A holiday meal isn't complete without a ham.
In my Southern family, no holiday is complete without pork. We start each new year with a traditional "good luck" meal of pork chops, black-eyed peas, and greens. On Easter, we skip the lamb in favor of a Smithfield Spiral Ham, glazed with brown sugar and crowned with pineapple rings. Our Fourth of July barbecue is pit-cooked pulled pork, served with crunchy red cole slaw and hush puppies. But the best swine of all is saved for Thanksgiving and Christmas, when my mother's baby brother slow bakes a fresh ham.
Compared to the cured and pre-cooked hams we all know and love, Uncle Mike's Magic Ham tastes like a different animal entirely. The meat is so tender it falls off the bone in buttery flakes that melt in your mouth. The flavor is pure pork, unadulterated by smoke or brine.
In an attempt to recreate the heavenly ham of my youth for Bay Area friends, I discovered that raw, fresh hams are harder to come by than the ubiquitous cured and cooked grocery store varieties. Fortunately, high-quality, fresh ham can be had—for a price. In addition, it's easy to find locally made, fully cooked artisan hams that will cure you of any craving for mass-produced "commodity" versions.
Compared to beef, lamb and fish, pork is some of the least expensive protein available. Traditional grocery stores sell commodity ham for as little as $1.50 per pound. On the other hand, if you're concerned about the living conditions of the animals, or the way the meat is processed, you can expect to pay $8.00 or more per pound. You can also expect to be glad you did, once you taste the difference. The locally available artisan hams listed here are worth every extra penny.
Marin Sun Farms Uncured Smoked Ham
Pork leg for cooking demo
(Courtesy of Marin Sun Farms
Marin Sun Farms' uncured smoked ham isn't brined or seasoned because, "we want you to taste the excellent flavor of the pork coming through, and leave room if the cook wants to add any particular seasoning," says Alessa Palmer, livestock supply manager for Marin Sun Farms. Their boneless hams weigh six to eight pounds apiece and come from pasture-raised Duroc pigs, an older breed of domestic pig known for its gentle demeanor and excellent flavor. "We work with a single family farmer who cares greatly for his animals, raising non-confined pork with zero antibiotics or hormones. The animals are handled in a calm way even through harvest. We have our own animal-welfare–approved abattoir [slaughterhouse] which keeps the meat tender, sweet, and naturally great. The extra cost of an 'artisan ham' goes to support a local family farmer, your local butchers, and the welfare of the animal."
Where to buy it:
- Oakland Butcher Shop: Rockridge Market Hall, 5655 College Ave. (Oakland), 510-601-8997, rockridgemarkethall.com
- Point Reyes Butcher Shop: 10905 Shoreline Hwy. 1 (Point Reyes Station), 415-663-1800, marinsunfarms.com
Price: $9.99 per pound