There are many conditions that need to be in place to make Rachan ham in the traditional way. The main one is, of course, the unique climate of the spectacular Racha region. Pigs here are raised in a natural environment, mostly feeding on abundant natural forest produce such as walnuts, apples, crab apples, and acorns. This complements the slop they enjoy in their sites, helping ultimately to separate the meat from the fat within.
For meat preparation, the special “pig knife,” bowl, and grains of rock salt are prepared in advance. The long pieces of meat are salted, and kept for two weeks, so the salt soaks in well. Then, the slices are hung up to be cured. Only certain types of wood are used for curing, including beech, hornbeam, and ash, with Rachan ham cured in the so-called “black kitchen” (shavi kukhna). The process is still referred to as “davichineba” in Racha to this day.
Rachan ham is made in winter, specifically at the end of November and December. First, a smoky fire is lit during the day and put out at night, then the ham is left in the cold: the colder it is, the better, because that abrupt switch from cold to hot is crucial to its unique flavor. When the ham is made correctly, it keeps for a long time and packs a high energy content.
Across Georgian gastronomic culture, Rachan ham holds a coveted place. Its long-lasting nature meant it was traditionally carried by soldiers in their bags along with churchkhela, walnuts, dambalkhacho, and honey.
Rachan ham should be moderately salted and somewhat yellow, with a fragrant smell and soft flavor, and equal layers of fat and lean meat. It is this delicately balanced combination that brings anything made with Rachan ham an unmistakably distinctive flavor, stirring warm memories of Georgia and especially this jewel of a region.