Saturday, July 11, 2015

Jambon – Ham. The Ten Most Popular Hams on French Menus. Ham in French Cuisine.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman

Hams  Curing
Photograph courtesy of Funky Tee
Hams in France
Ham comes from the upper part of the rear legs of a pig and two kinds of ham may be on French restaurant menus. The first type of ham on restaurant menus and the subject of this post is Jambon Cru, dry cured hams in the UK and country hams in North America. The second type of ham is wet cured hams that may be cooked again. Wet-cured ham includes the ham used in ham sandwiches and also offered as canned ham In France.  That ham is called Jambon Blanc, white ham, or Jambon de Paris, Parisian ham, in French.

Croissants and Jambon de Paris on the menu at lunchtime.
Photograph courtesy of roboppy.
Jambon Cru the dry cured hams.

Using a pocket French-English dictionary Jambon Cru may translate, as raw ham.  However, jambon cru ham is not raw, it will have been cured by salting, flavoring and air-drying. Some hams are smoked and then air-dried. Depending on the producer Jambon cru may be air dried from three months to over two years.  Most cured hams need no further cooking. 

Cured ham salad.
Photograph courtesy of cédric Icower
The history of curing hams
When curing ham began we cannot be sure. However, we know from the recipe books the Romans and Greeks left us, that they were preserving ham with salt, herbs, and vinegar as well as air drying and smoking three thousand years ago.  
The flavors of cured ham

The differences in taste among cured hams comes from, how the pig was fed, what it was fed, the pig’s breed, how the ham is prepared and how long the ham is hung.  During the curing process to the meat’s natural taste are added salt,  herbs, spices, berries, and Eau-de-vies. Each type of cured ham has a very definite taste and texture; knowledgeable French diners look on the menu for the ham with his or her preferred brand.
The unique IGP or AOP hams
Some hams are unique and have IGP or AOP protection, but while they may be excellent like the Jambon Sec Prisuttu AOC/AOP from Corsica, they may rarely be seen on menus far from where they are produced. There are many dry-cured French hams made with unique recipes but having limited production will only be on menus close to home. These hams will not be in the list below. When traveling and seeing a different ham on the menu that  is the time to ask about the ham and to consider how it compares with those on this list.

N.B. Hams that have been cured for six months or more will not be part of cooked dishes. Hams cured for over seven months will only be served cold or added, at the last minute, to a cooked dish. Their unique flavor and texture like a fine olive oil will disappear when cooked. (For more about France’s best olive oils click here).

The hams in this post are in alphabetic order with one exception. Each of these ten hams in this post holds a distinct market share and a special reason for its fame. However, one ham stands head and shoulders above the others and is awarded first place in this list, the Jambon de Bayonne ham. 
The ten most popular hams on French restaurant menus:
No: 1. Jambon de Bayonne, Label Rouge, IGP.
Jambon de Bayonne is the most popular air-cured ham in France.  Only two breeds of pigs may be used and most of the ham will come from a Basque pig called the pie noir. These pigs are allowed to roam free in the forests and hills and in the winter they have wooden shelters that keep out the cold.  The pigs eat acorns, chestnuts, and are also fed natural cereals for a balanced diet. Bayonne ham is salt cured for ten days, then air-dried for at least seven months. The best Bayonne hams will be air-dried for 12 months or longer.
Bayonne hams with pickled wild mushrooms.
Photograph courtesy of In Praise of Sardines
To verify the real Jambon de Bayonne, it is not enough to have a ham that came from any pig in the area of Bayonne. The pigs may not be treated with growth hormones or antibiotics and the piglets must be raised by their mothers. With its fame and taste, the demand for this ham is immense and that means that much of the Bayonne ham comes from farms that are hours away from Bayonne

Jambon de Bayonne is very popular, 
it will be on sale at nearly every farmer's market.
Nevertheless, despite the quantity produced the quality and the controls have not changed. There can be no more than 40 pigs in each hectare (2.4 acres) and the food the pigs eat and how they are raised remain the same. Every pig that will become Jambon de Bayonne is tattooed after birth. The piglet’s origins are therefore identifiable all the way to the restaurant that buys the ham.

The Basque cross on Bayonne ham.

When ready for market the ham will be stamped with a Croix Basque, the Basque Cross. Above is a picture of the marking of the Croix Basque;  it looks somewhat like four interlinked balls below the clearly written name Bayonne.
Where is Bayonne?
Bayonne is an inland port city set on the River Adour 8 km (5 miles) from the Atlantic and about 30 km (19 miles) from the Spanish border. Bayonne is in the department of Pyrénées-Atlantiques in Nouvelle Aquitaine.    Bayonne is also the cultural center of the Pay Basque and if you are in the area, enjoy their ham in its home base in the excellent local restaurants. N.B. In Bayonne, there is one, non-culinary, experience that should not be missed. That is the incredibly fast Basque ball games of Pelota and Zesta Punta. Jai Alai or zesta-punta are amazing. The Basques brought this game to a number of towns in Florida and Spain.  In Bayonne, you may also bet on the games…. I always lost.  For more about Zesta-punta and the Basque country see their English language website.
If you are visiting the Pays Basques around the time of the Easter vacations, consider taking a day to enjoy Bayonne’s Foire au Jambon, their ham fair.  This is a long established fair that the organizer's claim was first held in 1426. The official date is from the Thursday before Easter through the following Wednesday.  Check the dates for this year’s Easter with the official Bayonne Tourism Office English language website:
Jambon de Bayonne on the menu:
Asperges Vertes Poêlées, Anguille Fumée, Jambon de Bayonne et de Parmesan Green asparagus lightly fried, accompanied by smoked eel, Bayonne ham, and Parmesan cheese.
Salade Verte, Pommes de Terre, Lardons, Tomates, Jambon de Bayonne,  Magret Fumé -  A green salad with potatoes, bacon pieces, tomatoes, Bayonne ham and smoked duck breast.
For more information on Bayonne Tourism and the annual ham fair see their English language website. For French language websites use the Google or Bing translate apps and you will feel right at home:
Jambon de Vendée IGP
Jambon de Vendée IGP  is a cured and boneless smoked ham.  The ham is rubbed with herbs and sea salt from the Atlantic island of Noirmoutier off Vendee’s Atlantic coast. The island of Noirmoutier is reached by a bridge from close by the small town of La Barre de Monts.   Noirmoutier is a very trendy French holiday resort and equally famous for its fish, oysters and mussels.
The flavor of Vendée ham.
The herbs, spices and flavors include cinnamon, thyme,  bay leaves and an alcoholic eau-de vie. With the climate of Vendée making drying difficult this is a pressed ham, that allows for a shortened drying time of  3 to 4 months. After drying this ham may be smoked with a process that creates a taste claimed by some to be compared to Canadian Bacon. It is a tasty and different ham, but never having tasted Canadian Bacon and so I  cannot confirm the similarities. On my next visit to Canada I will check this out.
Where is Vendée

Vendée is the most western of the departments in the Pays de la Loire and is on the Atlantic coast.  Vendée is famous for its cuisine and historically famous for its politics; however, this is not a blog about politics. In Vendée apart from their famous ham expect menus with fresh fish and shellfish, their Label Rouge, red label, ducks, chickens, quail and guinea-fowl from Challans. Additionally, consider their unique Label Rouge Brioche de Vendée. This is a  brioche made with added crème fraiche and orange zest.   (For more about Brioche and other French breads click here) The Vendée also has many excellent local cheeses. Locally produced butters and their creme fraiche  round up their excellent milk products.
Vendée’s ham on French menus:
Salade de Jambon de Vendée et Poires - A salad of Vendée ham and pears.
Tarte Fine aux Figues, Jambon de Vendée et Son Sorbet de Melon –  A thin disk of puff pastry baked with figs and served cold accompanied by Vendée ham and a melon sorbet.

The beaches of Vendee.
Photograph courtesy of vostok 91.
Jambon de la Savoie
Jambon de la Savoie is a cured boneless ham made in both Savoie departments in the Rhône-Alpes. The ham is salted and steamed before being air cured for at least nine months.
During the curing process, the salt is applied to the hams by hand in accordance with the traditional recipe. The aging lasts a minimum of 12 months and takes place in Alpine curing sheds at an altitude of 650 m.
The Savoie hams may be smoked
Savoie hams may also be smoked over beech wood. The smoking results in a stronger tasting ham than most others on this list
What else is there in the two Savoie departments?
Apart from its ham the Savoie is famous for some of the best cheeses of France, including Abondance AOP, Beaufort AOP. Reblochon AOP, Tomme de Bauges IGP, Chevrotin AOP and the Tomme de Savoie IGP. Apart from cheese, ham and wine the Savoie departments have some of the best skiing in France
Where is the Savoie (Savoy)?
The two departments of the Savoie are in the region of the Rhône-Alpes. Haute-Savoie borders both Switzerland and Italy and has the French part of Mont Blanc along with the tunnel to Italy. The department of Savoie borders Italy.
Jambon de Luxeuil
Jambon de Luxeuil or Jambon de Luxeuil Les Bains is marinated in salt, wine, and juniper berries and then after one month lightly smoked. Then is cured for a minimum of seven to nine months.  Luxeuil-les-Bains is close to the town of Fougerolles where they make some of France’s finest kirsch liqueur. Fougerolls is also the town where Jean Valjean was caught stealing bread in the book Les Miserables.
 Jambon de Luxeuil on a French menu :
Jambon de Luxeuil à l’Os, saucisse de Morteau IGP, Comté et SaladeThe cured ham of Luxeuil, on the bone, served with the Sausage of Morteau IGP, a unique locally smoked sausage. Here it is served along with Comte cheese and a salad
Chiffonade de Jambon de Luxeuil Et Griottines de Fougerolles – Chiffonade translates as rags; however, on your menu this will strips of the Luxeuil ham, served with the sour cherries from the town of Fourgerolles.

Luxeil de Bains.
Photograph courtesy of geoterranaute.
Where is the town of Luxeuil-les-Bains?
The spa town of Luxeuil-les-Bains in the north of the department of Haute-Saône, in the Franche-Comte. Luxeuil-le-Bains is just 10 km (6 miles) from Fougerolles.
The French-language website of the Office de Tourisme de Luxeuil-les-Bains:
Jambon de Parma
Jambon de Parma – This is the Italian Prosciutto Crudo di Parma IGP and as highly rated in France as in Italy.  The ham is salted for over one month, and then cured for 12 months or longer. Parma, the city, is in the Italian province of Emelian- Romagna and equally famous for its Parmigiano- Reggiano, Parmesan, cheese.

Parma ham.
Photograph courtesy of Udo Schröter
Jambon de San Daniele  
Jambon de San Daniele or Prosciutto Crudo di San Daniele IGP,  is considered by many to be similar to Parma ham. However, it is not.  This ham uses sea salt for the salting process and is cured for a minimum of 13 months. The unique taste of this ham is claimed, by the producers, to be the result of the microclimate where the ham is aged. The small town of San Daniele de Friuli is 80 km (50 miles) from Venice.
Salade of San Danielle ham with Mozzarella.
Photograph courtesy of   Loïc Thirion.
Jambon des Aldudes
Jambon des Aldudes is an air-dried ham made from the Aldude Basque pig brought back from close to extinction.  This ham is salt cured and when matured the ham has a deep red color from the chestnuts the pigs eat and a unique taste.
Breakfast with Jambon de Aludes.
Served with Ossau Iraty cheese with a traditional jam of black cherries,
Photograph courtesy of   Hotels-HPRG.
Where are the Aludes?
The commune of Aldudes in the département of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques, in Aquitaine. It is close to the border with Spain. This is the same French department that includes Bayonne and its own famous ham. Ossau-Iraty AOO cheese is produced here. It is one of  only two sheep’s cheeses that have AOC/AOP ratings. The other cheese is Roquefort AOP.
Jambon du Morvan
Jambon du Morvan or Jambon Cru du Morvan is a cured ham from the Morvan in the Bourgogne, Burgundy. This ham is cured in a salt crust for four weeks and then it is hung for a minimum of six months before being sold. The ham is made in the area around the small town of Château-Chinon which itself is in the Morvan National Park. From personal experience, the park is a very beautiful  place to drive through, stop and dine, or just get out and wander.
Jambon de Morvan on French menus:
Jambon Persille de Morvan. - Jambon persillé is a sliced ham and parsley dish served in a wine flavored beef or veal based aspic.
Jambon persillé.
Photograph courtesy of Office de Tourisme Morvan des Lacs
The French-language website of the National Park of Morvan:
Where is Morvan?
 Morvan is in the department of Cote d'Or in Burgundy. The Cote d'Os is also famous for its red wines that include Gevrey-Chambertin, Meursault, Montrachet and Beaujolais along with its the white wine Chablis. The Cote d'Or also produces a large part of the sparkling Crémant de Bourgogne.
Jambon Noir de Bigorre
Jambon Noir de Bigorre or the Porc Noir Gascon, the black Gascony pig. This ham is salt cured and hung for an extremely long 18 months, before being sold. The ham has an intense red color and a sweet taste. After being hung for 18 months, the ham almost melts in your mouth.  This ham is produced in the Hautes-Pyrenees and is one of the few hams supported by the Slow Food Movement.
Jambon Noir de Bigorre on French Menus :

Assiette de Charcuterie : Jambon de  Porc Noire de Bigorre, Rillet des d’oie, Saucisson sec, Pate de Campagne. A plate of Jambon Noir de Bigorre served with goose rillets. (Goose rillets are goose meat that will have been slowly cooked in fat until the meat can be made into a paste to spread on toast or bread). Here the ham is served alongside the rillets, a small salami type sausage and a country pate.
Jambon Fumé du Haut-Doubs
Jambon Fumé du Haut-Doubs is a smoked and cured ham from the mountains in the department of Doubs. These hams are smoked in the resident's houses with their famous chimneys called Tuyes. The whole area, which include the Jura, is also famous for its many wines, cheese and meat products including La Comté AOP cheese among many others. The same area produces wine and liquors that include the sparkling white Crément du Jura AOC
Haute Doubs
Photograph courtesy of Yann Le Moing
Where is Haut Dobes?
Haute Dobes is in the department of Doubs in the region of the France-Comte bordering Switzerland. The prefecture, department capital, is the town of Besançon.  Besançon was once the home of France’s watchmaking industry, competing with Switzerland for the best watches in the world. It has a very interesting watch museum.
Jambon Cru du Pays is a ham outside of  the 10 most popular hams, but is still on many menus.
Jambon Cru du Pays indicates a locally cured ham.  If the ham is local, then the better menus will clearly state its origins even if it is not nationally famous. The problem with this name is that it is generic and may be seen in supermarkets where mass produced cured hams may be sold as Jambon Cru de Pays. Unless you know where the ham on your menu comes from it may be just a mass produced cured ham. If that is the case choose something else. The problem with anonymous cured hams is the chemicals, coloring agents and flavors that may be added.
Not all ham comes from pigs
As in other countries chicken, duck and goose that are smoked and treated like ham may be on the menu. In France, in the USA, the UK and elsewhere, some non-pork products, especially poultry, may have the name ham added to them. In the USA, turkey ham is an example. In France jambon d’oie is smoked goose; literally it translates as goose ham. Jambon de canard is smoked duck, duck ham, jambon de magret is smoked duck or goose breast and jambon de dinde is French turkey ham. (French turkey ham tastes very differently to the  American turkey ham). Look for the qualifications in the description on the menu or ask;  in a supermarket check the label.  All of these poultry products can be tasty as they will have been smoked in a manner similar to ham and can have a slightly similar taste.  That explains the name of duck ham etc.. Additionally those with religious sensibilities to pork use these poultry hams in recipes that would otherwise require cured ham.
Connected Posts:

Quail; the bird. Caille on French Menus.

Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu.
Copyright 2010, 2015
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman


  1. When I was young (17 years old) I lived as an exchange student in the south of France in Château de Parentignat.
    They had a ham that was cured by putting it in a sack of ashes from the fireplace for 6 months. It was excellent!
    Have you heard of this way of curing ham? I am interested in trying.
    Jim Dorchak

  2. Hi Jim,

    Thank you for your comments. I knew that Parentignat had a wonderful Chateau, but I never managed to have the time to visit.

    The Auvergne; however, has quite a few cured hams, but none there (or elsewhere) that is well-known for letting the ham cure in ashes. The ham that is seen all over is their much praised Jambon cru d'Auvergne, the cured ham of the Auvergne. That ham (along with their sausages) is cured for at least nine months and up to 16.

    There are hams, and that would include the ham you saw, that have limited production and sell all they can make to a local audience.

    I am sorry that I cannot offer more information, but even Google (in French) did not come up with anything.