Schwarzwälder Schinken (Black Forest Ham) - spicing, smoking and ageing in the "manufactories"
Tall firs, fresh spring water, pure air – pristine nature: This is the dramatic stage for the appearance of one of the world’s best-known smoked raw hams: Schwarzwälder Schinken. Ham has been produced by people living in the Black Forest this way for more than 200 years – according to a process of salting and smoking over local firs and spruces which ensures the hams keep long and taste especially delicious.
The production of Schwarzwälder Schinken is specified in precise terms.
The next barrier to be surmounted is the checks and controls on incoming goods. Sensors are particularly important here: temperature, colour, percentage of fat and the pH parameters all have to be met so that the joints can be cut and processed from the silverside, topside, knuckles and rump.
Black Forest Ham is a raw ham without any bones, which means that the meat has to be removed from the bone in the next stage of processing. This is the job of the meat packer. Boneless meat has a distinctive advantage: it keeps for a particularly long time. When all the bones have been removed, a joint cut to form weighs approximately seven to ten kilos. The spicing can begin.
The secret of any successful quality products is the mix of spices. This also goes for Black Forest Ham. Every producer swears by its own recipe, with which they give their product an individual flavour. But there are some spices which are used by almost everyone: in addition to pickling salt above all garlic, pepper, coriander and juniper berries.
The production of Black Forest Ham is traditionally done by hand. Salt and spices are rubbed on the hams by hand at the manufactories. The traditional production process also includes an exact amount of pickling salt. This has a crucial influence on the quality and the appearance of the ham. The salt not only preserves the meat – it also provides it its typical colour and unmistakable aroma.
The ensuing ageing process requires sufficient time – and the Schwarzwälder Schinken (Black Forest Ham) producers are glad to devote this time. After the hams are salted and placed in special pickling containers, the meat takes on all the aroma of the spices. The salt takes all the water out of it, causing a brine to develop, in which the ham spends another two weeks or so.
After this the ham is brought into so-called dedicated curing rooms – cooled rooms where they “afterburn” another 14 days before going into the cold smoking chamber. There they hang in special smoking towers up to three weeks, developing their aroma, colour and taste. They are smoked at 25 degrees over natural fir and fir sawdust from the Black Forest.
It is still too early for the sales point, the butcher’s or the market, however. The ham now has to spend four to seven weeks in refrigerated ageing rooms to finally attain the right quality.
Standards stipulate the following rules: When produced based on the standard RAL-RG 0102, Schwarzwälder Schinken (Black Forest Ham) attains a drying level of at least 25 percent and a water-protein ratio of 2.2:1 after three months’ time.
Then it is time for the connoisseurs to enter the scene and indulge in pleasure pure à la Black Forest.