Where Is Ham Produced? A Global Exploration of Ham Production

Ham is one of the most beloved and ubiquitous cured meats in the world From a juicy ham sandwich to an elegant charcuterie board, there are endless ways to enjoy the distinct flavor of cured and aged pork But have you ever wondered exactly where ham comes from?

The origins and traditions of ham production span the globe with unique curing styles developed in different regions over centuries. In this article we’ll embark on a world tour to discover the ham capitals of Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Join me as we explore the history, methods, and flavors that make each regional ham special.

A Brief History of Hams have been preserving meat through salting, smoking, and drying since ancient times. Some of the earliest evidence of ham production comes from the Mediterranean, where the Greeks and Romans were pioneers of the art of charcuterie.

The word “ham” itself originated in Europe, derived from the Old English word “hom” meaning the bend of the knee joint. Spanish explorers introduced pigs to the Americas, where ham became a dietary staple thanks to the abundance of fresh pork. Traditional dry curing methods allowed ham to be preserved for long periods without refrigeration.

Over the centuries, distinct ham traditions developed throughout Europe and Asia. From Italian prosciutto to Westphalian ham and Jinhua ham, each region perfected its own unique curing process tailored to local conditions. Today, these places remain renowned for their high-quality, flavorful hams with centuries of cultural heritage behind them.

Ham Production in Europe

Europe sets the gold standard when it comes to artisanal ham production. Countries like Italy, Spain, France and Germany have generations of expertise in dry curing hams like prosciutto and jamón.


Italy is famous for Prosciutto di Parma, produced in the Parma and Modena regions using traditional methods perfected over 2000 years. Thinly sliced Prosciutto di Parma has a sweet, delicate flavor.

Prosciutto di San Daniele is another prized Italian ham, named after the town of San Daniele in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region. The microclimate and salty Adriatic sea breezes contribute to its unique taste.


Spain is the world’s largest producer and exporter of cured ham. Jamón ibérico from native Iberico pigs is considered the finest, ranging from Jamón ibérico de bellota fed acorns to Jamón ibérico de cebo.

Jamón serrano is another top Spanish variety, made from white pigs in the mountainous sierras regions. Both use ancient dry curing methods to produce bold, complex flavors.


France has its own tradition of air-dried ham, most notably the mottled red and white Jambon de Bayonne from the Basque region. Jambon de Paris is another mild, delicately smoked ham originally from Parisian saltpetre mines.


Germany’s Westphalian ham gets its distinctive flavor from being cold-smoked over aromatic juniper branches. The Westphalia region has a long history of ham production dating back to the Middle Ages.

Ham Production in Asia

Asia also boasts a strong ham heritage, both in mainland China as well as former colonies influenced by European charcuterie techniques.


Jinhua ham from China’s Zhejiang province is prized for its rich, concentrated pork flavor. It is instantly recognizable by its thin-as-paper consistency and distinctive golden skin. Jinhua ham frequently appears in Chinese haute cuisine.


Bayashi bacon or Bayashi ham refers to a type of cured and smoked pork belly first introduced to Japan by European merchants. It became a local specialty of the Bayashi village.


Chả lụa is a delicacy from northern Vietnam that combines finely ground pork with cinnamon, fish sauce and other spices. It is cured and then cooked, pressed into a terrine and sliced like ham.

Ham Production in North America

The United States has its own tradition of dry cured country hams, especially in the South. These hams have a rustic, robust flavor compared to their more refined European counterparts.

Kentucky and Virginia are famous for their maple wood smoked country hams, following centuries-old Appalachian traditions. Other states like Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina also produce signature country hams.

Artisan producers cure their hams with salt for weeks or months before hanging them to dry. The longer the curing time, the more concentrated the ham flavor. This American-style dry cured ham has a chewy texture and tangy, salty taste.

Commercial ham production shifted towards less time-intensive wet curing and became more consolidated under large pork processors like Smithfield. However, the demand for traditionally crafted country ham remains strong.

Health Considerations of Eating Ham

Ham’s high sodium levels may make it unsuitable for some diets. The World Health Organization recommends limiting intake of processed meats like ham, since frequent consumption has been linked with increased risk of colorectal cancer.

When buying ham, look for products without artificial nitrites or nitrates, which have raised health concerns. Opt for uncured or naturally cured ham, or ham preserved using sea salt and natural curing agents like celery powder.

In moderation, as part of a balanced diet, ham can be enjoyed as the succulent, savory delicacy it has been for centuries. Look for high-quality, artisanal hams and practice portion control for the greatest health benefits.

The Takeaway

Ham holds a special place in many cultures worldwide thanks to generations of curing tradition. From Italian prosciutto to Spanish jamón and American country ham, each region produces ham with its own distinctive aroma, texture and flavor.

Europe sets the standard for dry cured ham, but Asia and the Americas have also developed their own beloved specialties. Understanding the history, methods and unique traits behind each type of ham can help you better appreciate the depth of craft involved.

The next time you enjoy a slice of ham, consider the centuries of culinary tradition in every bite. While health concerns mean ham is best enjoyed in moderation, savoring the complex flavor profiles of artisanal cured hams is an experience like no other.

How Ham Is Made from a Whole Pig — Prime Time


Where is ham commonly produced?

The neighboring town of Smithfield, Virginia, known as the “ham capital of the world” and “Hamtown,” is one of the biggest hubs for ham production. Smithfield is also home to Smithfield Foods, a world-famous name in the food industry.

Where does a ham come from?

Ham is the cured leg of pork. Fresh ham is an uncured leg of pork. Fresh ham will bear the term “fresh” as part of the product name and is an indication that the product is not cured. “Turkey” ham is a ready-to-eat product made from cured thigh meat of turkey.

What country is famous for ham?

It must be emphasized that Spain is still the world’s largest ham producer, but there are other countries that are slowly gaining ground.

What state produces ham?

The most iconic Virginia ham comes from Smithfield, also known as the “ham capital of the world” and, more succinctly, “Hamtown.”

Where is Ham made?

Today, ham is produced all around the world with each region having its own unique methods and variations. Whether it’s Italian prosciutto or Spanish Jamón serrano and jamón ibérico, or country ham from Kentucky and Virginia in the United States, each variety has its own distinct flavor and history.

Where did Ham come from?

The preserving of pork leg as ham has a long history, with traces of production of cured ham among the Etruscan civilization known in the 6th and 5th century BC. Cato the Elder wrote about the “salting of hams” in his De agri cultura tome around 160 BC. There are claims that the Chinese were the first people to mention the production of cured ham.

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.

Is Ham a processed meat?

As a processed meat, the term “ham” includes both whole cuts of meat and ones that have been mechanically formed. Ham is made around the world, including a number of regional specialties. In addition, numerous ham products have specific geographical naming protection.

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