What’s the deal with Christmas Ham?

Every year around July, pig farmers around Australia kick into Christmas planning. This isn’t just a process that starts in December when we’re all buying hams. The planning starts many months beforehand, when we start deciding on leg numbers, storage, labelling, ordering systems, cure and cook schedules. We don’t save all our pigs until December then do a mass cull to get the legs – farming just doesn’t work like that (and I’m 100% certain that my butchers would kill me instead!).

So even though it’s only September now, we are in full swing Christmas planning mode, storing fresh legs away in the deep freeze and working with our retailers on finalizing their orders and tastings, and about to send out pre-ordering information for our customers at home.

“The biggest challenge with our Christmas hams has traditionally been space and sufficient power to operate.”

Before we moved into our new facility in March (Post COVID) we were busting at the seams at Christmas for cool space, pickling space and packing orders space. I cannot explain in words what a relief it is to me and the whole team at Bundarra it is to have a coolroom you can fit a few pallets in and power to actually run it (as well as a walk in freezer!)… oh the luxury!! All I want for this Christmas is to be able to make our hams and pack them without having to re-set the main power switch 20 times a day and tripping over boxes of hams in our 2m x 4m packing room! (you can read more about all this in my Love from a Pig Farmer blog).

So, back to the hams. We hand cure our hams one leg at a time. Most butcheries have a pickle injector that streamlines the process (and makes it very fast!) with evenly injected brine using hundreds of needles.

“We aren’t that mainstream, so our butchers Gary and Glenn (bless their cotton socks) use a handheld single needle pickle pump to pickle our hams using a secret recipe of local orange juice and aromatic spices.”

I still think this is the best way to produce our hams and is what makes them so textural and delicious and not rubbery and wet (like an overly processed ham from well-known large supermarket chains, just saying).

We then lay the hams to rest in a salty holding brine for 4 days before being removed and dried to settle, then hot-smoked over locally sourced red gum for 10 hours. Then the hams are chilled and hung for at least 48 hours before being packed, weighed and labelled. This process takes a few weeks to:

  1. defrost the hams safely
  2. make enough fresh pickle brine
  3. pickle the hams and then rest them in cure
  4. cook the hams 12 at a time
  5. cool, pack and label them
  6. repeat until finished.

We have 2 smokers that hold 12 hams so we make a schedule of how this is going to roll out, so that when December comes, we have a clear path and expectation of when hams are being cooked and when they will leave our butchery for delivery.

“This year we are planning on making 400 hams, which I am super excited about and quite proud of our little farm!”

We make whole, half, boneless and baby hams. Then comes allocating them; you see pigs aren’t all the same size and even pigs that are the same size, free-range pigs – especially rare breed – fluctuate in leg sizes. Our whole hams generally weight between 6kgs for smaller pigs and up to 9kgs for some of the whoppers that come through for making charcuterie. The challenge comes with matching people’s needs with ham sizes, which I can tell you is pretty tricky when we want to make sure everyone is happy with the size and what they are paying for their ham. So generally, we suggest our hams weigh between 7-8.5kgs and if anyone needs a whopper or a small one, then we can find one to suit. The hams cost $40/kg.

So how many people will a ham feed? And do you need to cook it? These are the most common questions we receive (apart from when will it be delivered). A half ham can make 32 sandwiches, which we know thanks to the guys at Pope Joan who did a sandwich test on a half ham a few years ago. Our family usually has a whole ham weighing around 7kgs for Christmas – although last year we didn’t get one! (Thanks to the no-space tiny shed, sore brains after a very busy Christmas period and project managing the new shed building… we missed out on one of our own hams!). On the years we do get a ham, we usually eat some at lunch between about 12 people and keep it the rest fresh in our little ham bags for at least a week or longer, and nibble away at it until just the bone is left – which we freeze to make soup in winter.

You don’t need to cook our hams. Traditionally, a green ham or a pickled leg of pork (or a gammon if you’re English), need cooking. We cook our hams as close to perfection as we can, so we recommend if you want to glaze the ham to do so gently or under the grill. Otherwise, the hams are best enjoyed carved on the table, served alongside the rest of your festive meats. I can highly recommend having carved leg ham on toast with lots of butter for breakfast (my personal favourite) or topped with two poached eggs and homemade hollandaise sauce. So good!

“Delivery is available in Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney and surrounding suburbs, as well as regional NSW and VIC, and is with a refrigerated truck or van.”

When choosing home delivery you must be home to accept or choose an address where someone can be home to accept. All of our delivery runs will be made between the 14th and the 19th of December, dropping off at different suburbs and regions on certain days. We won’t be doing any deliveries the week of Christmas – this proved to be a logistical nightmare last year, and I was still answering phone calls late on Christmas eve about the location of hams being delivered – no one wants to be doing that again! It’s too much on the drivers and last minute doesn’t leave any room for logistical problems to be corrected. So, keep some space in your fridge for the week before Christmas. A whole leg will take up almost one shelf in your average-sized single door fridge.

Hams are coming online for preorder on October 1, we sell out every year before December, so I encourage you to order as soon as you can to avoid missing out. We take our hams seriously, plan all year for it and I really hope this Christmas we can bring some joy to families who have been isolating and have been restricted at home without seeing loved ones.

It’s a privilege to our family being able to provide you with an ethically produced ham. I know it’s just food, but to me that’s what Christmas is all about – family and good food being celebrated together.

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