The ham cutter


Is it a trade or a profession? Although, according to the Royal Academy of Language, a trade can be defined as the “profession of a mechanical art”, it is perhaps the perception that we commonly have of these words which can mark the difference between the two. It is precisely this difference that provides a value that ham cutters constantly attempt to bring out.

Because, although there are similarities between these two words, trade is usually used for manual work for which no training is required beyond the experience of performing this job. In turn, a profession requires some regulated knowledge which must be studied to standardise this work. Trades usually include bakers or carpenters, and professions might refer to doctors or journalists. So where does a ham cutter come in?

From the knife to the machine and the machine to the knife

Although ham has been traditionally cut with a knife, new deboning formats make it easier to use meat slicing machines in delis. So, little by little, traditional cutting started disappearing from most of them, replaced by the greater ease of the machine. Knife-cutting was relegated to homes and restaurants, although many of them also choose previously deboned formats or industrially-sliced meat.

In restaurants or at events that continue to promote traditional cutting, the person in charge of cutting the ham is usually the chef or the waiter: people who are trained in catering but with no specific knowledge about ham (apart from personal experience or interest). The figure of a ham cutter did not exist as such, although it began to appear in the late 90s.

Towards the beginning of this century, ham cutting competitions became more professional. This was a very important step towards developing new techniques and highlighting an emerging figure. Over these years, cutters such as Pedro José Pérez Casco, Clemente Gómez, Anselmo Pérez, Fran Robles, Zacarías Píriz, Jesús González or Sergio Bellido(1), and female cutters such as Loli Domínguez -the first female ham cutter to not only enter a competition but also win it- (2) made an enormous contribution to consolidating the current figure of the cutter. This figure is beginning to take centre stage, both at events and in shops, where they work alongside machine cutting, or working in industry to commercialise ham cut by knife and vacuum packed, a product that is increasingly popular among consumers.

A trade that wants to become a profession

Cutting ham properly does not only require the obvious manual skills but also an understanding of the product in itself and how it is made. It is true that like any other manual task, practice and experience are highly appreciated values. However, if that person sticks exclusively to the technical side, they no longer provide this outstanding value that we believe a product like ham deserves. At the end of the day, they are in charge of finishing off a process that at the very least began a year and half ago, even up to six years if we consider the pig breeding.

On the one hand, it is very important to know about the morphology of the pieces and the characteristics of their main muscles. It is also essential both when presenting the product and when highlighting the organoleptic qualities of each of its parts. What’s more, given the many types of ham that the consumer can find on the market, the cutter holds the key to informing the public correctly on the product category that they are consuming.

For all these reasons, the trade of cutter should become a profession. It’s no longer enough to produce thin slices (although this should continue to be the main characteristics of the figure behind the piece) and present them attractively. The cutter should have in-depth knowledge on everything revolving around ham culture, from the origin of the raw material to how it is made and consumption preferences.

The cutter should be to ham what the sommelier is to wine. To do this, as occurs in the latter case, there should be regulated, training with ministerial approval that guarantees whoever contracts a cutter that they will get a professional with the necessary knowledge to do their job perfectly.

(1) Source “La Edad de Oro del Cortador de Jamón por Manuel Pradas”, JamónLovers
(2) Source “Loli Domínguez Cordero más de 15 años cortando jamón”, JamónLovers

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