Twenty Kilometers East of Ravensburg in the scenic region of Baden-Württemberg, (say that three times fast…) South Germany, lies the small town of Wolfegg: known for its vintage car museum, castle and now (at least in my eyes) it’s slow smoked ham.
Georg Klawitter, (that’s ‘George’ to you and I) has been living and working in the region his whole life.When not at his day job, you will likely find Georg in and around the house, working away on one of his many projects. A skilled carpenter in his spare time, he shows me around his work shop which is dressed with bundles of wood, bound with chunks of metal and peppered with layers of saw dust. However it is the towering cabinet outside of the work shop that catches my attention:
“There’s about 50kg of ham in there – just shy of 200 euros worth.” claims Georg, as he ushers me to the cabinet and unlocks the door – an expensive piece of equipment in its own right. I soon find out it isn’t a cabinet at all. It’s a smoker.
“Smoke rises, and escapes through the top, you see?” explains Georg proudly, as he becomes animated over his new project and entertains my interest.
As Georg pries open the door, smoke fails to bellow out, to my surprise, instead continuing its silky path to the top of the smoker, funneling out through the top:
“With cold smoke, liquid is forced out of the meat, producing more tender ham.” explains Georg.
It’s a hefty chunk of metal around three feet deep and six-foot high, allowing for the smoke to have room to rise and time to cool down. The smell is amazing: a dense woody aroma; The mouth-watering looking layers of hanging ham looks good enough to eat, but it’s not. In fact, the ham is soaked in a good amount of water for 24 hours, coated in salt, garlic and herbs for three weeks and left to dry out before going anywhere near the smoker. Once in, the ham is carefully cared for throughout the smoking period, maintaining a cold 10 to 15 degrees throughout the process – which can take several days to a week or two depending on the cut of meat/the size.
Forever a community figure, Georg is smoking the ham for friends, family and neighbours to give out as christmas presents. Sensing my interest, I am given a taste and try to recall a time where I had tasted better – heavenly. Unlike the smoking process, the sensation is instant as the intensity of the salt and the smoke come together sharply to form an explosion of flavour.
Conversation is limited between us due to my even more limited German, so rather than continue to struggle, I leave Georg to get on with his work as he wisely closes the smoker door to keep me out and I head inside for coffee.
“I should try that” I think to myself, before remembering that I can’t even put a shelf up properly. “Leave it to the experts I guess… Besides, smoking is bad for your health.”