Five of the best free-range Victorian hams for 2020

Bundarra Berkshires' succulent and delicately spiced ham.
Bundarra Berkshires' succulent and delicately spiced ham. Photo: Richard Cornish

"Everybody is chasing pork," says Salt Kitchen Charcuterie's Mick Nunn. "It has been a crazy year."

The respected Ballarat maker of quality free-range hams and smallgoods sold out of hams last week and has been unable to source more pork.

A combination of lack of supply due to COVID-19 abattoir restrictions, massive demand from China due to swine flu, and a lack of domestic demand from locked-down Victorians has disrupted pork production.

Meatsmith's ruby-coloured hams are hand-trussed in string.
Meatsmith's ruby-coloured hams are hand-trussed in string. Photo: Tim Grey

Nunn recommends ham-loving readers order their hams from their suppliers as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.

Here are five of the best free-range local producers who still have stock.

Bundarra Berkshires

Farmer and butcher Lauren Mathers raises her Berkshire pigs on pasture on the Murray River flats west of Echuca. She has spent the best part of a decade perfecting her ham recipe and this year the result is magnificent: a beautifully succulent and delicately spiced ham, brined with local orange juice and bay leaves, then slowly smoked over local redgum. Delivery VIC and NSW.

8kg, $40 a kg, bundarraberkshires.com.au

Gary's Quality Meats

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Butcher Gary McBean and daughter Ashleigh specialise in free-range pork at their Prahran Market store. They use pasture-raised Berkshire pork from Ravens Creek Farm at Moriac near Geelong. The McBeans use a simple salt brine and enlist German master butcher Ralf Finke from Oakwood Smallgoods in Castlemaine to give them a gentle smoke over redgum and mountain ash for a deep golden colour. "We want the flavour of the pork to do the talking," says Gary McBean.

7-8kg $36.90 a kg, garysqualitymeats.com.au

McIvor Farm Foods

"Pork tastes like what you feed the pigs," says farmer and animal nutritionist Belinda Hagan. She and husband Jason raise a herd of 1200 Berkshire pigs, free-ranging on diverse pastures on their farm near Tooborac, 95 kilometres north of Melbourne. The grass is supplemented with a mash of local non-GM grains, lupins and peas and herbs such as oregano to improve gut health. The legs are brined and drained, then hot-smoked over river redgum for 12 hours, giving a luscious texture and medium smoky tang. Farm gate pick-up and delivery to Melbourne.

6-7kg $42 a kg, mcivorfarmfoods.com.au

The Meat Room

Better known as the Salami King, at this time of year Kilmore East butcher James Mele turns his hands to ham using free-range Limestone Pork raised near Yea. "The succulence is there and there is just enough alabaster-hued fat for succulence, but you are not carving through an inch of it to get your meat," says Mele. Brined for a balance of salt and sweetness and smoked over redgum by Little Creek Cattle Company at Coldstream, this a delicious ham with succulent deep-pink flesh.

7-8kg $35 a kg, themeatroom.com.au

Meatsmith

A truly beautiful ruby-coloured ham, hand-trussed in string by butcher Troy Wheeler. For the past five years he has been using rare breed pigs, such as Tamworth and Hampshire, from Glen Eyrie Farm near Kilmore. He likes these breeds as the fat under the skin gently renders during hot smoking, permeating the meat. The smoking happens after the pork has spent 48 hours in a brine seasoned with juniper, bay, rosemary and brown sugar. Stores in Fitzroy, St Kilda and Brighton, plus home delivery.

7kg, $35 a kg, meatsmith.com.au