- Gordon Dumoulin
Ancient cured ham culture in China
Since ancient times Chinese people are making dry-cured ham in the town of Jinhua in Zhejiang Province, Jinhua ham (金華火腿).
Jinhua ham is traditionally derived from a local breed of pig called liangtouwu (literally translates as "two heads black" for its distinctive blackened head and rear), which has been around for about 1,600 years. Known also as "panda pig" for its black and white patterns, it is prized for its naturally small size and high fat content. A pig's thigh is shaped and marinated in salt, hung up to dry for 4/5 days and then left in a low-temperature room to naturally ferment for five to eight months.
Jinhua ham is used in a variety of special Chinese dishes and soups.
Salt-cured Chinese hams have been made since the Tang Dynasty (618-907AD). First records of Jinhua ham appeared in the book Supplement to Chinese Materia Medica by Tang Dynasty doctor Chen Zangqi. Yunnan province is also famous for dry-cured hams such as Xuanwei ham (宣威火腿).
Pork legs were commonly salted by soldiers in Jinhua to take on long journeys during wartime, and it was imperial scholar Zong Ze who introduced it to Song Dynasty Emperor Gaozong. Gaozong was so amazed with the ham’s intense flavour and red colour he named it huo tui, or ‘fire leg’.
It is said that Marco Polo brought these dry cured ham techniques back to Europe. Maybe this modest Chinese town might be the cradle of famous European dry hams such as Italian prosciutto or Spanish jamón Iberico ?