Making dried ham is a long and extremely delicate process.
The pork is delivered to us the day after slaughtering. The hams are immediately trimmed and cooled down.
Turning a pork leg into a Superano ham is mainly a process of salting and maturing.
After having been treated with coarse sea salt (without the use of additives or brine) the Superano ham is left to rest in the salting room. The bone is left inside.
After washing, a second salting and another two weeks of resting, all salt is removed and the ham is left to mature for 8 to 10 weeks in cooled ripening rooms. This is where the traditional flora does its work.
The temperature, humidity level and ventilation in the ripening rooms are accurately monitored so as to guarantee the ideal ripening process.
The sea salt, which only penetrated the outer layers of the ham during the first weeks, can now impregnate the rest of the ham. This ensures that the right dose of salt is evenly distributed throughout the ham.
After this period of ripening the Superano ham is washed with fresh water to avoid salt deposits. Subsequently the ham is coated with a thin layer of fat and herbs to avoid crusting. Then the Superano ham is left to mature and dry for 15 months. During this slow process the premium quality aroma gradually builds up. The maturing time of Pata Grega is 24 months.
This maturing process takes place in computer-controlled maturing and drying rooms. Important factors determining this process are humidity, temperature and time. The hams are inspected for quality during the process of maturing.
Gaston Van den Berghe: ‘What I actually do is pierce the ham with a porous horse bone. By smelling it, I can tell whether the drying process is satisfactory.’
Description of the final product:
From fresh ham to richly flavoured dried ham. The hams that are delivered to us weigh between 12 and 14 kilos. After the drying process they only weigh about 9 kilos (with bone). This means that they lose 35 to 40% of their weight.
*(Grega is the only Belgian ham maker that lets its hams mature up to 15 and 24 months!)
Also the Superano Cotto is given ample time to develop its rich aroma. It takes 20 days before a Superano Cotto is ready for consumption. The production time of most cooked hams is seldom longer than 48 hours.
The production process starts with the delivery of complete hams. They weigh between 11 and 12 kilos. Gaston Van den Berghe personally sees to it that only prime quality meat is allowed access to the salting rooms. The salting is the first stage in the production process of Superano Cotto. First the hams are injected with natural brine. No nitrites are added. The brine is injected into the muscles by means of a special machine. Since the bone has remained in the ham there is no risk of brine seeping out of the ham.
After salting, the ham is left to rest for a while. In the meantime the smoking rooms are prepared. True connoisseurs know that smoking the ham before cooking it gives the best flavour and most natural taste to the final product. The real art is to add a smoky flavour to the ham, which is subtle and delicate.
Cooked meat is generally smoked with hot smoke.
This is not the case with salted meat, which is smoked cold. As the smoking process of salted meat is longer, the smoky flavour is more pronounced.
The Superano Cotto is smoked for 2 hours with washed beech wood pellets. The short smoking time and the relatively low smoking temperature of about 30°C reduce the release of harmful substances.
The filtered vapour is blown into the smoking cabinet and gives a nice smoky flavour to the meat.
After the smoking process the hams remain in the refrigerator for a week to give the nitrite brine the time to spread evenly through the meat. The meat has the time to mature and build up taste and flavour. Ham that has not matured has a rather flat taste. The maturing process also gives the ham a nice pink colour.
The bone, which is still in the ham, is removed after maturing. With ordinary hams the bone is often removed before salting.
To allow the shopkeeper to cut the product into nice slices, the ham is pressed into a rectangular mould with rounded corners. The result is that the consumer receives a nicely cut slice of ham, even after the bone has been removed.
The ham is cooked as slowly as possible at a reduced temperature. Cooking a ham too quickly would make the meat rather tough and dry. It would be a mistake to use the term ‘boiled ham’, because a ham is always cooked below boiling point. The meat is left to simmer for 11 to 12 hours at a temperature of 72°C. This long cooking time is necessary in order to obtain a core temperature of 68°C so as not to give bacteria a chance. After cooking the meat is left to rest in the mould for at least 48 hours.
Finally, the Superano Cotto is taken from the mould, carefully washed and packed. The ham, which weighed between 11 and 12 kilos at the start of the production process some 14 days ago, now only weighs just about 7.5 kilos.
Description of the final product:
From fresh ham to richly flavoured cooked ham. The hams that are delivered to us weigh between 11 and 12 kilos. After cooking they only weigh about 7.5 kilos. They retain that nice fleshy pink colour.