Nov. 2, 2012 - In the latest issue of Animal Frontiers, scientists explore the cultural background of Jinhua hams and the art of making the hams.
Jinhua hams are a dry-cured meat produced from raw hind legs of the Jinhua pig, which is a local pig breed from the Jinhua District of China. People began using salt to preserve meat in ancient times before cold storage was available. The art of making special Jinhua ham is passed down through generations by Jinhua ham masters to apprentices through performance and verbal instruction.
“A Jinhua ham apprentice might need 10 to 15 years of training to become a Jinhua master,” write authors G.H. Zhou and G.M. Zhao.
Jinhua ham is produced through natural curing methods dependent on the climate and weather conditions. The entire processing of Jinhua ham usually takes eight to 10 months, and the process begins in the winter months. Fresh hind legs from Jinhua pigs are selected, trimmed and shaped in the form of a bamboo leaf. The hams are then salted to preserve the ham. The exact salting process is a secret that only Jinhua ham masters know.
After salting, the hams are soaked and washed to clean the hams and remove the salt. The hams are then hung and left to dry in the sun. Around seven days later, the hams are moved to the ripening room.
“Normally, various molds begin to grow 20 to 30 days and the meat surfaces of hams are gradually covered by several dominant molds,” write Zhou and Zhau. These molds are monitored to ensure desirable ripening conditions.
After the ripening is completed, the meat is dry and covered with dust and mold spores. The ham is then brushed clean and a thin layer of vegetable oil is applied to soften the ham. Post-ripening allows the ham to stabilize and develop its unique flavor.
The hams are then graded into categories according to quality, depending on the ham’s aroma.
“A grader, usually a well-known Jinhua ham master, appointed by the government assesses a ham’s aroma by inserting a bamboo probe into a ham and smelling the probe when removing it,” write Zhou and Zhao.
Scientists believe that the deep history and culture of the Jinhua ham will allow them to study the processes that occur in meat.
“The Jinhua ham is a good reference to the development of the meat industry and worthy of deep research to full understand the secrets behind it,” write Zhou and Zhau.
The article, “History and heritage of Jinhua ham” can be read in full at animalfrontiers.org.
ASAS Scientific Communications Associate
MadelineMS@asas.org / 217-689-2435