A stalwart of Yorkshire pub lunches everywhere, York ham is possibly the most copied food product ever to come out of North Yorkshire. To be a true Yorkshire food, the ham should come from pigs born and raised in Yorkshire, and cured on Yorkshire soil, preferably near or within the city of York itself. Skipton would qualify, but the supermarket doesn’t.
Unfortunately, York ham doesn’t have a protected designation of origin status, meaning it can be passed off as genuine by practically any manufacturer with the equipment to inject, flavour and shape preformed meat. So-called premium carvery joints are similarly cured and cooked by industrialised production processes in as little as 72 hours – a long way removed from the delicious home-cured ham sold in Yorkshire food shops, or served up in Yorkshire pubs.
Mild-flavoured, delicately pink and with a succulent, firm texture, York hams are dry-cured for up to three weeks in a mixture of salt and saltpetre (sodium nitrate) before being hung for at least twelve weeks. They are then cooked by lightly smoking or boiling. The curing process creates a saltier, drier ham than other dry-cured pork products, but one with a delicious flavour.
Traditionally, large white pigs were used, producing joints of 50lb or more. Legend says the first York hams were smoked using oak from the building of the cathedral. In fact, there was no “official” city ham until Atkinson’s butchery shop began selling home-cured legs in the 19th century. Of course there are many delicious Yorkshire hams, both smoked and unsmoked, and Yorkshire pub lunches regularly feature them in Keighley and Skipton.