Discover the art of Bayonne Ham through expert eyes

In the realm of culinary arts, there lies a tradition as enduring as the undulating landscape of the French countryside — the creation of Bayonne ham. This exquisite delicacy, deeply rooted in the annals of French history, found its earliest fan in King Louis XIV. It transcends mere cuisine, standing as a cultural emblem, a testament to a gastronomic legacy that has been cherished for centuries. 

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40 years of service to Bayonne Ham 

The Baillet factory, nestled in the small town of Hagetmau in the heart of France's Landes region, proudly stands as one of the esteemed custodians of this age-old tradition. For over four decades, their dedication to the art of Bayonne ham has been unwavering. Their pursuit of perfection has not only been recognized but also celebrated, as evidenced by the numerous accolades they have received, a testament to the quality of their produce. At the heart of our journey through their establishment was Frederic Carrere, site manager at Baillet. 
His insightful guidance enriched our experience, as he skillfully unveiled the intricate secrets behind the creation of this culinary masterpiece. 

Guaranteed quality within reach 

Bayonne ham boasts the prestigious Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status, a mark of distinction that assures its authentic origin. This exclusive certification guarantees that each ham is produced within the defined geographical area of the Adour basin, nestled between the majestic Pyrenees mountains and the Atlantic Ocean.  
This distinction transcends mere formality; it represents a solemn commitment to quality and authenticity. Each ham adheres to time-honored methods that have been passed down through generations. Central to this process is the use of the Salies-de-Béarn salt, renowned for its rich mineral content and abundance in oligo-elements. This exceptional salt not only enhances the flavor but is also vital for the meticulous preservation process of the ham. 

Salting, one of the most important stages 

The creation of Bayonne ham is an art form marked by precision and care, encompassing several crucial stages. The journey begins with the meticulous selection of premium pork legs, sourced exclusively from a specific area spanning 22 departments in Southwestern France. The quality of the meat, especially the fat content, is paramount, as the fat imparts rich, nuanced flavors to the ham. These select cuts are then skillfully treated with the famed Salies-de-Béarn salt.  
Frederic Carrere elaborates on their unique salting approach: 'There are two distinct techniques. One involves total immersion of the ham in a salt vat. The other, our preferred method, is hand-salting. This allows us to gently massage the meat, ensuring the salt is evenly distributed without over-salting, while also removing any residual blood to tenderize the meat.' This careful process lays the foundation for the ham's distinctive taste profile. 

Mastering the process 

The salting is followed by a resting period that allows the flavors to penetrate deeply. Afterward, the ham is thoroughly washed, which precedes the all-important drying phase.  Finally, the ham matures in carefully controlled conditions until it achieves the perfect balance of flavor and texture. During this long maturation process, it is carefully coated with a mixture of rice flour and pork fat, a technique that allows the ham to develop its characteristic flavor. The Baillet establishments have mastered this process, performing rigorous quality checks at every stage.  

“I check on the hams at least twice daily. Monitoring their scent is crucial as it changes throughout each stage of maturation, signaling the ham's proper aging. Daily, we observe, touch, and smell to ensure perfection." 

Their commitment to quality is such that the maturation of their ham takes an average of 12 months, a testament to their philosophy that true flavor requires time. 


The Bayonne Ham hallmark 

Selecting the right Bayonne ham aligns with personal taste, yet each authentic ham is marked by a distinctive seal — the lauburu or Basque cross, symbolizing its authenticity. Upon bringing this delicacy home, proper storage is key to preserving its exceptional taste and texture. 

Whole Bayonne Ham possesses a remarkable shelf-life, remaining pristine for up to three months when stored in optimal conditions. Ideally, it should be kept in a cool space, where the temperature is consistently around 19 degrees Celsius, and wrapped in a cloth to maintain its integrity. For added preservation, particularly at the cut edge, a light coating of olive oil followed by a covering of cling film can be applied. This not only prevents the ham from drying out but also ensures that it remains in peak condition, preserving its rich flavors and textures. 

Titillate your palate with Bayonne ham 

Bayonne ham can be enjoyed in myriad ways. At its simplest, it can be savored on its own, allowing the complex interplay of sweet and savory to tantalize the palate. It is a popular appetizer, often served with melon or figs, which complement its rich flavors. Frederic enthusiastically recommends Bayonne ham as an aperitif. 'A fine chiffonade on an appetizer board is sublime on its own and pairing it with local ewe’s milk cheese creates a delightful combination,' he says. 

But that is not it! What about the amazing maki version with Bayonne ham, Camargue rice and Parmesan cheese.
And for those hot summer days, a salad of melon, Bayonne ham and blue cheese is a must. 

Frederic also shares a cherished recipe from his grandmother: thicker slices of ham pan-fried, complemented by eggs cooked in the same fat, and served with piperade, a traditional Basque dish made with tomatoes, peppers, and onions. This combination epitomizes local culinary tradition.  

A blast from the past 

The story of Bayonne ham is steeped in legend and local lore. One such tale recounts the fortunate mishap of a wild boar preserved by the salty waters of a spring, leading to the discovery of the method of curing which gives us Bayonne ham today. It’s a story that embodies the serendipity behind some of the French greatest gastronomic delights, a story told with pride and relished as much as the ham itself. 


A deeply rooted French experience 

In a fast-paced world, where the new often overshadows the old, Bayonne ham stands as a bastion of tradition and a reminder of the importance of taking the time to do things right. It represents a legacy that is not merely about preserving food but about preserving a way of life, a slice of history, and a piece of cultural identity. 

The next time you savor a slice of Bayonne ham, remember that it is more than a mere morsel of meat;  

… It's a culinary journey that connects us to the past, to the skilled hands of artisans, to the fertile lands of the Adour basin, and to the shared history of a nation. 

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