Tag Archives: self sufficiency

Westwick Ham

[I wrote this months ago and totally forgot to post it]

One of the things I really wanted to do when we got pigs was make my own Parma Ham.

I’d seen Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall do it on River Cottage with great success.  Then the fabulous ladies who supplied our pigs mentioned how easy it was and pointed to a whole leg wrapped in muslin gently maturing in the breeze above my head. Of course Parma Ham is Parma Ham because it is made in Parma – so henceforth this is going to be the Westwick Ham

Ham in a box.

Ham in a box.

I did some early prep by telling the butcher that I wanted the half the leg tunnel boned (where the bone is take out by cutting a tunnel through the flesh rather than opening up a flap). I asked for 1/2 a leg only because this is a new skill I’m trying and if it goes horribly wrong then I’ll only have wasted half a leg instead of the whole thing.  Plus even 1/2 a leg makes A LOT of Westwick Ham and I doubt we will have finished eating it before the next lot of pigs are ready.


Getting the ingredients together... we need more salt!

Getting the ingredients together… we need more salt!

Next the ham has to sit on a bed of 2cm of salt scattered with black pepper and coriander and covered in at least 2cm of salt for 3-4 days per kilo (this puts us at roughly 8-10 days for our 2.1kg joint). The container you use is a box made of either wood or plastic (not metal) which has some drainage at the bottom.  The box proved an interesting challenge but as usual the house provided the answer.  One of the quirks of this house is that the previous owners ended up leaving a fair amount of things behind in the house (including a vintage army messenger style bag from 1942, a good quality orange boiler suit in my size and a small dolls house). It has become a joke amongst our family and friends that if you need something, ask out loud and you will find it in a corner of the house or garage – this approach has yielded all sorts of useful things from ladders to an axe.

So I walked into the garage and asked for a wooden box in which to cure my ham.


A wooden box with a bed of salt, pepper and coriander.

A wooden box with a bed of salt, pepper and coriander.

As you can see the house did not disappoint, and after a good scrub with salt, vinegar and bicarbonate of soda then leaving the box to dry in the sunshine I ended up with a curing box which was a precise fit for the leg joint.  Ta Da!

Dad then scavenged enough heavy bits and pieces from the same garage to make up the 5kg weight needed to press the ham in the salt and after that it was a very simple matter to pack the tunnel in the middle of the ham with salt, and pack the rest of the salt around it.  I used nearly 5.5kgs of salt and a tablespoon each of crushed peppercorns and crushed coriander seeds. I placed the box on a tray because I’m assuming that there will be a lot of liquid running out of the box.

5kg of weight made up of oddses

5kg of weight made up of oddses

The Ham sits pressed under a weight for 3-4 days per kilo which probably means it will be 8-10 days for this joint.  Then we take it out, rinse off the salt and wash it in vinegar.  After that it is wrapped in a double layer of muslin and hung out to dry for 4-6 months. We are very lucky that Westwick has a verandah – in the Summer we will be sitting on it and drinking cocktails with our friends.  At the moment it is covered in bales of straw and kindling which needs chopping but either way it is the perfect place for hanging out meaty treasures.  I

‘d like this ham to be joined by a twin and a rack of ripening salami come this time next year.

I won’t be able to give you the end of this adventure for 4 months when I’m looking forward to cracking open our first Westwick Ham for a tasting session.

Bye Bye Oink Oink

I have just said good-bye to the first meat animals I’ve ever raised. It has been a very positive experience and for the first time I feel I have taken proper responsibility for the fact I eat meat.  I think everyone has a very personal and very different relationship with meat eating and has to find their own comfort zone.  My own relationship with eating meat has changed over the years and as a result of keeping pigs it has changed again as you will see below.  

The short version is that I will happily continue to eat meat.  In fact am more happy to eat my own animals than anything bought in a supermarket because I know they have been exceptionally well cared for. We will have strict rules going forwards as a family about eating meat but also dairy and eggs for sustainability and ethical reasons but our solution as a family to meat eating is to take a really hands on approach. If R wants to become a vegetarian or vegan as he gets older then we will support him in those choices – but we have decided that he will not be raised on chicken nuggets with no idea about how they get to his plate.  He will have all the facts… what he chooses after that is up to him and we will support him.

Over the course of having the pigs J and I have re-looked at the meat industry in this country and re-evaluated our eating habits once again.  We generally don’t eat much meat anyway because of the environmental impact and we always tried to get the best ethical meat we could from the supermarket but our research has been a rude awakening. Even free range meats and eggs aren’t really that ethical. Organic is probably the best ethical choice you can make for meat, eggs, milk and cheese from the supermarket at least.  This is because it seems almost as a by-product of organic standards are high welfare standards (e.g.  you can’t pump organic meat full of the antibiotics etc necessary to keep animals alive in battery conditions – because then it wouldn’t be organic).

So coming out of having pigs we are committing to a new set of standards in our food.

All meat must come from local farmers we know, butchers we trust, our own back garden or small holders we know.  At a pinch we can buy from Abel&Cole but nothing from a supermarket. The toughest thing about this will be giving up sweet and sour chicken from the local Chinese!

All eggs must be the same except we will get organic free range from the supermarket until we have got our own chickens.

All milk and cheese to be organic.

Ultimately we are going to try and produce as much of our own meat and eggs as possible over the next few years.  In 2-4 years time I like to be eating almost entirely our own meat and eggs.