BUYING Australian is the best way to avoid your Christmas feast being hamstrung by an inferior product, writes CHRIS McLENNAN
More than 22 million kilograms of ham is sold in Australia at this hog-happy time of year.
One of the big two supermarkets sold 1800 tonnes of half and whole legs last Christmas. But not all of it will be worth its place in your traditional feast.
Buying a glazed ham from a butcher's shop or a supermarket presents many challenges and most people buy only one a year.
Hidden by layers of plastic, glaze and a covering of fat, the sweet, smoky pork is only revealed once some serious money changes hands and the ham comes home.
Some families will be disappointed to find the meat uneven in colour because it wasn't cured properly, the fat covering rancid or overly thick.
The meat itself can be dry and cracked or even swimming in water.
But there are some expert tips you can follow to reduce the chances of your Christmas being ruined.
There is the obvious trick of buying from your local butcher's shop, although supermarkets also have better return guarantees these days.
The best tip is to buy Australian, not just because you want to be patriotic, but because your chances of getting a good ham are much better.
But trying to work out from the ridiculous labels which ham is Australian can spoil your appetite.
Simply, if it has a bone, and the best hams have a bone, then it is Australian.
Look for the hot pink Australian PorkMark logo, but the bone is the guarantee.
Quarantine regulations stipulate imported pork must be cooked and imported boneless.
About two-thirds of all ham, bacon and smallgoods eaten in Australia is imported.
Some hams have a nasty habit of being pumped up - that is, injected with pressurised water.
Old-timers keep their hams wrapped in a damp pillowcase in the fridge to eke out a few more meals after Christmas.
The Australian pork industry suspects imported hams are pumped with water to increase their weight, and not just to keep them moist.
Boar taint is the biggest quality issue pig farmers face today.
Lots of people ask for female legs, and most butchers who smoke their own hams will use only female pigs.
The imported American and Canadian hogs have a greater risk of the rich boar taint because they are slaughtered at more than 85kg.
Australian pigs are slaughtered around 70kg and the lighter the weight, the less likely they are to have taint.