What goes with the ham

What makes ham special

LOOKED EXACTLY. After a long fasting period, the joy of Easter ham is great. But what is ham actually, how is it made and where are the differences? A search for clues including a tasting of common types of ham.

The best part of the pig is arguably its rear end. Because the so-called Schlögel includes the meat-rich, lean and fine-fiber portions of meat. The ham is cut from this. And that - as the Austrian grocery book specifies - only from the Schlögel. Austrian ham is therefore “always a good product,” says Marija Zunabovic-Pichler. She is a food technologist at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna and says: "If it says ham, there is ham in it." Cheating would have little chance, but that later.

In any case, there are many differences between ham and ham. If you think of the classic ham, you will mean the cooked ham (see below), i.e. ham, press ham or toast ham. Articles and tasting are also limited to this type of ham.

Pretty technical thing

What they have in common is that, due to the way they are made, they are cured products. “The principle is always the same,” says Willibald Mandl, federal guild master for the food industry and a butcher himself. “Two to three days after slaughter, the meat is injected with a brine and brine. Then the pieces of meat come to rumble in a drum, in which they are rolled around for several hours. Then the meat is cooked, ”summarizes Mandl. Injection curing, in which the salt and water brine is injected into the meat, is standard today and is used in both industrial and artisanal production, says Zunabovic-Pichler: “The brine gets into the meat faster, which shortens the manufacturing process. “The rumbling, in turn, causes muscle protein to escape, which favors the later natural sticking of the pieces of meat during cooking. Sticking? Correct! Most hams need to be shaped first. “You can expect the consumer to know that a ham is not naturally square,” says Zunabovic-Pichler. Only the ham (if it is prepared with a leg) and individual parts of the mallet come from one piece. Otherwise, the larger and smaller sections are placed in molds and pressed after poling. Smaller cuts are used for press and toasted ham.

What constitutes the quality

So what is it that makes the qualitative difference? "Toast ham is also of high quality," says Zunabovic-Pichler - because the meat always comes from the Schlögel. Incidentally, this rule only applies to Austria. In Germany, other cheaper meat parts can also be used. For Zunabovic-Pichler, taste is more of a question of association, i.e. what the consumer associates with it. The quality of the meat does play a role. "The quality depends on whether the starting material is flawless," says Ingrid Kiefer, head of the risk communication department at the Agency for Food Safety (AGES). But she adds: "If starch, thickeners and colorings or vegetable proteins are added, there is less meat content - which is to be seen as influencing quality." These additional ingredients - as well as the meat content - must be stated on the packaging. Kiefer therefore recommends paying attention to the list of ingredients. With the cut pattern, consumers can also pay attention to large, grown pieces of meat, little fat (except rind) and little connective tissue.

Additives and misleading

Johann Schlederer, managing director of the pig exchange, also has the “ingredients” in mind when he says provocatively and exaggeratedly in the direction of industrial processors: “The trick is often to make water cut.” Basically, the food book regulates exactly how much Water (and protein) may be added in production. However, Schlederer suspects that these regulations will be exhausted in order to gain price advantages in the case of “super special offers that the trade has commissioned”. A test carried out in 2014 by the Austrian test magazine Konsument.at proves him right: more than half of the hams examined contained too much water.

An additive that does not even have to be on the list of ingredients, but is used, is transglutaminase. It is an enzyme that links protein in the ham and thus acts as a glue. Normally, sticking the pieces of meat together is done by the meat's own protein, which escapes during the rumble. "But if you don't understand this craft, you have to add the glue," says Mandl.

The most common reason for complaint in the context of official food control goes in a different direction, namely in that of misleading. This includes, for example, that a “block of toast” ends up as “ham” on toast or pizza. Block of toast can also contain meat from other cheaper parts (e.g. shoulder) and other animals, as well as more water. This has advantages for heating on pizza, for example, because it does not dry out so quickly. However, it may not be called “ham”.

Preferably pig

In any case, the ham is popular, as is the pork in general. With a 29 percent share, pork ends up most often on the plates of Austrians - 37.2 kilos per person per year. Ham is bought for the most part (93 percent) in the food retail sector, and according to data from Agrarmarkt Austria (AMA) marketing, self-service is becoming increasingly popular there compared to the delicatessen counter. Only four percent of buyers get their ham from the butcher, while three percent use other sources of purchase, such as direct marketers. In terms of taste, a ham will hardly differ between a supermarket and a butcher. “But we have mastered the craft that is used to advertise everywhere,” says Willibald Mandl. So that the regional butchers will still be around in the future, he recommends going there for Easter shopping.

What is ham

According to the Austrian food book, ham must come from meat parts from the Schlögel. It is roughly divided into raw and cooked ham.

  • Raw ham After salting or curing, it is made durable by air-drying or smoking. These include, for example, Serrano ham from Spain or Parma ham from Italy (Parma), which is colloquially mostly known as "Prosciutto".
  • cooked ham on the other hand, it is preserved by curing and cooking. It includes ham, press ham or toast ham, for example.

Image sources

  • Schinken-Schlögel: Fancy the country
  • Ham market: Fancy the country
  • Ham: Studio Gi - Adobe Stock.com