The Bayonne ham has been a delicacy of France for hundreds of years. Made to exacting specifications in the Southwest of France (and only in the Southwest of France), it is such a regional specialty that it is protected under the European “Protected Geographical Indication” or PGI, meaning that there are strict regulations in place. No other ham in the world can be called a Bayonne ham.
There are approximately 100 Bayonne ham brands produced in Southwest France, states the Bayonne Ham Council. The Council has recently helped four of those brands come to the United States for the first time. The products debuted at the summer Fancy Food Show in June and were touted as the “melt in your mouth” charcuterie. The Council is optimistic that one-quarter of its overall international exports will be to the United States by the year 2020.
“There is a growing demand for charcuterie in the U.S.,” the Council said in a statement. “Pork is a widely appreciated kind of meat in the U.S. Ninety-four percent of American consumers eats pork.”
There are specialty hams across the world. Prosciutto and Serrano are products of Italy and Spain, respectively. The United States has the country ham. The Bayonne ham comes with a distinctive touch, making it unique to other hams. Each ham is branded with the Lauburu cross, which signifies that the product has passed each of the different selection stages.
According to the Council, these are the steps that each ham must pass:
- Arrival of the fresh legs = Producers of Bayonne Ham receive fresh legs from authorized slaughter houses.
- Salting = The whole, fresh hams are rubbed with salt from Salies-de-Béarn salty spring water. They are then covered with a thick layer of salt and placed in the salting room.
- Resting = The hams are suspended in a room where they are dried at low temperature in artificially created winter conditions.
- Drying = The hams are hung in the drying rooms, where the long maturing process begins, gradually enhancing their flavor, aroma and tenderness.
- “Pannage” = Process where a mixture of pork fat and flour is applied to the muscular parts of the ham, making for a gentler drying process during the long maturing period.
- Maturing = In this last step, the ham acquires all of its qualities and reveals its personality: a mild flavor, balanced saltiness and delicate aroma.
- Sampling = The hams are tested at the end of the curing period, assessed by experts who define the hams’ taste qualities. On average, it takes 9 to 12 months to make a Bayonne Ham.
- Labeling = Hams are branded with the Lauburu cross, the “Bayonne” seal, if they have successfully passed each of the different selection stages.
The hogs must come from that specific region of France, and the salt water can only be found there. Given the exacting specifications for the Bayonne ham, it has become a boon to the 950 pig farms, 39 livestock producers, 23 cutting plants and 30 curing units in the region that are involved with its production.
The Bayonne Ham Council was formed in 1991 to promote the PGI status, which was formalized in 1998. Visit http://www.jambon-de-bayonne.com/en/ for more information.