With 9 in 10 hams for sale at the moment coming from overseas, how do you find a real Kiwi one? And what else should you look for?
By Kate Harvey
Did you know 90% of the ham that will be eaten in New Zealand this Christmas has been imported? Finding one from a Kiwi pig farm is easy when you know how – and it’s the first of our tips on how to buy the best ham.
How to choose a Christmas ham
Look for one of two stickers if you want a New Zealand ham
If the packaging says “made from local and imported ingredients” it’s likely the only thing local about your ham is the water and salt. There are about 40 countries that send pork here – this year most has come from Germany, Poland, Australia, Canada, Spain, the United States and Finland.
It’s frustrating for farmers like Karl Stanley, whose family piggery is near Opunake, that most Kiwis have no idea they’re not eating a locally grown ham this Christmas.
“You see all these hams that are allowed to come to New Zealand but they don’t have to follow the same standards we farm to. It’s a big frustration,” he said.
Karl said those pigs won’t have been kept under the same standards Kiwi farmers have to adhere to.
“We’re leading the world in terms of animal welfare.”
Some of the ham would be coming from places where sow crates are still legal – “they’re still doing all those things we phased out”.
They’ve also had to sometimes travel from the other side of the world, so have a higher carbon footprint than local hams, he said.
NZ Pork CEO David Baines said some hams will also claim they’re produced in New Zealand, giving the impression they’ve been grown here when they’ve only been processed here.
He said overseas hams aren’t inferior in taste – “some of the countries are world leading whereas we are a niche market” – and they’re cheaper than the New Zealand ones. But if buying local is important to you, there are two stickers to look for. NZ Pork makes the stickers and gives them to retailers to make it easy for consumers to tell. They say:
100% NZ ham
Pigcare. Born and raised in New Zealand
You need to check the pork percentage
Before you fork out, check the amount of pork out. The label on a plastic-wrapped ham will say what percentage is actually meat.
Hams are injected with water – to keep them moist – and additives.
David said if a manufacturer is wanting to produce a cheap ham they’ll add as much water as possible to bump up the weight.
“I would be looking for 11% to not be pork but that’s my personal preference,” he said.
Choose if you want the pretty half or the meaty half
If you’re buying half a ham, you’ll have the choice of the shank end (that’s the one with the bone sticking out) or the fillet end (the rounded one).
Reuben Sharples , the owner of New Lynn’s Aussie Butcher, said the shank end was the best for achieving that traditional look on the table but the fillet end has the most meat.
“But they’ll taste exactly the same,” he said.
If you want to eat ham well past Christmas, he suggests buying two halves instead of a whole.
Once you open a ham, you’re on the clock and only have about a week before it’s not safe to keep eating.
“Each time you’re taking it out of the fridge bacteria are multiplying,” Reuben said.
His advice was to eat the first for a few days until you’re sick of eating ham and keep the other one to take on holiday with you or open later in summer.
Have a good look at the ham you’re thinking of buying
When you’re looking at the cut face of the ham, Reuben said to look for a layer of fat that’s about a finger thick. You want that so you’ll have good score lines for the glaze to bake into.
Also look for a dark skin as a sign it will have a good smoky flavour.
Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions
If you’re buying from the supermarket fridge you can find out a lot about the ham from the packaging. But if you’re ordering at the butcher, you’ll want to know what you’re paying for.
David said he’d ask:
Is it a New Zealand ham?
What sort of process was used to cook it?
What will its injection percentage be?
Will it have any particular flavours? And is there a glaze they’d
recommend would work well with those?
The ham experts’ top tips
I asked the experts in this article for their number one tip for people who will be taking on the ham-glazing task this Christmas.
David Baines, NZ Pork
Check out all the glaze recipes we have at pork.co.nz and don’t forget to baste the face (the cut side) of the ham.
Reuben Sharples, owner of Aussie Butcher
Try doing the glazing in the barbecue, it adds a different flavour. Also I like a spiced rum in the glaze or sweet chilli sauce for a bit of kick.
Karl Stanley, pig farmer
I like a mix of brown sugar, honey, Dijon and pineapple juice. You can spice things up with a bit of brandy – it adds a bit extra.