Ham Testing

Reporter: Helen Wellings

Normally no-one's allowed to witness this secret judging, but Today Tonight's been given exclusive entry into the 2012 Ham Awards for Excellence - the very best hams in the land.

147 100% Australian-grown and processed hams, bone in or bone out being scrutinized, sniffed, sampled.

The judges .. the nation's top pork industry experts fleishmeister Horst Schurger, with the highest qualifications in meat in Europe, a Master's degree in Butchering and Smallgoods from Germany.

"The first appearance is the overall look of the ham if it's nice and evenly smoked and the colour is evenly and not overcooked." Said Horst Schurger

And two top chefs, Paul McDonald ..

"We're looking for texture, aroma, it's balance the whole package." Said Paul McDonald

And Simon Bestley who says "You need to have a good balance of the salt and the sweetness, that's the key."

Between them, they've worked in Michelin starred restaurants, cruise liners and teaching institutions. Soon we reveal the winning hams.

"Chewing it that's got to be nice and not too moist that the water runs in your mouth that means they've overdone it with the curing." Said Horst

It's rife in alot of IMPORTED porkmeat .. hams so water-logged that families have been cheated on weight and size Also misled on country of origin because the labels say "Made in Australia" or "From Imported and Local Ingredients" when it's mainly foreign meat processed into ham in Australia.

Richard Deignan family has owned Black Forest Smokehouse for four generations. He says most pre-packaged ready-sliced ham comes from imported meat.

"$10 mill of imported pork meat comes into the country every week." Said Richard Deignan

"That's about 70% of the pork we have on the market is imported." Said Reporter

Processors here add extra water marinade to that imported product .. to lift their profits .. at our expense.

Hams need to have water marinade added in during the curing process .. nitrates, salt and sugars, for flavour and moisture.

But it's the amount that's critical. 10% is acceptable in the finished product, but some packaged and ready-sliced imports contain up to 30% water marinade. And you pay for that.

"Imported pork doesn't have to meet the same high standards that Australian pork does in terms of production systems, animal welfare and food safety so potentially we're bringing pork into this country that hasn't met the same standards as Australian pork." Said Martin Carr

Martin Carr of Australian Pork manages this important label program, telling you the product's genuine home-grown Aussie meat. All hams on the bone and half legs with part bone are Australian ..as are BONELESS ones like rolled and gypsie styles that carry the pink pork label.

"Australian ham is a lot fresher, it hasn't been sitting of a boat for maybe three months coming over here. Imported ham comes in frozen and must be cooked due to quarantine regulations." Said Martin Carr

After days of gruelling judging

"The winner of Australia's best ham: John Bartlett, Wattle City Meats, Victoria." Said Martin Carr

Richard Deignan picked up the bronze for boneless HAM, first in NSW.

"A lovely even colour throughout the muscle gruops and that is what people should look for when looking at an Australian piece of pork and ham." Said Richard Deignan

Chef Colin Fassnidge says get the best value out of your Christmas ham .. it will keep for up to a month in the fridge .. and you can freeze it.

"It keeps any bacteria breaking down the sliminess of the ham. What I do with my kids in my house is we put it into four, we wrap it and freeze it and then you've got it all year." Said Chef Colin Fassnidge



Western Australia winners

1. Andrew Quin - Quin's Gourmet Butcher (08)96221654

2. Joe Princi - Princi Butchers (08)93142494

'3. Joe Princi - Princi at Romanos (08)93142494