How to Ham it up this Christmas

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How good are Christmas feasts? We have to admit, here at team GRAM we tend to go all out. If someone were to suggest to only do one; say ‘ham or turkey, let’s flip a coin’, we would give them a different kind of flip. And let me tell you, we’ve had some bloody brilliant hams. Juicy, tender, sweet. And some turduckenly tasty turkeys; moist, rich, salty. Goodness gracious I think we need a Christmas motif-ed napkin over here.  

So what is it that makes a leg of ham so perfect for Christmas? How do you distinguish a quality product from a poor one? We spoke to Rod Faulkner from Yarra Valley Smokehouse, who has been a butcher for 29 years, and who we reckon makes some of Melbourne’s best ham.  

Ten years ago, Rod and his wife Sue Faulkner opened up Yarra Valley Smokehouse in Yarra Glen. From the humble beginning of one employee, the business has grown to many, and with two shopfronts to boot. ‘It’s been a hard journey… But overall it’s been a great ride,’ Rod Faulkner tells us. ‘We’ve concentrated on quality products, family values and good service.’ As a business, Yarra Valley Smokehouse is doing well, with customers coming far and wide and purchasing over 700 hams this year! ‘That’s a lot of pig legs,’ Faulkner laughs.

Yarra Valley Smokehouse sources pork as locally as they can find it, and Faulkner tells us: ‘Ethics plays a major part in it, we do buy genuine free range pigs.’ He also specifies that the hams they sell are only from female pigs, explaining that similar to puberty in humans, once a male pig reaches 13 months, they develop a strong odour and flavour. Hmm what’s that scent you say? Eau du cochon.

Sue Faulkner comes from a European background, which influenced the development of the locally famous ham. The meat is traditionally smoked with hickory chips for over 12 hours, giving it a lovely rich, authentic flavour. Rod Faulkner tells us; ‘There’s a lot of different hams on the market. What we do is we just produce a quality, top end product, and don’t compromise on ethics.’

Yarra Valley Smokehouse supply both boneless and bone in ham. While ham on the bone is typically the more popular option as it tends to be sweeter, and holds its moisture and shape better, unless you have a large group to feed, it’s a darn sight larger than a boneless ham option (this of course, is where having ten cats would come in handy).

Rod talks to us about the change in consumer trends, explaining that convenience plays a massive part in Christmas these days. ‘I’ve been butchering for 29 years. When I first started, everybody bought a whole turkey; then probably 10 years later, everybody bought a turkey buffet; which is just the breast meat on the bone. Now most people buy turkey breast, because it’s easy; it’s convenient. I put it in the oven and an hour and twenty minutes later it’s all ready.’ Faulkner says that making things easier for his customer is a big part of his business’ success.

Yarra Valley Smokehouse also offers to glaze the ham for you, with orange marmalade, dijon, and herbs and spices. So what to look for when buying ham this Christmas? Make sure it’s an even, golden brown colour, has been wood smoked, isn’t watery and is genuinely free range. As for what Yarra Valley Smokehouse provide, Faulkner says it’s ’Quality and consistency at a competitive price.’

Megan Osborne

Megan Osborne is a freelance writer, but more importantly, a foodie. How can you not be living in a city like Melbourne? Every day holds an opportunity to find a new gem, and in between uploading photos of her cat on Instagram and generally making a mess in the kitchen, she’s on the lookout for the next tummy-satisfying diamond. Or goldmine—she’s not fussy.