Saturday, August 7, 2021

Jambon Sec (Cru) - Air-Cured Ham. The Ten Most Popular Air-Cured Hams on French Menus.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman

Hams  on sale.
Hams in France

French cured 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 and the subject of this post is Jambon Sec (also called Jambon Cru), air-cured(air-dried) ham. The second type of ham is wet-cured ham and that may be cooked again. Wet-cured ham includes the ham used in ham sandwiches, called jambon blanc, white ham, or jambon de Paris, Parisian ham; other names include jambon supérieurJambon sec is called dry-cured ham in the UK and country ham in parts of the USA.

(N.B. In America’s south country ham is prepared differently). The Italian word ‘prosciutto” is also often seen on menus in the English-speaking world for air-cured ham. Though, to be accurate, the correct Italian name for jambon sec (cru), air-cured ham is prosciutto crudo

Sliced jambon sec
Photograph courtesy of Marco Verch
Jambon Sec, Jambon Cru, the dry-
cured hams.

Using a French-English dictionary word by word, jambon sec may translate as dry ham while jambon cru may translate as raw ham. However, jambon sec (cru) is neither dry nor raw; it will have been cured by salting, flavoring with herbs, and air-drying (curing). Some hams are smoked and then air-cured, and jambon sec may be air-cured from three months to over two years. Most cured hams need no further cooking, in fact, cooking would destroy their taste and texture. 

A cured-ham sandwich
Photograph courtesy of _BuBBy_
The history of curing hams

When curing ham began, we cannot be sure. However, we know from the recipe books of the Romans and Greeks that they were already preserving ham with salt, herbs, and vinegar, as well as air drying and smoking three thousand years ago. 

The flavors of cured ha

The differences in taste among cured hams come from how the pig was fed, what it ate when freely roaming, the pig’s breed, how the ham is prepared, and how long the ham is hung. To the meat’s natural taste, while curing, will be 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 flavor and texture.

The unique IGP or AOP hams

Many hams are unique, and why they may be excellent, like the Jambon Sec Prisuttu de Corse AOP, from Corsica, are only rarely seen on restaurant menus. With limited production and or distribution, these hams will not be part of the list below. If you are traveling in France and see a different ham on a menu, ask about it and consider trying it. 

N.B. Hams that have been cured for six months or more will not be part of cooked dishes and will only be served cold or added to a cooked dish at the last minute. The unique flavor and texture of air-cured hams, like that of fine olive oil, will disappear when cooked. 

Each of the ten hams in this post holds a distinct restaurant menu share and a particular reason for its fame. The hams in this post are in alphabetic order, with one exception. Jambon de Bayonne stands head and shoulders above the others, and for that reason is awarded first place in this list.

The ten most popular air-cured hams on French restaurant menus:

No: 1. Jambon de Bayonne IGP.


Jambon de Bayonne is the most popular air-cured ham in France; it accounts for nearly 40% of the hams on restaurant menus. Only eight breeds of pigs may be used, with most of the ham coming from the pied-noir Basque pig. 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, and chestnuts they find and are also fed natural cereals for a balanced diet. Bayonne ham is salt-cured for ten days, then air-cured for at least seven months; the best Bayonne hams will be air-dried for 12 months or longer.


Bayonne ham with pickled wild mushrooms.
Photograph courtesy of Brett

To verify the real Jambon de Bayonne, it is not enough to have a ham that came from any pig around Bayonne or other licensed areas. 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 Bayonne ham is immense, and that means that much of the Bayonne ham comes from farms that are hours away from Bayonne.     


Jambon de Bayonne on wheels.
Bayonne ham will be on sale at nearly every farmer's market.
Photograph courtesy of a_marga[BH1] 


Despite the quantity produced, the quality and the controls for this ham 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.

The Basque cross on Bayonne ham.
The cross is an old Celtic mythological symbol.


All piglets that will have their ham sold as Jambon de Bayonne are tattooed after birth and their ham will be stamped with a Croix Basque, the Basque Cross, below the clearly written name Bayonne. Bayonne ham is identifiable all the way from the farm to the Charcuterie-Traiteur or restaurant where it is sold.


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 the region of Nouvelle Aquitaine. Bayonne is also the cultural center of the Pay Basque and if you are in the area, enjoy Basque cuisine and their ham, in its home base.


N.B. In Bayonne, there is one non-culinary experience that should not be missed. That is the high-speed Basque ball game of Zesta punta (also called Cesta punta and Jai Alai), it is amazing. The Basques brought this game to Spain, Mexico, the USA, the Philippines, and elsewhere. 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 Basque 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  what’s happening in Bayonne and the dates of this year's Easter Fair with the official Bayonne Tourism Office English language website:


Jambon de Bayonne on the menu:


Asperges Vertes Poêlées, Anguille Fumée, Jambon de Bayonne et  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.


Jambon de Luxeuil


Jambon de Luxeuil or Jambon de Luxeuil Les Bains is marinated in salt, wine, and juniper berries  After one month, the ham is lightly-smoked and the air-dried 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. Fougerollse 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 Salade – The 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 be thinly-sliced  Luxeuil ham, served with the sour cherries from the town of Fourgerolles.


Photograph courtesy of France-Voyage


Where is the town of Luxeuil-les-Bains?


The spa town of Luxeuil-les-Bains is in the north of the department of Haute-Saône, in the Franche-Comte part of the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region.  Luxeuil-les-Bains is just 10 km (6 miles) from Fougerolles.


The English-language website of the Office de Tourisme de Luxeuil-les-Bains:  



Jambon de Parme (Palma, Italy).


Jambon de Parme (Palma)– This is the Italian Prosciutto Crudo di Parma IGP, and is as highly rated in France as it is 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 Emelia-Romagna 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 producers, claim the ham’s unique taste is 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.

Bruschetta of Raisin Bread, San Daniele Ham

and Saffron Goat Cheese.

Photograph courtesy of Citterio


Jambon de Savoie


Jambon de la Savoie is an air-cured, usually boneless, ham made in both Savoie (Savoy) departments in the Rhône-Alpes part of the region of the Auvergne-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 over 650 m (2,100 feet).


The Savoie hams may be smoked.


Savoie hams may also be smoked over beech wood. The smoking results in a more robust 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 AOPBeaufort AOPReblochon AOP, Tomme des 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 Rhône-Alpes part of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. Haute-Savoie borders both Switzerland and Italy and includes the French part of the Mont Blanc mountain along with the tunnel to Italy. The department of Savoie borders Italy.


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 the department of Vendee's Atlantic coast. The island of Noirmoutier is reached by a bridge from close to 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 cinnamonthymebay 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 comparable to Canadian Bacon. Vendée is a tasty and different ham, but never having tasted Canadian Bacon, I cannot confirm the similarities. On my next visit to Canada, I will check this out.


Plage Normoutier in Vendee

Photograph courtesy of Huges


Where is Vendée


Vendée is the most western of the departments in the Pays de la Loire region 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 renowned 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 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 with locally produced butters and creme fraiche that round-up their amazing milk products. Vendee with nearly 200 km (125 miles ) of coastline is very popular among the French for summer vacations; so if you’re planning to stay in there is a hotel during July and August book a year ahead!


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.


Jambon des Aldudes


Jambon des Aldudes is an air-dried ham made from the Aldudes 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.



Free range Basque pig and piglets in the Aldudes.

Photograph courtesy of  France-Voyage


Where are the Aludes?


The commune of Aldudes in the department of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques, in Nouvelle Aquitaine. It is close to the border with Spain. This is the same French department that includes Bayonne and its own famous ham and Jambon de Kintoa AOP. Apart from ham Ossau-Iraty AOP cheese is produced here. It is one of only two sheep’s cheeses that have AOP ratings. (The other cheese is Roquefort AOP).


Jambon du Morvan


Jambon du Morvan or Jambon Sec du Morvan is a cured ham from the Morvan in the Bourgogne, Burgundy part of the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region. This ham is cured in a salt-crust for four weeks and then hung for a minimum of six months before being sold. The ham is made around the small town of Château-Chinon, which is set in the Morvan National Park. From personal experience, the park is a lovely 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 garlic and parsley dish served in a wine flavored beef or veal-based aspic.

Jambon Persillé du Morvan

Photograph courtesy of MorvanDrive


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'Or is also famous for its red wines that include Gevrey-Chambertin, Meursault and Chassagne-Montrachet. The department of Cote d'Or also produces a large part of the regions sparkling Crémant de Bourgogne.


Jambon Fumé du Haut-Doubs


Jambon Fumé du Haut-Doubs is a smoked and cured ham from the mountains in the department of Doubs in the region of the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté. These hams are smoked in house of local resident's with their famous chimneys called tuyés. The whole area, which includes the Jura, is also renowned for its many wines, meat products and cheeses, including Comté AOP cheese, among many others. The same area produces wines and liquors that include the sparkling white Crémant du Jura AOC



Photograph courtesy[of Thomas



Where is Haut Doubs?


Haute-Doubs is in the department of Doubs in the France-Comte part of the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region bordering Switzerland. The prefecture, the departmental 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. Visit its fascinating watch museum.


Jambon Noir de Bigorre – Porc Noir de Bigorre


Jambon (Porc) Noir de Bigorre comes from the Porc Noir de Gascon AOP, the black Gascony pig. This ham is salt-cured and hung for a minimum of 20 months before being sold. The ham has an intense red color and a sweet taste. After being hung for 20 months, the ham almost melts in your mouth; some of this ham is aged for 36 months. 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 Noir de Bigorre, Rillettes des d’Oie, Saucisson Sec, Pate de Campagne  - A plate of Jambon Noir de Bigorre served with goose rilllettes. (Goose rillettes 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 rillettes, a small salami-type sausage, and a country pate.


Jambon Cru (Sec) de Pays

A ham outside of the ten most popular hams but still on many menus

Jambon Cru de 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 is that the name is generic and may be seen in supermarkets where any mass-produced cured ham may be sold as Jambon Cru de Pays. Unless you know where the ham on your menu comes from, it will a mass-produced ham. The problem with anonymous hams are the coloring agents, and synthetic flavors that may be added along with tastes that vary by producer.

N.B. Not everything marked jambon comes from pigs.

As in other countries, chicken, duck, and goose that are smoked in a similar manner to ham may be on the menu; though none of them are aged like ham. 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, and that translates as goose ham. Jambon de canard is smoked duck, duck ham, jambon de magret is smoked duck breast 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 description on the menu or ask; in a supermarket, check the label. 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.

Magrets d'Oie du Perigord
Goose breast from Perigord.
Photograph courtesy of foie-gras-sarlat.


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Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2015, 2021
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog write to Bryan Newman

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1 comment:

  1. Pays Basque and Pais Vasco are on both sides of the French Spanish border. The Basques were the original inhabitants of Spain, before the Celts arrived. The Basque are probably the original inhabitants of Europe. The Basques didn't take Jai Alai to Spain - some of Spain belongs to them.
    The drier end parts of a leg of air dried ham are used in cooking, after all the best bits have been cut off. The bone is also used to make stock and stews.