Bayonne Ham History


According to the legend, a hunter discovered a perfectly preserved boar at the saltwater source in Salies-de-Béarn. Gaston Fébus, the Count of Foix, wounded the animal during a hunt, but it escaped and was not discovered until months later.

This began the tradition of salting in the Adour basin.

Pork lends itself well to natural conservation techniques: salt, and dehydration under the effect of the specific climate of mountainous regions. This is the case of Bayonne ham but also of many other dry cured Southwest meats: sausage, black pudding, dry sausage …
The ancestral technique of preservation after cooking -in containers and in fat, is still in practice today like for the “pork confit of the Southwest” and remains a simple way of preserving food.
Thus transformed, at a time when mechanical cold conservation along with sterilization and pasteurization techniques remained unknown, the pig acts as an easy food to preserve during winter months but also a currency of exchange, a payment method.
The first hams were called after local denomination: ham of Orthez, Lahontan, Garris … They were not precisely made in Bayonne. But the famous Basque city, with its intense harbor activity allowed to ensure the export and the promotion of the ham, hence the name “Bayonne Ham”
In their time, Jeanne d’Albret and her son Henri IV favored Bayonne ham at their tables.
They were the first ambassadors with Louis XIV at his wedding in Saint-Jean-de-Luz.

The famous and serious Treaty of Cochonnerie, by Vauban, minister under Louis XIV, is exposed. It explains how the breeding of the pig is a way to fight against famine. Vauban observes how “this animal is so easily nourished that everyone can raise it”. Taking into account the 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days gestation of the sow, it evaluates the reproductive capacity of the sow and its offspring to 6 434 338 pigs in 10 years. This is to say if its fertility is not a legend.
The simplicity of pig breeding will make it the most consumed animal in the Middle Ages before sheep and beef.

Journey to the heart of a peasant world

for whom the cooking of the pig and the ham represents an indispensable food resource before becoming the favorite dish of Marguerite de Navarre, Rabelais, the good King Henri, then the Sun King …
The history of the many local fairs and markets for pigs and piglets reflects the tradition of pig farming in the South West. Thus, among the oldest markets, besides Trie sur Baïse, market known for its piglets, we can mention, in the Adour basin: Garlin, Tarbes, Lembeye, Soumoulou, Dax, Garris, Saint Palais, Rabastens.

The historical and cultural heritage also testifies to this craze for pork, as showcases the famous pig sculptures on the porch of the cathedral of Sainte Marie d’Oloron in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques that date back to 1120. The same goes for those of the Saint Médard Romanesque church of Mont-de-Marsan in the Landes where two pigs are represented on a low beam and on the door dating back to the seventeenth century.

Journey to the land of salt

Present naturally under the Pyrenees for millions of years, Salies-de-Bearn salt is protected deep in water ten times saltier than seawater.
Its authentic and traditional production method makes this salt 100% natural and exceptionally rich in trace elements, incomparable taste qualities.
The heated water evaporates and in good weather, the salt crystallizes forming coarse grains. Harvested by a simple dip of the net, the first crystallization gives birth to a flower of salt which extremely white and light. The petals then turn into large crystals and settle in the pan. This large, very pure salt does not need to be washed and requires no treatment. After harvesting all the Rock salt, it remains a mineral water rich in trace elements. This exceptional quality contributes to the reputation of the saline of Salies-de-Béarn.

Journey to the land of corn

The corn was imported from the plains of Peru and Mexico by Spanish conquistadors, replacing the 16th century panic and other cereals for the fattening of poultry and pigs, as Parmentier considered that it gave the pork a more tender and delicious fine flesh, firm and abundant in fat.

Journey to the land of foehn or south wind

where wind of Spain in the heart of a mountainous landscape.
Bayonne Ham has always been produced in the Adour Basin: at the edge of the Atlantic ocean and at the foot of the Pyrenees, an area surrounded by the Adour River.
The Adour basin describes a vast arc of the circle: from the south of Tarbes, where it takes its source at 2,000 meters of altitude near the Tourmalet, in Bayonne where it flows into the Atlantic Ocean.
The Adour Basin has naturally become the salting zone of the PGI Bayonne Ham.
Around the Adour basin, we have the effect of the Foehn wind: which consists of a mix of mild and humid climate along with drier days. This is what we owe the production of Bayonne ham, but also the cheese from the Pyrenees.

Journey In the silence of the drying room

In the ripening room, the Bayonne Hams slowly age, gradually releasing their aroma to the rhythm of their slow maturation. The sharpened knife will slowly bite the rind, gradually revealing the supple and fragrant flesh. It will be delicate, slightly salty and melt in the mouth.
So many promises of aromas that will not deliver their secret until the coveted tasting moment.