York Ham

Chris Battle, Cranswick Country Foods

“When I started as a butcher’s apprentice 50-odd years ago,” says Chris Battle, “York ham is all we used to cook.” Dry salted in two stages and air dried for two months before being cooked, it’s the quintessential British ham, with a distinctive pear shape that gives it an impressive presence on the counter. Yet changes in production methods meant that neither Chris nor anyone else had made a true York ham for many years until one of our buyers put the word out that he was looking for a butcher with this old-fashioned skill. “I was surprised and quite excited when I heard that,” says Chris, “because I did know how to do them and I knew they were really good.”

What’s the Story?

Butcher Chris Battle describes the York ham he’s making for us as “proper food.” Made using a process which takes time – between being salted and cooked, it’s hung for two months – it fulfils all the wonderful clichés about ham as it used to taste. There are several other criteria, too. The pork is from Yorkshire, outdoor bred, female, and allowed to grow for longer to develop flavour and size, then butchered in a specific way. “What makes it a York ham is the shape of it,” says Chris. “It’s a pear-shaped ham, and to get that shape we use four muscles, where a normal leg is three. There’s a lot more weight there because of taking the pork to an older age, and because of the extra muscle. It’s quite a big piece of meat.”

Fat is also essential, says Chris. “There needs to be a good covering of fat. It adds immensely to the flavour – you don’t have to eat it if you don’t want it but it’s got to be on there. All those little things add to the final result.” After years in the business in Keighley, during which he reinstated dry-cure bacon at the request of his customers, Chris sold the family firm. He is still a consultant at the new company, where his daughter also works. “I come in once a week just to have a look at things,” he says. And while he’s there, he’s going to be making us some York hams.