It is one of the most famous hams in Europe: Black Forest Ham is a smoked raw ham. When there were not yet refrigerators available for the general public, Black Forest Ham was one of the few ways to preserve meat for long periods of time. Due to the fir smoke and curing, Black Forest Ham achieves a particularly long shelf life and can usually be stored without refrigeration.
Protected Geographical Indication
Black Forest Ham is often made from the leg of pork: Most of the pork legs used to make Black Forest ham do not originate from the Black Forest. Only a few butchers rely on pork legs from animals raised and slaughtered in the Black Forest. It is crucial that the ham itself is made in the Black Forest: Smoking and curing must take place in the Black Forest for the ham to bear the name “Black Forest Ham.”
Black Forest ham has been produced for more than 200 years – each butcher’s shop and family developed their own method: depending on the supplier, the seasoning of the ham varies – usually the ham is seasoned with coriander, pepper, garlic and juniper.
The production of the ham is pure craftsmanship: After cutting the ham pieces, the ham first remains in the brine for two weeks.
Then the ham is transferred to the so-called firing rooms: these are cool rooms in which the ham pieces are usually stored for 14 days. The effect of storing at cool temperatures is that the salt is distributed evenly throughout the ham and does not just remain on the surface. This process is also called “burning through”.
Smoking and maturing
Now it’s time to move the ham to the smokehouse. Here, the Black Forest ham is cold-smoked over fresh fir and spruce wood. The temperature of the smoker is ideally 25 degrees. The process of smoking takes about three weeks. This is where the ham develops its unique aroma and seasoning, which varies depending on the butcher. Some traditional butcher families in the Black Forest have been passing down their Black Forest ham recipes for generations. The variety of different seasonings used in Black Forest Ham is almost endless.
After cold smoking, Black Forest ham is far from ready for consumption: the butcher gives the ham another four to seven weeks of maturing time in air-conditioned rooms so that it can develop its full aroma.
After three months of maturing, Black Forest Ham reaches a degree of desiccation of at least 25 percent: the maturing process results in the piece of meat losing a lot of water and therefore losing weight. The high degree of desiccation is an essential characteristic of Black Forest ham. Sometimes, Black Forest Ham is smoked over coniferous woods that come exclusively from the Black Forest.
Before a piece of pork is processed into Black Forest Ham, each piece must undergo a quality check: Especially the fat content and the pH value of the piece of meat must be right.
In addition to the classic Black Forest ham, which is usually served as a cold cut, there is also the Black Forest “Schmalseite“ [engl. “narrow side“, small piece of smoked bacon] and the Black Forest “Breitseite“ [engl. “broad side“, big piece of smoked bacon]. Both hams are made from the pork belly with back and cut down from the piece.
There is also beef ham from the Black Forest: Some butchers produce air-dried beef ham from the lean beef legs. Preserved with salt and refined with herbs, the ham dries in the air for several months and develops a special aroma.
The production of Black Forest Ham takes place in the Black Forest: However, the pork from which the ham is made often originates from northern Germany. A few butchers raise pigs themselves in the Black Forest and use the meat to make Black Forest ham, among other things.
The production of Black Forest ham goes back to an ancient tradition: many centuries ago, people were already looking for a way to preserve the slaughtered meat for as long as possible. Thanks to the production method, a piece of Black Forest ham stays fresh for a very long time. The tradition continues to this day: Black Forest ham is one of the most famous hams in Europe and can be found on every vesper platter.
Cover picture: Black Forest ham, © Simon von Ludwig