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Make ham for the holidays

Richard Caggiano has been making sausages and curing hams since 1986. His sausages are widely available locally and, if you pay attention, you can find his hams, too.

You'll find Caggiano products at Shelton Natural Food Market in Healdsburg; Petaluma Market; Glen Ellen Market; Sonoma Market; Molsberry, Pacific and Oliver's markets in Santa Rosa; Pacific Market in Sebastopol and Oliver's Market in Cotati. If you see Caggiano sausage but no ham, just ask at the butcher counter. If none is in stock, you can order one.

I hadn't cooked a ham in many years when I agreed to prepare one, along with a heritage breed turkey, for a new acquaintance who would be returning from travels too late to prepare them himself on Thanksgiving. He liked the idea of a hot-pepper-jam glaze, and so on Thanksgiving morning I came up with a variation of one I'd been making for a long time for fresh pork, not ham. A ham glaze needed something different, I thought, and so I played around with the level of heat and salt.

I loved the results and so did my new friend and his guests. If you'll be preparing a ham this holiday season, you might, too.

Success begins by selecting a good ham. Caggiano hams are outstanding, made simply, as they should be.

"Everyone knows how to cure ham," Caggiano says, "but not everyone wants to do it the right way."

To make a ham, he begins with a pork leg, which he bones and separates into its four muscles. The sirloin tip, which is the smallest of the muscles, goes to make a nugget, a 2 to 3-pound ham that will feed 6 to 8 people. The other three muscles are rolled and tied together to make a single ham.

The hams are cured with salt, honey and four spice oils. Caggiano also uses a bit of sodium nitrite, essential, he says, because it kills botulism. He does not add water retainers, curing accelerators or preservatives.

Depending on their size, the hams are smoked for up to 18 hours.

Several local ranchers make hams that you can sometimes find at farmers markets. If you have a favorite farmers market meat vendor, ask if they have hams. Supplies are generally quite limited so I'm not going to mention specific vendors here, lest we overwhelm them.

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