Mountain Ham

Adapted by StarChefs.com
February 2014

INGREDIENTS:

1 good heritage bloodline boar
1 good heritage bloodline sow
25 (+/-) acres of fertile pasture
25 (+/-) acres of Appalachian woodlot
1 good shelter
Lots of water
Fair amount of barley grain supplement
Assortment of seed to plant your fields in ( barley, rape, corn, beans, squash, etc.)
1 great caregiver
Coarse salt

METHOD:

Take your boar and sow and breed them to each other. Take good care of them. Feed them, water them, talk to them, and rub their backs and snouts. Wait for about 3 months and 3 weeks and make sure the sow has plenty of straw to build a nest. In the meantime, plant your fields and make sure your pigs are going to have plenty to eat and a good variety to choose from. Make sure the fences are good and tight.

The sow will build a good nest to have some babies. When the sow has her babies, just observe and make sure she has plenty of food and water. Do not get close to her babies! She knows what to do. Make sure all the babies are healthy and getting plenty of milk from the sow. The next month is the most crucial time in the babies’ lives. The sow has to start teaching them to forage and eat on their own. After that month you need to wean the piglets from the mother and put them in the first field that is ready. Optimally, this is going to be the beginning of spring, there will be plenty of young tender greens and roots to eat.

For about the next 6 to 7 months, move the young pigs across the pastures little by little, so that they can harvest all the crops that you’ve planted for them. Make sure they have plenty of water, especially on the hot, humid days. Make sure they always have access to plenty of shade. While you’re doing all of this, be sure the fences around your woodlots are good and tight and well marked.

Around September and October, when the fruit and nut crops start to ripen and fall from the trees, move your pigs into the woodlots. Make sure they have access to plenty of water and good shelter for the cold nights. Let the pigs eat the nuts, fruits, roots, and things in the forest until they have cleaned everything up. Don’t let them stay in one location too long, so they don’t degrade any of the permaculture (it will return full the next year). This should take about 3 months, during which you should get everything ready for the harvest. The pigs are at their prime this time of year. They’ve spent the entire year running around in the fields eating from the pastures. They’ve been lying around and relaxing on hot days in their wallows and gorging themselves all fall on the harvest from the forest. 

It’s time to harvest your pork. As you butcher all your meat, be sure to do it methodically to create the best cuts and yields as possible. You don’t want to waste anything. Process all the cuts and parts into other foods to be cured or cooked; this recipe is for Mountain Ham. For the hams, you’re going to want to separate the aitch bone at the ball joint where it meets with the femur. Cut away any excess meat or skin that sticks out (it will cure unevenly) and use for other recipes.

Now that you have the ham nice and uniformly cut, massage the ham from the foot to the ball joint on either side of the bones. This will push any remaining blood out of the leg and allow the ham to cure evenly without too much moisture in any one place.

Salt the ham with a good quality coarse salt. You can either: (1) keep the ham buried in salt for about a month, depending on weight, or (2) rub the ham with salt and keep applying it as it absorbs over the course of a month. A good rule of thumb about how long to salt it is: about 15 hours per pound. An average ham will be salted for 1½ to 2 weeks, depending on size, and this all should be done under refrigeration. 

Next, pull the ham out of the salt and wash off any excess. You want a ham with an even distribution of salt. To achieve that, you will have to slowly raise the temperature as you drop the humidity of the atmosphere around the ham. This will take 4 to 6 months. Closely monitor the ham during this process to make sure there isn’t too much moisture or to little moisture on the outside of the ham. Also, smell the ham. It should start with an appealing, fermenting aroma that will change to a sweet aroma. Check your ham daily to make sure there is plenty air flow around the ham, but at a low velocity. Look for anything unusual developing on the ham, and wash off anything unpleasant looking or smelling.

After the ham has gone through this equalization process, the temperature of the surrounding atmosphere should have slowly risen to about 55°F, and the humidity should have dropped slowly to about 70 percent. At this point, you should hang your ham in a cool dark place to age. The aging should take anywhere from 18 months to 2 years. During this time, make sure your ham does not grow any unwanted mold. You want some green and even white mold to be present. Make sure that the humidity isn’t low enough to dry out the hams.

Once the ham has aged for about 1½ to 2 years, you can pull it down to be enjoyed. This recipe isn’t like baking where everything has to be exact, but your caretaking throughout the whole process should be exacting.

Slice your ham into very thin slices and enjoy. I like mine with some great Kentucky bourbon and cheese, sitting on the porch at Black Oak Holler Farm, where we raise our pigs. There I can truly appreciate the ham for all its qualities as I look onto the pigs that will give us our next great hams in another 3 years.