August 2018. Ok, it’s pop quiz time and in the interests of cutting straight to the chase I’ll hit you with this article’s all-important question. From where did dry-cured ham originate? It’s Spain right? Everyone knows about Spanish jamón, not least myself as I was lucky enough to live in the Spanish city of Malaga for a year. But if you think dry-cured ham is a Spanish invention you’d be WRONG. It actually all began in the Chinese city of Jinhua as far back as the Tang Dynasty (618-907AD). Keen to find out more, I headed off to this quirky little museum outside Jinhua city centre.
August 2018. Jinhua Ham museum is located on the ground floor of Jinzi Ham Company headquarters. There are guided tours available but only in Chinese, so the girls at reception were happy enough to leave me to my own devices. The first thing I learned is that Jinhua Ham is a bit of a nightmare to make! With over 30 careful procedures including salting, washing, drying, fermenting and expert ‘smelling’ (there’s a whole science behind this apparently that involves inserting a bamboo stick into the meat), it takes anywhere between 6-8 months to produce a distinct, aromatic slab of Jinhua ham. Hardcore.
August 2018. Jinhua ham is much saltier and smokier than Spanish ham. It’s also curious to note that the Chinese rarely eat the ham itself, but use it more as a cooking ingredient or as a high-end gift to impress business associates. Marco Polo was mightily enthralled by Jinhua ham, with some historians claiming it was the great explorer that introduced dry cured ham to Europe back in the 13thcentury.
August 2018. At the museum exit there’s a large gift store with a wide array of ham-based products. Expect to pay a pretty penny for a leg of Jinhua cured ham. This handsome chunk, beautifully displayed in a fancy box, could have been mine for 1288RMB (£146/€162/$187). I thought about it… for about one second.
August 2018. Happily there was a cheap and cheerful option in the form of… Jinhua Ham Jerky! These bite-sized packs are great for getting a little taste and come in a variety of flavors. There are also beef alternatives. I thought the Jinhua Jerky was really tasty, so much so that I grabbed a couple of packs for the road and one for my flatmate Day-Bird back in Rui’an. I should point out that Jinhua Ham Museum is an understated attraction that may disappoint those who’ve gone out of their way to come here with high expectations. It won’t take you more than twenty minutes to work your way through the exhibits and the factory floors are sadly closed to the public. If you’re in town though you should definitely swing by, it’s about a twenty-minute drive from People’s Square in the centre and one of China’s highly unique attractions. Better yet it’s free to enter and open daily from 10:00-18;00.
For more on my adventures in this largely unknown city check out more reports from Jinhua.
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