The Food Insider Discovers Emmett’s Suffolk Black Ham

Influencer and journalist Claudia Romeo from The Food Insider visited us recently to discover how we create our famous Suffolk Black Ham. The Food insider is a part of the huge global news publication - Insider. Insider aims to tackle the stories you want to know. The Food Insider is a great way to tell the stories related to food and we’re more than happy for Claudia to come and showcase our award winning ham from our heritage smokehouse! Check out the video below, or have a read of the transcript if you’d prefer.


Claudia: Suffolk black ham gets this black crust from its curing process, which is like no other, using molasses, brown sugar, and a local black porter. Soaking the ham in this sweet marinade doesn't just turn it black, it helps balance the flavor and break away from those more salty flavors of hams that are dry-cured only using salt. The whole process takes 10 weeks, in which the ham is first dry-cured, then marinated, and then smoked. But it's all worth it. And here, Suffolk, England, is where this has been happening for over 200 years. How much beer is this? Like, this is quite a huge barrel.

Mark: This is 39.5 liters of black porter beer.

Claudia: OK. Mark: It's like a stout, it's like a Guinness, and this is the basis for our black hams. Claudia: All right, and is this a local beer, right?

Mark: This is a local beer from Nethergate Brewery in Clare, which is an hour and 20 minutes from here.

Claudia: As Mark releases the pressure in the barrel, the porter drains out into a cooker. Here is where we will make enough marinade to soak 40 hams.

Mark: So you may want to dip your finger in there and try it.

Claudia: Can I go? Yeah? Nice. Yeah, it's quite a good beer. Can I have a glass?

Mark: The whole point of the marinade is that the marinade gets into the gammon. It adds depth, adds flavor. During the period of marination, the muscles are softened by the beer. So if you sit in the bath for half an hour and you look at your fingers, they sort of dry out and wrinkle. Well, this is in a bath for six weeks.

Claudia: The beer first cooks on its own for three hours at 95 degrees Celsius. Then Mark adds sugar and molasses to the marinade. Yeah, there's quite a lot of sugar. This looks like we're making cake.

Mark: It smells just like it, yeah.

Claudia: So why is this recipe so sweet?

Mark: It goes back a long way. I think it's all part of adding flavor to meat when meat was very salty. Because when you think about it, there was no refrigeration back in the 1800s, 1900s, or very little, and you wanted to preserve your meat. And the way to preserve it was with salt, but also the salt, it's not particularly pleasant to eat a lot of salt. So this was a way of dispersing the salt. Claudia: Oh, sticky.

Mark: Pure-grade molasses. Much blacker than you -- Claudia: Ooh!

Mark: As you can see, this is part of the ingredients for black ham.

Claudia: Dense!

Mark: It also being sweet adds not overly sweetness to the ham. It's quite a strong flavor.

Claudia: It's giving me some Christmas vibes, sugar mixing. Look at that. It's a fountain. In total, each marinade contains almost 40 kilos of brown sugar and molasses. Once the marinade is ready, it is left to cool down for a day. In the meantime, Mark strings the gammons, which have already been cured with natural salt, black pepper, and fennel seed.

Mark: This is the leg of a free-range pig. This is around 11 kilos in weight. So this is just the rear leg of the pig, nothing else. This is ham, not sham. Do you want to hold that?

Claudia: 11 kilos. OK, that's like a kettlebell.

Mark: It's quite heavy. Here you have 20 gammons on the bone. This has been in here for a week so far.

Claudia: It has lost a little bit in terms of size. Mark: As you can see, it is gaining color, taste, flavor straightaway. I turn them twice a week. I don't go to the gym. I lift ham and bacon. But by turning them, you get rid of the white patches and you get an even distribution of flavor throughout the ham. Because as you can see, it's quite dense meat, and where they sit on top of each other, they don't get that flavor.

Claudia: So this is a very long marinating process. Much longer than other curing processes.

Mark: There's a nice color already there, you see? Claudia: Yeah, and the black starts to come out. [Claudia laughs] OK, I can't do it. The whole room smells quite strong. It's, like, a bit tangy, sweet.

Mark: You're smelling the beer. It's yeasty.

Claudia: Yeah, yeasty. The meat soaks in the marinade for six weeks. As the marinade penetrates the meat, the skin gets darker. But for all flavors to really come together, we need a final touch: smoking. At Emmett's, the hams are cold-smoked, which means that the temperature of the smokehouse is no more than 48 degrees Celsius. Hotter, and they will cook.

Mark: This is our original smokehouse. We still have the original door. Dates from around the 1820s, 200 years old.

Claudia: So, how long does the meat stay in there for?

Mark: Well, I hang it in there, and I let it drip initially because obviously it's been in the marinade. I then put on the floor, in the well, the actual beech flour itself, and it'll burn anything up to two days. The smoking is not part of the preservation, the smoking is part of the flavor. The smoke, like the cure, like the marinade, penetrates the muscle of the meat. This is not an injection of smoke, this is totally natural. So here, again, we have ham, not sham.

Claudia: I really need to get this T-shirt.

Mark: So, this is one of our black hams. It's beautiful, look at it.

Claudia: Mark also makes black off-the-bone ham and bacon. Secret treasure chest.

Mark: So, these have also been smoked.

Claudia: Ah. Smells good, this one, huh? After the smoking, customers can choose to get a cooked or uncooked ham. The hams sold at the shop are boiled, but they can also be roasted in the oven. Oh, whoo! It has the same smell of the other room.

Mark: As you can see, they're smaller now. When they're off the bone they lose, here again, about 2 to 3 kilos. And so they cook down to around 5.7, 5.8, 6 kilos.

Claudia: So actually the black is only the skin, the outside skin.

Mark: Black is the skin, but as you can see, the moisture gets into the meat, the flavor gets into meat, the color gets into the meat. It also becomes slightly fibrous, and this is where there's immense flavor. There are people who don't like crust on toast or crust on bread, but that's where the flavor is.

Claudia: Black hams are a local favorite. Emmett's even held a royal warrant for 36 years. It means that the royal family had black ham on their menu for over three decades. But, unfortunately, my humble opinion is all you've got today. Ooh, wow. Nice. That's the flavor. It's so good. Yeah. It's very sweet and yeasty, you were saying. There's a good balance between sweet and salty.

Mark: So you can see, it becomes fibrous. It's delicious there.

Claudia: There's still a little bit of jellies. The sugar, right?

Mark: This is the jelly.

Claudia: This is the marinade.

Mark: There's a nice bit of jelly in the middle there where the bone was. But as you get more towards the back, you get more and more fat and even more flavor because of the skin area here.

Claudia: Yeah. So, I have tried jellied eels, but this is jellied ham.

Mark: It's unique to Emmett's. As I've said before, it's ham, not sham. You'll have to open the door, 'cause it's very heavy.

Claudia: OK, yeah, I'll open the door for you. How's that?

Mark: Yeah, the fan is on, so you have to pull it.

Claudia: How? Oh, OK. It's not a good start. [laughs]

Mark: Well, I'll turn the fan off, and then it --