Ham is the thigh and rump of pork, cut from the haunch of a pig or boar. Although it may be cooked and served fresh, most ham is cured in some fashion. Cuts referred to as Ham in the US are called Gammon in the UK and Ireland.
Ham can be dry-cured or wet-cured. A dry-cured ham has been rubbed in a mixture containing salt and a variety of other ingredients (most usually some proportion of sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite). This is followed by a period of drying and aging. Dry-cured hams may require a period of re-hydration prior to consumption. A wet-cured ham has been cured with a brine, either by immersion or injection. The division between wet and dry cure is not always hard-and-fast as some ham curing methods begin wet but are followed by dry aging.
Dry-cured varieties include Italian prosciutto crudo [pro.ʃ'ʃut:to 'kru:do] (prosciutto di Parma, prosciutto di San Daniele, prosciutto di Carpegna, prosciutto di Modena, prosciutto Toscano, prosciutto Veneto Berico-Euganeo, Valle d’Aosta Jambon de Bosses, prosciutto di Norcia) and the Spanish Jamon serrano and jamón ibérico. The United States has country ham (including Virginia ham), which might or might not be smoked. England has the York ham. Germany's Westphalian ham is usually smoked over juniper, in Belgium there is the smoked Ardennes ham, and from China there is the unsmoked Jinhua ham. In Bulgaria the specific Elenski but is produced. In Iran, the dry-cured Zard Kūh ham is produced.
Jambon de Paris is a wet-cured, boneless ham and baked in shape. The ham is of superior quality product prepared from fresh, unfrozen pork thighs without adding polyphosphates.
Modern Italian and European Union legislation grants a protected designation of origin to several raw hams, which specify where and how these types of ham can be produced. There are several such hams from Italy, each one with a peculiar production process. Parma ham, the so called Prosciutto di Parma, has almost 200 producers concentrated in the eastern part of Parma Province. Its production is regulated by a quality consortium that recognizes qualifying products with distinctive mark. Only larger fresh hams are used (12-13 kilograms). Curing uses relatively little salt, but can include garlic salt and sugar producing a sweeter meat. After salting, the meat is sealed with pig fat over the exposed muscle tissue, which slows drying. Curing occurs over a minimum 12 months. This curing method uses only salt, without nitrates and without spices. No conserving substances added. San Daniele ham (Prosciutto di San Daniele) is the most similar to Parma ham, especially the low quantity of salt added to the meat, and is the most prized ham. Other raw hams include the so called "nostrani" or "nazionali" or "toscani", they are more strongly flavoured and are produced using a higher quantity of salt.
In Portugal, besides several varieties of wet-cured hams called fiambre (not to be confused with the Guatemalan dish, also called fiambre), the most important type of ham is presunto, a dry-cured ham similar to Spanish jamón and Italian prosciutto. There is a wide variety of presuntos in Portugal; among the most famous are presunto from Chaves and presunto from Alentejo (made from black iberian pig; see also pata negra).
One of the more exacting ham regulatory practices can be found in Spain, where ham is called Jamón. Not only are hams classified according to preparation, but the pre-slaughter diet and region of preparation are considered important. Spanish regulators recognize three types of Iberico ham qualities:
The regional appellations of Spanish ham (Jamón serrano) include the following:
Fresh ham is an uncured hind leg of pork. Country Ham is uncooked, cured, dried, smoked-or-unsmoked, made from a single piece of meat from the hind leg of a hog or from a single piece of meat from a pork shoulder. Smithfield ham, a country ham, must be grown and produced in or around Smithfield, Virginia, to be sold as such.
For most other purposes, under US law, a "ham" is a cured hind leg of pork that is at least 20.5% protein (not counting fat portions) and contains no added water. However, "ham" can be legally applied to such things as "turkey ham" if the meat is taken from the thigh of the animal. If the ham has less than 20.5% but is at least 18.5% protein, it can be called "ham with natural juices". A ham that is at least 17.0% protein and up to 10% added solution can be called "ham—water added". Finally, "ham and water product" refers to a cured hind leg of pork product that contains any amount of added water, although the label must indicate the percent added ingredients. If a ham has been cut into pieces and moulded, it must be labelled "sectioned and formed" or "chunked and formed".
Sugar is common in many dry cures in the United States. The majority of common wet-cured ham available in U.S. supermarkets is of the "city ham" variety, in which brine is injected into the meat for a very rapid curing suitable for mass market. Traditional wet curing requires immersing the ham in a brine for an extended period, often followed by light smoking. Traditional wet cured ham includes the English Wiltshire ham and the French Jambon de Paris.
In addition to the main categories, some processing choices can affect legal labelling. A 'smoked' ham must have been smoked by hanging over burning wood chips in a smokehouse, and a "hickory-smoked" ham must have been smoked over hickory. Injecting "smoke flavour" is not legal grounds for claiming the ham was "smoked". Hams can only be labelled "honey-cured" if honey was at least 50% of the sweetener used and has a discernible effect on flavour. So-called "lean" and "extra lean" hams must adhere to maximum levels of fat and cholesterol per 100 grams of product.
One of the most popular and expensive hams in the United States is Smithfield or Virginia ham. Through a special curing process Smithfield ham ages. In that time a fungal coat forms over the outside of the ham while the rest of the meat continues to age. This process produces a distinctive flavour, but the fungal layer must be scrubbed off the ham before being cooked or served.
Turkey ham, a boneless product made from pressed dark meat, a popular low-fat alternative to traditional ham in the US. A spiral-slicing process has become popular for boneless hams sold by delicatessens in the US.