I have made a few hams in my day, but none of them came out nearly as great as this last one. We followed the step by step recipe from the University of Kentucky and the results were stunning! You can find the recipe by clicking here. We let this beauty age for just over 18 months before cutting into it. We were waiting for the perfect time to have our first ceremonial slicing and we found it. Our Italian friend Luca is one of the best cheesemakers in the area and was over our house for dinner with some other long time friends and we had to get into it! Luca brought a pile of his cheeses from Wolf Meadow Farm, his cheese company. The meat and cheese board was stacked with deliciousness. He spoke of his childhood memories of rubbing bread on the hams and salami curing in his basements back in Campobasso, Italy. He said the fat on this ham had that same nostalgic character as the hams of his childhood. He went on to tell us that he was not allowed to touch the hams growing up, until special holidays, so they would try to rub the flavor into the bread and not get caught by his mother!
The quality of the pork is the heart and soul of the flavor, so we went with a beautiful custom cut leg from Snug Valley farm in East Hardwick, Vermont. The breed of pork was 100% pure bred Berkshire. The color of the meat was a lush, dark burgundy. The fat was like cream and the ratio between the 2 were perfect.
In the winter, their pigs live in one of two winter pig barns that have open-air sides and one barn has large outdoor loafing areas for each group. They use deep bedded pack with first cut hay to keep them warm and allow them to eat grass throughout the winter.
They also never use antibiotics and they use a feed natural grain and their own hay, supplementing with brewers grain, organic veggies and organic bread, when available.
When we were in Spain, we literally ate dozens and dozens of different dishes, all over the south. One dish we would get everywhere we went, was the regional Jamòn! From the coastal cities of Malaga & Mijas, to the mountain villages of Ronda, we would start our dinner with a plate of expertly sliced ham. The ham was always sliced to order and served as is. They would offer 3 types based on age. 8 month, 12 month & 18 month. They also offered different breeds like Iberico (black hoof) & the most coveted, acorn fed Iberico bellota. I loved them all, but there was an umami thing going on with the 18 month that was really special and the texture was perfect. We wanted to have that experience at our fingertips whenever we wanted and we were ready to wait it out through curing our own leg.
I will only give the credit to our basement temperature & humidity, because it just so happened to be clean and consistent throughout the aging process. The rest of the credit goes to the quality of the snug valley pork and the excellent, detailed, step by step recipe from the University of Kentucky. After all, Kentucky ham is some of the best in the states. Salt ratio and before & after weights are key to figuring out when your ham is ready to eat.