The Kras (Karst) is a stark and stunning landscape of sedimentary rock formations, which rise above deep caves, gorges, and underground rivers.
The limestone plateau is located in south-western Slovenia, where a mild Mediterranean climate meets the cold “bora” winds, blowing down from the north-east towards the Gulf of Trieste.
This climate of continuous breezes and relatively low humidity provide perfect conditions for the drying of meat, a tradition that evolved amongst local populations since the earliest settlements.
In 1689, the renowned Slovenian polymath Johann Weikhard Freiherr von Valvasor wrote of the Kras plateau and the humble culinary traditions of its communities:
These good people help themselves as they can and live poorly; they are very happy if they have a piece of pork fat (which they can digest due to their arduous work), onion, and a piece of plain, coarse, brown, rolled bran bread.
The development of Trieste as a significant port and urban centre lead to the expansion of routes through the Kras region. With travellers and traders passing through the region from major cities such as Vienna, demand for ham increased amongst merchants and innkeepers. As its reputation grew, so the production of Kraški pršut spread amongst local farmers.
The majority of salting and drying continued to take place on farms well into the 20th century.
In in his 1960 book “Slovensko Primorje”, Anton Melik observed how:
Pig-farming is well-developed in the Kras. It is every farmer’s wish to be able to slaughter pigs for their own needs. The temperatures in winter are right, and meat is preserved “raw”, dried in the form of “Kraški pršut”.
With increasing demand led by the inns and hotels of Slovenia, as well as the Italian market, farmers formed cooperatives to facilitate the production of hams on a larger scale. Specialised drying facilities known as “pršutarne” were opened in 1977, enabling producers to further increase production while maintaining traditional standards.
The unique heritage of Kraški pršut was recognised in 2012 with its designation as a protected geographical indication (PGI).
The salting, drying and maturing of Kraški pršut PGI all take place within the Kras region of Slovenia, situated in the western part of central Primorska.
Each producer of Kraški pršut PGI is registered and assigned a unique number. Producers must also obtain a certificate of compliance, which ensures that they follow traditional methods and high standards throughout the production process.
The length of the salting and drying process depends on the weight of the meat; for a typical hind leg weighing 9kg, the total production period lasts for at least 12 months.
Just before they are salted, the hind legs are hot-branded with a mark signifying the day, month and year, as well as the batch number. The brand mark ensures that the ham can be identified and monitored throughout the production process, and that the final product is fully traceable.
The hind legs are salted whole by rubbing coarse sea salt in to the meat; dry-salting using only coarse sea salt is a characteristic feature of Kraški pršut PGI. The amount of salt used depends on the weight of the hind legs. Producers use salt in moderation, so that their products have the right balance between saltiness and sweetness.
The salted hind legs are placed on shelves and kept at a temperature of + 1°C to + 4°C.
Salt is removed from the surface of the hind legs, which are then cold-dried in gently circulating air at a temperature of + 1°C do + 7°C. The duration of the entire cold-drying stage, including salting, lasts at least 75 days.
In preparation for the next stage, the hind legs are washed in hot water and wiped dry, before the meat around the head of the thigh bone is trimmed of fat. The leg is then left to dry and mature at temperatures of + 12°C to + 18°C. The meat is regularly greased with seasoned pork fat.
As the ham approaches full maturity, expert testers pierce the muscle meat with the tip of a horse-bone needle, which they then smell in order to judge the aroma. This sensory test is backed up by laboratory tests, which determine the salt and water content of the ham.
Hams that successfully pass the tests are branded with the Kraški pršut PGI logo and the producer number.
Kraški pršut PGI may be sold on the bone or deboned, as a whole leg or in halves, quarters, or slices. Slicing, deboning and packaging are carried out by certified establishments within the production area, in order to preserve the distinctive aroma, colour, and texture of the ham.
Kraški pršut PGI and goat cheese toast flavoured with caramelised onions
Toasted ciabatta is topped with soft goat’s cheese and Kraški pršut PGI to create this light and tasty snack.Get the recipe!