I've seen some lovely home-made salamis at farmers' markets around Auckland, but I heard the smallgoods maker telling customers they should be kept in a fridge. I thought salami was hung in the air and allowed to dry out. Is that not possible because of Auckland humidity? What about Spanish hams (jamons) - can they be hung or should they be kept in the fridge too?
That's a very good point and one that, unfortunately, is hard to answer. Over the past 15 years I've done consultancy work in Britain with the Spanish government, through their London-based food "department" and because of this I've met many producers of Spanish smallgoods. I've visited large commercial producers whose chorizos, salchichons, lomos (loins) and jamons (hams) are produced, dried and cured in vast football stadium-sized halls. And I've also walked around real "ma and pa" type operations in the hills and mountains who produce enough to keep their business operating, but who are more likely to be breaking down less than a few hundred pigs each year.
In the case of jamon production, what is most fascinating is the way that both humid and dry weather, in its natural seasonal variations (and sometimes factory conditions) conspire to produce the most incredible end product. In very simplistic terms, in late autumn and early winter, when the temperatures are cooler and the air dryer, the legs of pork are briefly cured in salt to kill any surface bacteria and to rid the meat of excess blood. They're then hung on hooks and left to do nothing. The next stage involves mother nature as the natural increasing humidity of the encroaching spring and summer causes a certain type of bacteria to flourish on the surface of the hams, causing a mould to appear. This is what is behind the creation of the best jamons as it breaks down the protein in the meat and causes it to ferment. The dryer autumn and winter will kill the bacteria off and hence the meats roll, seasonally, through a huge chemical change. It's a far more complex process than this brief description obviously, but once finished they're never kept in a fridge. Jamons develop over 12-24 months entirely because of this process of humid and warm, cold and dry, and so it's the change in seasons that's we have to thank.
Once finished, you'll see the various smallgoods hanging from rafters in old tavernas, supermarkets, farmers markets and delicatessens all around Spain. There is absolutely no cause for health concerns either in the middle of a muggy summer or during a dry and chilly Christmas season. However, I think it's the possibility, or fear, of something going wrong with a stray bacteria that causes us to store our meats in the fridges here in New Zealand. And if the producer wants you to keep their produce in a chiller, then it's best to do as they ask, as their livelihood is potentially at stake.
So, harking back to my opening line, it's a hard question to answer and I'd like to think we can have our meats hanging out and about for all to see, but for now I'll do as I'm told and take them out as and when I need them. Until the local market folk tell me otherwise.
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