Independent Processor editor-in-chief Sam Gazdziak spoke with Dave Dewey from Chico Locker & Sausage Co. about judging the boneless commercial hams and snack sticks.
Sam Gazdziak: We are here with Dave Dewey from Chico Locker & Sausage Co. in Chico, Calif. Dave, can you tell us what category did you have for the [American] Cured Meats Competition?
Dave Dewey: Today, I get to judge the boneless commercial hams and the snack sticks.
Gazdziak: For the hams, there’s several different categories of hams. What are the characteristics that you are looking for in this particular category?
Dewey: For the boneless commercial ham, it’s not necessarily whole muscle. You are looking for good shape, good color, good internal textures, not too wet, good workmanship, and most of all, nice flavor.
These are some examples of some really nice hams. The workmanship was good. This one the net gather was a little darker. Unfortunately, there’s some air pockets in this ham. That has to do with workmanship, so that got downgraded a little bit. This ham has a little two-toning, and that has to do with muscle selection. Some muscles in the ham color different than others when you cure them. This ham is a little darker than I like. This ham has a nice rich mahogany color or light color. Beautiful color. You can see the muscle selection [with] a little bit of two-toning, but it’s acceptable. A really nice surface on this, and good workmanship.
Gazdziak: So Dave, as a processor, you’ve entered and won awards at this show many times in the past. As you are putting together products, what are some of the things you do to try to get the best products possible?
Dewey: Obviously workmanship is a key factor. There’s a lot of points in that upper close, so you don’t run a run-of-the-mill product. You spend a lot of time putting your nets on and smoking and making sure that nothing touches. And flavor is a big part of it. Me being from California, there a little more salt-tolerant here in the Midwest than we are in California, so I have to maybe increase my salt a little bit, because a lot of the judges come from the Midwest. Flavor is the number one thing [and worth] the most points. Four hundred or 500 possible points for flavor, but workmanship typically separates the top five or six hams. I’ll spend hours netting a ham just trying to get it right, and you’ll smoke eight or 10 of them to pick one sometimes. It’s a lot of looking and a lot of learning, and the best way to learn is the winners here are the ones you go talk to. They are willing to share their knowledge, so I learned a lot from those guys.