Which ham cure should I choose?
THE YORK HAM - A much-circulated rumour that the original York Hams were smoked with the wood from the ruins of the first York Minster (which burned down in 741) is certainly not true, indeed we are firm of the opinion that a York Ham should not be smoked at all. What is certain is that this most quintessential English ham is produced using curing methods that have remained largely unchanged for centuries. We carefully select the best legs of British Pork we can find, dress each with a pinch of saltpetre and then cover with a generous layer of salt. This process is repeated over a number of weeks before the hams are hung up in special drying rooms and left to mature for several months. This time-consuming process results in a beautiful ham with an unparalleled depth of flavour and is the original source of our coveted Royal Warrant. As a traditionally dry-cured ham, the York is a little firmer textured and saltier than the Wiltshire for instance, and should therefore be served sliced as thinly as possible.
THE SHROPSHIRE BLACK HAM - This flavoursome ham is a direct descendent of the historic Bradenham Ham, which originated in the kitchens of Bradenham Manor, Buckinghamshire in 1781. Rumour has it that the butler fell out with his employer, Lord Bradenham, and moved to Wiltshire, taking the recipe with him. Thus the Bradenham Ham Company was born and continued to manufacture delicious hams for almost 100 years. Sadly, the company’s fortunes waned, and the recipe was passed from business to business until production ceased. Though we weren’t able to acquire the name, we did manage to recreate the recipe, and so the Shropshire Black was born. The hams are cured in the same way as our Yorks, what sets it apart, however, and gives the ham its distinctive black rind, is a fortnight spent wallowing in a special marinade of molasses, juniper berries and spices. This impressively full flavoured ham remains a favourite of connoisseurs seeking the ultimate taste experience.
The Shropshire Black has a distinctive flavour, and we generally advise that those who enjoy strong cheeses, game and other full-flavoured foods are most likely to enjoy the Shropshire Black. As with the York, this is a densely textured ham, best served thinly sliced.
THE WILTSHIRE HAM - Since time immemorial, man has looked for ways to preserve meat to see him through times of scarcity. Through experimentation and ingenuity, we have discovered a myriad of ways of accomplishing this, from simply drying in the sun, fermentation, and of course salting. Until 1841 salting was just that – the application of dry salt to the meat – which had the effect of drying it, preserving it and making it extremely tasty. In that year, however, Elizabeth Harris, the matriarch of a ham curing dynasty based in Calne in Wiltshire, perfected a way of curing pork by immersing it in brine. The results of her labours were hams that were quicker to make, but more importantly, gave a product that was distinctly milder in flavour than the distinctly saltier dry-cured hams of yore.
For many years our most popular ham, the Wiltshire is cured by lengthy immersion in brine, which gives it a moist (but never wet!) texture.
The addition of unrefined brown sugar to the recipe adds a subtle sweetness to this mild and delicious ham. The Wiltshire Ham is available either smoked or unsmoked.
Do your hams contain nitrates or nitrites?
There has been much discussion in the press in recent years about the possible adverse health effects of nitrites and nitrates. Our position is that whilst these preservatives (which have been in use since Roman times) are harmful when taken in large quantities, there can still be a place for cured meats in a sensible and varied diet.
The attractive pink colour of hams is due to nitrites. A ham without nitrites, when cooked, would have the dull grey-brown colour of cooked pork. More importantly, nitrites are a vital part of our defence against some of the most dangerous food poisoning bacteria that can cause serious problems such as botulism. We believe that nitrite-free ham or bacon is little more than salty pork.
There are some producers who claim to offer hams and bacon with "no added nitrites". We believe this to be disingenuous. One trick they may employ is to use celery, which naturally contains very high levels of nitrate, which can then be dried out and added to the meat during curing, and appearing on the label as "celery" or simply as "natural flavouring", when really it's just a way of sneaking the nitrates in through the back door. With Dukeshill, what you see on the label is what you get!
Why do you stock Foie Gras?
We recognise that foie gras is considered by some to be inhumane. We also recognise that there are many thousands of people who still wish to purchase this luxurious food that has been enjoyed for centuries, and it is a traditional part of the gastronomic heritage of France and other countries.
At Dukeshill we go to great lengths to ensure that the foie gras we sell is produced as humanely as possible. There are some shocking images online which show animals being treated barbarically on unregulated farms; ours is produced in the UK but using livers produced on a farm in the Vendée region of France. The ducks used are free-range and are not kept in cages.
Ducks and geese are both reared for the production of foie gras. The rearing method makes use of the birds' natural ability to store large amounts of fat in their liver as an energy source for long migrations at high altitude. During gavage, when the birds are fed grain and water via a tube (the grain is not forced into their stomach, but is placed into their "crop" - an organ designed to act as a reservoir of food prior to digestion (equivalent to a pelican's beak!), the liver lays down a large quantity of fat, and increases in size. This fattening of the liver is not a "disease" like cirrhosis, but a natural and completely reversible process. It has been shown that if feeding returns to normal, the liver quickly shrinks back to its normal size. The slim plastic tube used for feeding the mixture of barley and water includes a second air tube so that breathing is not impeded - there is no "gagging" involved during feeding. The birds enjoy a completely free-range life, and the gavage itself only takes place in the 10 days prior to slaughter. The meat, feathers, fat and other parts of the goose are still used in the same way as non force-fed goose.
We realise that this is an emotive subject, however, it is worth bearing in mind that a lot of the goose fat and duck fat being sold are simply by-products of the same process, but are widely consumed without arousing the same passions.
Do you use "formed meat"
No! Unlike most "supermarket" ham, ours is never "formed", "reformed" or "reconstituted". Here's the text of an article I wrote in 2015 following a customer's letter about a newspaper article:
It’s funny how you can potter along through life thinking that all’s well with the world, only to be brought up short with the realisation that someone has got completely the wrong end of the stick about something. Only this week I was horrified that an anxious customer would call us up in a panic about something they had read in the Daily Mail.
The basic premise of the article was that everyone would be in a flat spin if they really knew what went into the ham in their sandwich. I’m not an apologist for the pretty unsavoury practices of most mass-produced ham; what horrified me was the thought that a customer might have been misled into thinking that OUR ham was produced by methods as unappetising as those described in the article. Clearly, we have not done a good job of explaining how and why Dukeshill Ham is different.
In this (and it grieves me to say it) the Mail had it about right. There is a huge spectrum of quality available in supermarkets, but one thing is unavoidable: to get homogeneity the pork has to be “formed” into an unnatural shape. To do this boneless pieces of meat are injected with brine (water, salts, sugars and, as one gets further down the quality ladder, other nefarious ingredients designed to help the meat retain water) and then “tumbled”. Imagine the world’s biggest tumble drier (without the heat!) filled with wet meat. As it is churned for several hours the brine is forced into the meat, and gradually the protein in the meat starts to dissolve, creating a slimy pink goo all over the meat. Most manufacturers are delighted by this technology as it reduces a process that used to take weeks or months into one that takes a few hours, and to them time is money!
Once this process is complete the meat can be filled into moulds of any shape the manufacturer wants (the most common and efficient for slicing being circular logs about a metre long. The logs are then cooked, and thanks to the proteinaceous properties of the goo, it sets into a firm, albeit rubbery, shape. Cheap sliced ham has a mixture of the cheapest bits of the carcass, more water and more clever chemistry aimed at getting the most protein out of the meat and the most (lovely, cheap) water locked away in it; expensive formed ham will use much less water, better whole cuts of meat and fewer “nasties” generally, but the general principle of manufacture is the same.
Dukeshill Ham is NOTHING LIKE THAT! We don’t have a tumbler; wouldn’t know what to do with it if we did. It’s a bit of a nuisance really as if we did we wouldn’t have to wait the weeks we do for the cure to penetrate into the whole legs of pork. Still, that time isn’t altogether wasted as it means that an often ignored thing - flavour!! - has a chance to develop. Sadly we aren’t able to force these whole legs into moulds for cooking either. Life would no doubt be easier if we could, and there’d be less wastage, but we haven’t got any moulds so there you have it. This means that our hams come in all shapes and sizes (yes, just like the pigs they come from), and when we slice them every slice is different. Caterers and supermarkets would find this a pain because they like to know EXACTLY what each slice is going to be like. However, every cloud etc. etc. Because we haven’t relied on massaging and tumbling to extract copious amounts of soluble protein, our cooked ham doesn’t have that rubbery wobble and bite you’ll find elsewhere. It’s more like what it is…real meat!
Where does your meat come from?
We take animal welfare very seriously. We believe that the meat we use should be ethically and humanely produced and killed and that the best hams come from happy pigs.
We work with several great suppliers who we believe share our commitment to responsible and sustainable farming. Dukeshill has grown considerably over the years; we are still very much a “small family business”, but we have grown beyond the point where we can work with just one supplier. We are predominately a ham producer and whilst we have added other products like bacon and sausage to our portfolio, we still use a lot more “back legs” than we do the rest of the pig.
This means that we are not the ideal customer for farms that are in the business of selling whole animals. That said, we do work closely with farms, and visit them regularly to verify that our welfare standards are met. Much of the meat we use comes from a local farm that produces excellent meat, 100% Free Range, to excellent welfare standards. However, we also buy from local slaughterhouses and cutting plants, but again we only specify the highest standards available. One of our main suppliers is still relatively small and the meat we buy from them is exclusively produced to the RSPCA Freedom Food standard. Unfortunately, there is no “one size fits all” that we can state for every ham we make, but in each case, the standards are as high as we can achieve.
The only unequivocal line in the sand that we specify is that all our meat is British Farm Assured. We do not consider this the highest or best welfare standard, but it does give us the safety net, as our resources are not huge, that all our pork is British, well treated, and most importantly that every stage of the supply chain is regularly audited by vets and inspectors. Is all our pork free range? In a word, no. In general, we're big advocates of pork that is free-range; that said, we are seeing much stronger demand for leaner pork (“my ham is too fat!” is one of our most common complaints).
The old fashioned, traditional British Rare Breeds are fantastic but they tend to have a thick layer of fat to keep them warm outside in all weathers, but some of the more modern cross-bred pigs don’t have this insulation. It’s only a personal view, but I do question whether a lean pig standing in a field in winter is actually happier than one being responsibly and humanely looked after in a low-intensity barn filled with a dry straw! We take the sourcing of all our other meats just as seriously. For instance, our poultry is all produced to the highest levels of free-range standards - there is never an excuse for distressing, intensive or inhumane farming methods that cause animals to suffer.
What if there is something I'm not happy about?
If you have a complaint about our products or service please contact Dukeshill as soon as possible on 0345 222 0153 to speak to a member of our customer service team or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org Please provide us with the full details of your order, including the order number, your name, the date of delivery and specific details about the problem that has occurred.