Why Bayonne Ham Is Reputed Through France And The World


Tom Mullen, Contributor, Forbes

Aug 12, 2019


According to a legend in the south of France, Gaston Fébus—Count of Foix—wounded a wild boar while he was out hunting in the 14th century. The injured animal escaped. Months later its carcass was found in hot, salty spring water in the town of Salies-de-Béarn. Those who found it were astonished to find that its meat was preserved and still edible. This discovery of the preservative qualities of salting pork led to a ham production industry that has thrived ever since.


This graphic and royalty-tinged legend may also be apocryphal: centuries earlier, Gauls were sending ham from this region to the emperor in Rome. Regardless, the historical importance of this product is undisputed. In the year 1660, when King Louis XIV married Maria Theresa of Spain in the town of Saint-Jean-de-Luz, Bayonne ham was supposedly featured on the feast menu.


Today’s Bayonne ham industry marries tradition with local resources. Ham is produced according to regulations founded on ancient practices, and is still preserved exclusively with inland ‘mountain salt’ sourced from the base of Pyrenees peaks. The resulting nine- to twelve-month aged Jambon de Bayonne is renowned both for taste and quality.


The origin and properties of this inland salt are intriguing.


This ‘mountain salt’ from southwest France has been harvested since the Bronze Age. Today, at a distance of 28 direct miles (45 kilometers) eastward and inland from the shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean, a 650-foot (200-meter) deep well named Reine Jeanne d’Oraas produces hot water that is ten times saltier than ocean water. This is because it has been in contact with layers of salt deposited millions of years ago when this hilly terrain was covered by seas. This water bristles with 26 trace elements, including magnesium, zinc, strontium, lithium, selenium, nickel and cobalt. Additionally, this mineral includes unique hydroscopic properties that better allow the salt to penetrate meat...