A ham expert is an artisan in ham’s world, a passionate person who cares with dedication for each piece of ham throughout its entire production process.
In the dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy we can find the definition of the word “maestro” as “a person who is handy in a subject and handles it with ease” but this is not enough to explain fully what a ham expert does.
What does a ham expert really do?
The ham expert is the person who is in charge of the production of hams and ham shoulders, he/she is an essential figure that should not be confused with the ham slicing expert whom we will talk about later.
During the last stage of the ham curing in cellars, which can last between 6 and 30 months, the professionals and artisans of the ham are in charge of controlling the temperature and humidity as well as the greasing of the pieces with lard.
The knowledge and skill of the ham specialists are the elements that make a piece perfect, take care that does not dry too much and cures to perfection. The’greasing’ process is carried out manually and is repeated as the ham absorbs the lard.
The activity of the ham experts covers all the stages of the process of preparing a ham in the following way:
- Slaughter: control of the cutting and profiling of the pieces.
- Salting: the pieces are buried in salt. The salting time must be controlled according to the weight of the pieces.
- Stabilization: Strict control of temperature and humidity.
- Drying room: The hams are hung in cellars for drying. The ham expert is in charge of the duration of this stage as well as the control of humidity and temperature.
- Bodega (cellar): The longest phase takes place in a special cellar. The pieces rotate their position for homogeneous curing.
Before going to market, there is another key activity of this essential figure in the production of ham in Spain. The technique called “calado” (testing for quality and only for the expert “noses”) allows the evaluation of aspects such as the aroma and the curing point of a piece.
Only experience and expertise can enable a ham expert “tester” to detect excellence during ham production.