In Sierra de Huelva, curing ham is a several hundred years old artisan tradition and it can take up to 48 months depending on the feed and the climate, as well as the quality and weight of the pig. The drying of the ham takes place in semi-dark halls, «secaderos». These «secaderos» have natural hatches through which the slightly salty Atlantic wind carries the aroma from the fields and woods before it whispers between the hams.
That a SVARFOT HAM is massaged by hand 2 to 4 times a year during the 5 years of the cure?Click to tweet
At the beginning of the cure, the hams are laid in marine salt for a few days. The amount of time depends on their weight: 1 day per kilo. The temperature is kept between 0 and 5 degrees C to control the absorption of the salt. Then they are washed thoroughly in tempered water and hung for 40 days at approximately 6 C to balance the salt. As in all cured meats, nitrates are added to the salt to hinder the growth of unwanted bacteria, but the hams retain very low values nitrate levels after being washed.*
Excess fat is cut away by hand, allowing the hams to achieve a nice rounded form before they are hung to dry. This period of sweating is called «sudado», where the aromas contained in the fat in and around the muscles slowly filtrates to the meat. During this process, as we go from winter to summer, the temperature slowly rises and is controlled by the air hatches in the natural «secaderos».
After drying for 6 to 9 months, the final phase of the curing process begins and the hams are hung in bodegas at 15 to 20 degrees C. A natural part of the process is the mold which forms on the outside of the hams. To control this growth, they are massaged by hand with sunflower oil 2 to 4 times a year.
To judge how the ham is developing, it is pinched with a needle made of bone, which is then sniffed. Here it is all about the expert artisans having good olfaction. The result of 4 years of laborious work is judged in this manner.
* Even though the cured ham contains very low levels of nitrates, the declaration is obligatory. On the labels one will find E-250, E-252 that are nitrates against different bacterias and E-300 and E-301 that are ascorbates, vitamin C.