A Guide to Imported Hams: Exploring Globally-Inspired Pork Delicacies

For true ham aficionados, the world of imported hams offers an exciting chance to expand your palate beyond domestic varieties. From Italian prosciutto to Spanish jamón ibérico, imported hams showcase unique regional curing techniques, flavor profiles, and rich histories. But what exactly are imported hams, and how do they differ from the hams found in your local supermarket? This complete guide dives into the nuances of imported hams to turn you into a globally-inspired pork expert.

What is Imported Ham?

The term “imported ham” refers to any ham that is produced outside of the country in which it is purchased and consumed. For example if you live in the United States and buy a ham made in Italy that would be considered an imported ham.

Unlike mass-produced domestic hams, imported hams are crafted using time-honored heritage methods unique to their country or region of origin. They showcase specialized curing processes, choice pork cuts, and distinct seasonings that set them apart on the global ham scene.

Some of the key characteristics of imported hams include:

  • Produced abroad using traditional techniques
  • Subject to strict regulations (e.g. PDO status)
  • Expensive compared to domestic hams
  • Offer unique flavors tied to their origin
  • Available in specialty stores or online
  • Served in thin slices as charcuterie or entrées

While imported hams take more effort to source and tend to come with a higher price tag their complex flavors and artisanal craft make them well worth seeking out for any serious ham lover.

Notable Types of Imported Hams

The world of imported hams encompasses delicacies from across Europe, South America, and beyond. Here are some of the most prized global ham varieties:

Italian Prosciutto

From Parma to San Daniele dry-cured Italian prosciutto is one of the most recognizable imported hams. The pork leg is seasoned pressed, salted, and air-dried for over a year to concentrate flavors and textures. When perfectly sliced paper-thin, it melts in your mouth with a sweet, funky flavor.

Spanish Jamón Ibérico

Hailed as the champagne of hams, Spanish Jamón Ibérico undergoes an extensive curing process and comes from the prized Iberian pig. The black-footed pigs feast on a diet of acorns, imparting the ham with a complex nutty taste. Jamón ibérico is quite expensive, with some hind legs selling for over $100 per pound.

French Jambon de Bayonne

Hailing from the Basque region, this French delicacy is salt-cured and air-dried for a smooth, supple texture. The flavor marries the sweetness of ham with the spice of curing salts. It’s one of the few imported hams that can be cooked as well as eaten raw.

German Schwarzwälder Schinken

Schwarzwälder Schinken translates to “Black Forest ham,” named after the German region where it originates. Pork legs are coated in salt, juniper berries, and garlic before curing and smoking over fir and spruce. It delivers a robust, smoky flavor.

Dutch Krakauer Ham

Popular in Jewish delicatessens, Krakauer ham is brined with spices and garlic before being smoked over beechwood. It has a distinct shiny black exterior and a bold, salty punch nicely balanced by sweet, smoky notes.

Chinese Jinhua Ham

Jinhua ham hails from a province of the same name in China. It is gently cured, smoked, and aged for a minimum of 6 months, developing a bold, salty, and umami-rich flavor. Due to the lengthy process, Jinhua ham is quite expensive, often retailing for $100 or more per pound.

This is just a small sampling of varieties available. Denmark, Austria, and South America also produce specialty imported hams using time-honored curing techniques. Part of the enjoyment lies in sampling different styles to find your favorites.

Where to Buy Imported Hams

Seeking out imported hams requires a bit more sleuthing than grabbing a pack of sliced deli ham at the supermarket. Here are some of the best places to track down global ham delicacies:

  • Specialty food stores – Well-stocked delis or gourmet markets, especially ones focused on imports, often carry select imported hams. You can ask for assistance finding them.

  • Butcher shops or charcuteries – Skilled butchers, particularly at higher-end meat markets, may offer imported hams for sale. Charcuteries are also a good bet.

  • Online specialty sites – Various food sites let you order imported hams directly, like Moody’s Delicatessen, Olympic Provisions, or Vivandiere.

  • Direct from producers – Some esteemed imported ham makers like Cinco Jotas offer online ordering directly from their curing facilities in Spain.

  • Ethnic grocery stores – Shops specializing in Spanish, Italian, German, or Chinese ingredients are worth checking for hams native to those cuisines.

The rarity and import regulations around foreign hams means they demand a higher price. But for special occasions or charcuterie cravings, it’s an experience for the senses that’s worth the splurge.

Serving and Cooking Imported Ham

Imported hams shine when enjoyed in thin slices letting their texture and flavor nuances shine through. They pair wonderfully with cheese, fruit, olives, nuts, and crusty bread as part of an antipasto spread.

Most imported hams are meant to be savored raw at their peak of curing. However, some heartier varieties like Jambon de Bayonne can also be cooked for entrees. Prior to cooking, soak in water for a few hours to reduce saltiness, then roast, grill, or pan-fry.

When cooking imported ham, gentle heating brings out the best results. Use moderate oven temperatures from 250-325°F and cook to an internal temperature of 140°F. Glazing with fruit preserves, honey, or maple syrup adds a touch of complementary sweetness.

The Allure of Gourmet Imported Hams

For pork purists, imported hams are the crème de la crème—artisanal masterpieces that encapsulate generations of curing mastery. While costing more than domestic ham, their complex character and delicious depth of flavor make them perfect for gift-giving or savoring small slices as part of a tapas spread.

From the acorn-fed pigs of Spain to the handmade ham of Italy, imported hams allow you to taste the heritage of world-class pork one sublime bite at a time. Seek them out from specialty sources to take your ham appreciation to a whole new global level.

How Italian Parma Ham Is Made | Regional Eats


What are the two types of hams?

Most hams you’ll find made in the United States are city hams. They are wet-cured and made by soaking the meat in a saltwater solution or injecting them with a brine. You may also see country ham, which is dry rubbed and hung to dry like prosciutto. There are also fresh hams, which are uncured.

What is the difference between processed ham and real ham?

Simply put, cured ham has gone through a curing process designed to preserve the meat without refrigeration. This process often involves a variety of chemicals and additives. On the other hand, uncured meats have not been treated with preservatives and must rely on natural salts and flavorings to keep from going bad.

What ham is made in the USA?

American country ham is a tradition in the Southeastern region of the United States. Salt-cured, it’s sometimes flavored with sugar, honey or pepper, and it’s cold-smoked, most commonly over hickory or maple.

What’s the difference between ham and Virginia ham?

Tasty Virginia ham is simply a country ham cured in the Commonwealth. On the other hand, a Virginia-style ham refers to how the ham was cured and/or cooked, rather than where. A ham marked “Virginia Style” is still a country ham cured in much the same way but likely not cured in Virginia.

How is country ham made?

The process of making country ham consists of three main stages: curing, salt equalization, and aging. After the hind leg is trimmed and shaped, the ham is rubbed with a mixture of salt, sugar, and spices. (Learn more about how it’s done here .) Country ham is often cured for at least a month to draw out the moisture.

What is a country ham?

Country ham is dry-cured, meaning that the exterior is rubbed with salt, sugar, and spices before being aged. Historically, without refrigeration, the process began around November with the cooler temperatures, with shorter-aged hams ready to eat by Easter.

What is American Ham?

Think of American ham as a talented character actor that can appear in many guises ( country ham, Smithfield ham, spiral-cut ham ), enhance the scene without stepping all over everyone else’s lines, and leave folks thirsty for just a little bit more. And just so we’re clear, here’s what ham is: meat from the upper part of a pig’s leg.

Where do hams come from?

Belfast, Ireland is famous for its pickled or brined hams, but what gives them their own unique flavor is the process of smoking over peat fires. They must be soaked, scrubbed, simmered, and then baked before eating. This luxury ham comes from Spain and is offered in three different grades.

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