On Sprucing Up Ham and Cheese…

Ham and cheese, please!

The average middle-class Filipino household will find its fridge loaded with two specific treats during the Holiday Season: ham and cheese.

By ham, we are talking about the festive whole hams as opposed to the frozen packets of pre-sliced pork by-products.  These may run the gamut from the salty bone-in Hoc Shiu imported from China to the sweet-glazed, deboned commercial hams made and sold by the country’s bigger meat processing firms.  Families with relatives living in the United States may be lucky enough to have Smithfield or Hickory Farms spiral sliced honey-cured hams or European canned hams.  Even the least fortunate households actually do what they can to buy even a few slices or scraps of ham to liven up the meager Christmas meal – that is how integral ham is to the Filipino people during the Yuletide season.

Cheese, on the other hand, is not the kind that comes in a blue (or yellow) rectangular box nor is it the artificial orange-colored plastic-textured glop that comes in jars.  Proper Christmas cheeses are the famed quezos de bola – those wax-coated spherical Edam cheeses imported from the Netherlands.  Marca Pina (the one with the pineapple label) and Marca Pato (the one sporting a duck label) are the brands of choice for the well-heeled set.  These cheeses are aged, so they’re a deep yellow beneath the red-waxed surface and are deliciously pungent and crumbly-textured.  Local dairies have put out their own versions of quezo de bola, but these are just mild Cheddars or – worse – processed cheese food.  Certainly not a substitute for the real thing which can be eaten on its own as part of a cheese plate or grated like Parmesan over hot pasta!


A ham and cheese croissant

All that said, the snack of choice for many Filipinos over the course of the Christmas season is – what else?!? – a good-sized ham and cheese sandwich.  While it can prove disastrous to one’s figure, it’s a logical solution that prevents a glut of both from going to waste.  But why simply slap a slab or so of ham and cheese between two slices of bread?  There are a number of ways by which you can transform a simple sandwich into a real treat.

  • Grill it up! Take a cue from the ham and cheese panini from Heavenly Chocolates at the top of this post.  Tuck a few slices of ham and thinnish slices of cheese into a split ciabatta and press it with either a panini grill or a spatula in a pan of sizzling butter.  (Think grilled cheese – only more decadent!)
  • Swap breads.  Scrap the conventional sliced white or whole wheat and experiment with croissants, baguettes, sliced rye, and even your morning pan de sal.
  • Dress it up! Butter and mayonnaise are fine, but add so much in the way of fat and calories.  Better to swap these traditional spreads with whole-grain mustard or a raspberry dressing like the one used in Starbucks’ turkey and chicken ham and cheese croissant.  You get a serious punch of flavor without adding additional fat or calories.

Whatever you do, be sure to share your sandwich with a friend to amp up warm feelings of Holiday togetherness.  😉

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