Ham Awards have named winners of both categories from a total of 123 entries.

The overall winner of Australia's best artisan ham was New South Wales producer Sunshine Meats with a boneless ham, double-smoked and infused with maple. The company's founder, Jose Pereira, says he didn't want to enter, but his daughter pushed him into it. Pereira extols the convenience of a boneless ham, which is naturally easier to slice than a traditional bone-in leg. The Victoria-based Bertocchi Brothers' triple-smoked leg ham, meanwhile, won the nationally available category.

Paul Rae of Master Meats in Queensland took out the national gong for bone-in ham for the second year running. Rae favours the traditional bone-in method for the sweeter meat it produces, he says. The secret to his prize-winning ham is a cure involving juniper and malt - the result of much tinkering and testing.

Horst Schurger, who carries the hefty title of fleischmeister, or master butcher, judged the awards along with chefs Paul McDonald and Simon Bestley. Schurger says that when judging entries (or, in our case, shopping) it's important to look for a ham that's "nice and plump", with uniformity of colour, a saltiness that enhances the taste of the meat without overpowering it, a subtle hint of smoke on the meat closer to the rind, and an absence of fermentation holes (the result of too much sugar during curing).

The involvement of restaurants around the nation in Ham Week will showcase how quality Australian ham can be served. In Melbourne, "hamgustations" are being held at Huxtable and The Commoner; in Sydney, Carla Jones at 4Fourteen is serving a traditional baked ham with pickles, while Richard Ousby at Brisbane's Stokehouse will be serving his ham maple-glazed with fresh figs. With butchers around the country putting on tastings and demonstrations, you're set to end up with a ham that will be lucky to make it past the big day.

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