I saw a ham at the grocery store for less than $1 per pound today. I also saw a ham for $7 per pound today. How can the price be so different? There are several reasons; some you can see and some you can’t see. One very important thing to look at is the fine print of what the ham is actually called. A ham is rarely just labeled as “Ham”. In fact, there are rules that require specific labeling of hams as you add water and other ingredients. For example, there’s a lot more ham in “Ham with natural juices” than there is in “Ham – water added” and there’s even less ham (and more water) in “Ham and Water Product.”
Take-away: Cheaper hams are usually made with more water or other ingredients. You’re able to pay less since you’re buying water, not ham.
Meat quality is crucial when you’re looking for your perfect ham. Not all pigs are the same! If you want a lean ham, less flavorful ham (usually blander flavored), you can find that in any grocery store from many well-known brands. But if you’re interested in finding the best flavor, you probably want to look at the breed of pig. Many old-world breeds are known for their naturally incredible flavor. That flavor comes from the fat naturally occurring inside the muscle (called marbling) that old world breeds tend to have a lot of! If you’re looking for flavor, one breed you should be looking for is Mangalitsa. For those who know their beef, Mangalitsa is to Berkshire what Waygu is to Angus – the best you can get!
Take-away: If you want flavor, go for the heritage breeds like Mangalitsa that have lots of marbling (fat inside the muscle) to make sure you’re getting incredible flavor!
If you want to impress your friends and family, look for pork that is Mangalitsa crossed with other heritage breeds like Red Wattle or Glouchester Old Spot. It’s just like your heirloom tomatoes, these breeds have been relatively untouched and so they have been able to maintain their natural deliciousness! We have found that heritage breed ham is absolutely mouth-watering and it may even convince you that ham is for more than just the holidays!
Remember though, heritage breeds often come from small farms and will be delivered frozen, so be sure to get yours soon so it has 2-3 days to thaw! As a little side note, most grocery store hams are frozen at some point, and then thawed before they're delivered to the store.
Contact us if you want an incredible ham on your table this Easter.
Sarah grew up raising pigs on her family farm. She has spent most of the last 15 years studying and teaching about meat, animal welfare, and food safety. She has a passion for pigs, pork chops, and teaching. It is her goal to help meat eaters understand what they're buying and how best to cook it, all the while getting into the nerdy nitty gritty details about meat and animals.