Every day, mid afternoon, I begin my rounds of the natural drying areas or ’round the factory’ as I always heard my father refer to it. It’s more than an obligation, it’s practically a ritual. This a route takes me from the reception and salting chambers to the natural drying areas, monitoring each and every process for the ham.

It takes 18 to 24 months for fresh meat entering our facilities to reach its optimum consumption point, including salting, post-salting and natural curing. In all these processes, I am assisted by a tool that, although only offering a guide, really tells me what I have to do next. This tool is called a psychrometer.

A psychrometer is a device that is used to measure the relative humidity in the air. It consists of a wet-bulb and a dry-bulb thermometer. The temperature difference between the two, according to a table, gives the relative humidity in the atmosphere. Why is this so important? When ham is fresh or recently salted, there is a risk of contracting what we in Aragon call “repego”, a surface slime that encourages bacterial contamination and hardens the surface of the ham, preventing water from escaping so it does not dry properly. Controlling the temperature and humidity parameters during the months when the ham is in the post-salting chambers is decisive for its final quality. However, this is also essential in the salting chamber where the degree of humidity helps the salt to stick to the ham, or in the natural drying areas, where the data provided by the psychrometer determines whether we should open or close the windows there. Any fault in the reception, salting or post-salting chambers can ruin months of work and all the money invested in it.

But, like I say, a psychrometer is just a guiding tool. My real tools are my sense of touch and, above all, smell. When my father told me this for the first time, I didn’t really understand it. However, I’m not really sure when, I walked into one of the chambers one day and the aroma of recently salted hams took me back to my childhood. It took me back to those Sunday afternoons when I accompanied my father on his rounds, in his ritual, when we got home from spending the weekend in my grandmother’s village. It brought back the fragrances of returning home, the aroma of ham that only a ham producer can recognise, as it is not dried ham but ham that is on the right track in a lengthy curing process.

I’ve just finished my rounds. Everything is fine. I can breath a little easier. Tomorrow, I’ll go back to my ritual.

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