A good ham costs good money. This is a cold hard Christmas truth and the sooner you embrace it, the happier you'll be. Like the fact that Die Hard is the greatest Christmas movie of all time. Or that Good King Wenceslas is the only carol that doesn't make you want to stuff baubles in your ears.
A properly stored ham will provide you with at least three weeks of sandwiches and snacking, so it's worth spending a little extra on a prize pig. A sexy leg you can glaze on Christmas morning, slice for unexpected guests on Boxing Day and use to turbocharge scrambled eggs at New Year's brunch. (I have an uncle who keeps salt and pepper shakers in the fridge over Christmas so he can season his help-yourself ham slices without a trip to the pantry. )
For the best ham, buy bone-in. Superior in every way to boneless hams except for ease of cutting. And because frozen pork imported to Australia is not allowed to travel with bones attached, you can be sure a bone-in ham is from a local pig.
Here's Good Food's picks for the best places to ham shop this Christmas.
Sunshine Meats traditional bone-in ham. $13.90 per kg. Photo: Omid Daghighi
Top bloke Jose Pereira has been supplying Sydney with Portuguese-style smallgoods since the early '90s. A trip to Sunshine's cafe and deli isn't complete until you've scoffed a bread roll heaving with chorizo, egg, onion and chilli mayo. Pereira also cures a damn fine ham, naturally smoked using Australian beechwood and infused with maple for mild sweetness. The brine injection is kept to a minimum so there's less water content than those clammy mass-produced hams.
Sunshine sources ham from Bundawarrah Farm near Temora in the NSW Central Tablelands. Bundawarrah is a third generation family-run farm and all of its pigs are bred free-range.
"A nice quality ham is like a good glass of wine," says Pereira. "It's all about quality over quantity. If get your ham from a smaller, hands-on producer they will have sourced their meat from a smaller farm and you know your ham will come with a healthy dose of pride, care and passion."
Ham pick: traditional bone-in. $13.90 per kg whole; $14.50 per kg half.
360 Horsley Road, Milperra, (02) 9774 5543, sunshinemeats.com.au. Delivery options available.
Feather and Bone's traditional bone-in. $174-$268. Photo: Alan Benson. Styled by Jane Hann
Feather and Bone
The legends at this Marrickville butchery work exclusively with farms that focus on regeneration and animal welfare. Hams are from pigs raised entirely outside on chemical-free pastures.
"A farmer who chooses to raise animals exclusively ranging freely on pasture is also choosing a more laborious, but ultimately much more satisfying, productive and regenerative farming management practice," says Feather and Bone co-founder Laura Dalrymple. "We also think that animals raised this way produce much better quality meat."
Feather and Bone hams are brined with sugar and salt and lightly smoked so the pork flavour isn't overshadowed. The team is also happy to skin and score your ham for pick-up and glaze it with a coating of Young Henry's cider, Malfroy's gold honey, mustard and orange.
Ham pick: traditional bone-in. $174-$268 per ham.
8/10-14 Lilian Fowler Place, Marrickville, (02) 9818 2717, featherandbone.com.au. Delivery options available.
Free Range Butcher's pasture-fed ham. $25.99 per kg. Photo: Natalie Lim
Free Range Butcher
This family-run butchery is committed to producing meat that's ethical, sustainable and traceable. It's also delicious. Free Range Butcher took home the medal for NSW's best traditional bone-in ham at the Australian PorkMark Ham Awards in November. Sunshine Meats (above) was awarded the trophy for second-best traditional ham and Mona Vale's German Butchery (below) came in third.
Pigs are mainly sourced from Oakleigh Pasture Pork near Gunnedah, with the Free Range Butcher family farm at Barraba providing the remaining pork. Hams are cured by hand using local honey and smoked in small batches to ensure the ultimate cooking temperature is reached by each leg.
Although there's no physical Free Range Butcher store, hams are still available for online ordering and delivery at the time of print. You can also find the team selling hams at farmers markets around Sydney including Castle Hill, Concord, Frenchs Forest, Kings Cross, Narrabeen, North Sydney and Orange Grove.
Ham pick: bone-in pasture-fed. $25.99 per kg.
The Bexley North butcher that's a one-stop geschaft for weisswurst, bratwurst and kransky is also a bonafide ham hotspot.
Master butcher Tino Dees triple-smokes hams over beechwood after they've been cured with a secret spice mix using traditional European methods. Pick up a package of kassler short-cut bacon when you collect your ham. Ideal for next-level bacon sarnies on Christmas morning.
Ham pick: ham on the bone. $11.90 per kg whole; $12.90 per kg half.
Shop 1/2A Sarsfield Circuit, Bexley North, (02) 9150 6402, german-butchery.com.au.
This family-run butcher only sources meat from independent farmers who raise animals ethically and naturally. Kingsmore's pork goodness comes from Bundarra Berkshires biodynamic farm on the Murray River and Tallabung Pork in Forbes, NSW, where the Williams family have bred happy, free-range pigs for more than 30 years.
The Christmas ham comes from a heritage black Berkshire, cured in-house at the Rosebery store and smoked over hickory. For an additional fee, team Kingsmore will score, clove and and lacquer your ham with a choice of special glaze, such as a rosemary and morello cherry number spiked with gin from next door neighbours, Archie Rose.
Ham pick: free-range heritage-breed Berkshire ham. $31.99 per kg
The Saporium, 61 Mentmore Avenue, Rosebery, 02 9693 5307, and 22 Plumer Road, Rose Bay, 02 9363 4971, kingsmore.com.au. Delivery options available.
David Jones clove-studded ham. $28.95 per kg. Photo: Supplied
DJs purchases hams from Borrowdale Free Range Pork Co, which in turn sources its pigs from a single family-owned farm near Goondiwindi on Queensland's Darling Downs. Hams are slow-cooked for 12 hours and smoked over a combination of ironbark and beechwood.
The retail giant's food team then scores and studs the ham ready for home-glazing. Buy a David Jones spiced pineapple and cranberry glaze ($14.95 for a 450g tub) and they'll throw in a ham bag free.
Ham pick: clove-studded ham. $28.95 per kg.
Available from Bondi, Wollongong and Bourke Street, Melbourne stores. shop.davidjones.com.au
Victor Churchill ready-glazed ham. $230. Photo: Supplied
Speaking of ham bags, they don't come much fancier than the collectable sacks at this boutique butchery every Christmas. Designed by Archibald winner Del Kathryn Barton in 2017, and with all proceeds going to charity, the bags have already sold out, so best sign up to Victor Churchill's newsletter if you want to be one of the first to know when the 2018 edition becomes available.
Victor Churchill only offers the one ham but it's a bloody cracker – highly-marbled rare-breed black Berkshire Kurobuta cured using a 100-year-old family brine recipe and hot-smoked for three days over ironbark and beechwood. The wagyu of the pork world.
It's not the cheapest leg in town, but how many hams are you buying a year? Stud, glaze and be merry.
Ham pick: traditional full leg, bone-in (approximately 7-8kg). $230.
132 Queen Street, Woollahra, (02) 9328 0402 victorchurchill.com. Delivery options available.