Cooking Issues

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October 28th, 2010 · No Comments ·

Cold –but not freezing— winter weather was the first thing our ancestors needed to make a great dry-cured ham.  If the climate was too cold, a whole ham would freeze before it could be cured in the classic technique. If too warm, a whole ham would spoil.  The tradition of the dry-cured ham, therefore, wraps around the world in a distinct climate zone.  This ham belt includes most of lower Europe and the Mediterranean, is interrupted by Islamic interdictions on pork consumption, extremely high mountains, and vegetarian based cultures, and picks up again in China, which has a fantastic dry-cured ham tradition (alas, no Chinese dry cured hams are available in the US).  Traveling east from Europe, the ham belt threads through the southern United States and extends from Virginia in the north to North Carolina (some say to northern Georgia) in the south and west through Tennessee and Kentucky to Missouri and Northern Arkansas.  There, in the Ozarks, the tradition stopped spreading.  There are no legendary Great Plains hams.  Modern technology, however, has made it possible to dry-cure ham anywhere from the North Pole to the equator. Ninety-nine percent of the ham producers in the world keep their ham under constant temperature and humidity control, even in the ham belt regions, because temperature control has made ham-curing a year-round business.

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