“Ziller Valley Schlegeis ham”– A real slice of the Ziller Valley. On my visit to the local butcher’s shop in Mayrhofen, “butcher Loisl” shares with me the secret of how he makes this glacier ham, as well as telling me a little about the history of his business.
The family business
“Metzgerei Kröll” is a small family business which was founded in 1927 by Loisl’s grandfather Ludwig. As the third generation of butcher, Loisl took over the running of the business in 2003 with great success. As a young man, he had actually wanted to become a chef, but was given no other choice but to take on the business which his grandfather had built up. “You know”, he says to me, “in our family it just wasn’t done to disagree with or disobey your parents.” So, 30 years ago, he dutifully trained as a butcher, learning all the skills he needed for his future career.
Schlegeis ham in a “Gourmet Guide”
Loisl proudly tells me that his butcher’s shop is the only in the Ziller Valley to be ranked in the top 15 “gourmet shops” in Tyrol. “55 testers travelled around the state to find the best businesses in Austria”, he explains. The quality and presentation of produce as well as the friendliness and competence of staff were all taken into account in the judging process. The brochure “Gourmet Region Austria” states that, “the local chamois, venison and lamb are of the highest quality” and also praises the house specialty – the Schlegeis ham.
The story behind Schlegeis ham:
Loisl was inspired by his holidays to the Sierra Nevada. It was during his stay at the mountain village of Trevelez in the Spanish province of Granada that he became aware of this special curing method. “It was there that I tasted raw ham which, where I come from, we would call ‘Speck’”, he explains. “In Italy I had tried the ‘prosciutto crudo’ and, in Spain, the famous ‘jamon Serrana’ and I thought to myself: these are really good! And so, in Trevelez, I swapped a crate of beer for a tour of the meat curing facility. 18 years ago, I decided to try this method myself.
Preparing the ham:
The loin of meat is rubbed in a secret blend of herbs and spices and left to marinade for approximately 1 month. Next, the whole loin is smoked for a week with cold smoke in Opa Ludwig’s smokehouse.
Finally, to make Schlegeis ham tender and soft, it is left to mature in a mountain hut at an altitude of 1,800m at the Schlegeis reservoir for 3-5 months. This reservoir is in one of the four subsidiary valleys of the Ziller Valley. Loisl explains that this high alpine location only allows him to produce his high quality ham for a few months a year. In the late autumn, after the first snowfall, ice, snow and the risk of avalanches often make it impossible to reach the mountain hut and the road is frequently closed.
Therefore, the marinated meat is transformed into a unique ham in just a few summer months. The unique taste comes from the four elements of the mountains – fire, air, stone and time. Reduced oxygen in the air gives the ham a mild taste which is not too salty.
For this reason, Loisl’s customers often have to wat until spring to buy this popular ham again. As he says, “when it’s gone, it’s gone.”
I’ll definitely be back in spring for another tasting of this amazing glacier ham. Maybe I’ll see you there!