How to choose the best Christmas ham

Natasha Rudra
Marco Balzanelli and his daughter Sandra with a Christmas ham at Balzanelli Smallgoods.
Marco Balzanelli and his daughter Sandra with a Christmas ham at Balzanelli Smallgoods. Photo: Jamila Toderas

For many of us, the best thing about Christmas is a big ham, studded with cloves or glazed with honey. We asked butcher Marco Balzanelli for his tips for picking a really good ham for the holidays.

1) Look for good muscle tone and fat

You don't want it too lean. "People when they glaze their ham at Christmas time, they take the skin off, they store the fat and put all the glazing on top of the fat," Marco Balzanelli says. 

Slice of heaven: Hard to beat a fine leg of ham over the festive season.
Slice of heaven: Hard to beat a fine leg of ham over the festive season. Photo: Caroline Velik

2) Keep an eye on the ingredients.

Try to avoid Christmas hams that have preservatives and gluten. It avoids any problems with allergies, particularly if you're serving a big group for Christmas lunch. Some hams might also have additives to stretch the meat.

3) They should be fresh

The Christmas ham should be produced within a month of the big day. "Some people go out and start producing ham in October," he says. "By the time it's on the table it's up to four and a half months old. Those hams are very hard to the touch, they have a very plasticky texture from the outside."

4) Poke it

Balzanelli says that's the best way to tell if a ham is fresh. "When you touch a ham and you feel it nice and moist and soft, that's what you're looking for," he says. "They hold their texture." There should be a bit of give. 

5) Treat them right after the big day

Look after the ham by wrapping it up well in the fridge. You can use a ham bag or a pillow case to make the ham last a couple of weeks after Christmas day, producing plenty of sandwich fodder into January. What about soaking the ham in white vinegar? "You can if you want, but you shouldn't have to," says Balzanelli.