Grega: the art of dried ham
The medals and awards bestowed on the man behind Grega ham (from Buggenhout, East Flanders) speak for themselves. Grega is an exceptional artisanal ham, with a highly modern production approach.
In the 50s, Gaston Van den Berghe took over the meat and cheese shop that his father and uncle opened 30 years earlier. He decided to start making his own hams to cater to customer demand. “Our customers felt there was very little choice in terms of dried ham,” Gaston explains. “So I decided to salt a leg of ham myself. We started with 250 pieces. The following year we produced 500 pieces, and 2000 the year after that. That’s how we came to expand our business.”
Pure, high-quality meat
Today, Grega (a contraction of Gaston and Greta) is a very healthy company with 23 employees, which produces 100,000 dried and cooked hams annually. The young pigs are sourced exclusively in Belgium and are fed a natural diet. With help from the abattoir, Grega watches over the meat’s traceability. Quality comes first, at each and every step of production. “We only use fair trade ingredients,” Gaston proudly states. “Our hams don’t contain any preservatives, nitrate, nitrite or saltpetre. During the greasing process, a layer of fat is added to the ham in order to prevent it from drying out, and before, we used to add herbs and spices to the fat at this point. That’s how dried ham is traditionally made in Italy and Spain; I learned this technique when I went there in the 60s to see how they made ham. But eventually we decided to leave out the herbs. Today, our hams are 100% pure: nothing but Belgian meat and Sardinian sea salt.”
Cured for over 15 months
The fact that Grega has been able to create such a name for itself over the years is thanks to its professional approach. The different types of dried ham on offer each require an incredible amount of time and attention. In fact, Grega is the only producer to leave its hams to cure for over 15 months. Four different types of ham are cured for this extent of time: Superano (15 months), Nec Plus Ultra (18 months), Pata Grega (24 months) and Pata Grega Royal (36 months). Throughout the entire process, numerous factors need to be carefully surveyed, from the treatment in the salting rooms, to the temperature and humidity after the drying process in the ripening rooms. The resulting flavour is certainly worth the effort. “I have Superano every day,” Gaston tells us.
Although he ceded management of the company to his son Luc seven years ago, he still left for work at 7 every morning right up to his 79th birthday. His incredible energy is undoubtedly thanks to the nutritional content of his hams. And as it turns out, hams cured for such a long time consist of 60% polyunsaturated fatty acids (which help lower the cholesterol level).
If you’d like to enjoy your Leffe Blond with a slice of Grega ham, head on over to a high-quality Belgian butcher or a Delhaize supermarket. “Our ham tastes delicious with a bit of goat’s cheese and a little honey,” Gaston suggests. “Or with baked pear and some red wine. But it tastes best of all when it’s simply enjoyed on its own.”