Easter ham dinner is a tradition for many…but what to serve with ham? We’ll show you what wine goes with ham and—of course—recommend cheese.
Easter may not be the feast event Thanksgiving or Christmas is, but it’s certainly an occasion when many families break out the good china (hopefully not literally) and gather around the table in their Sunday best. At the center of the table—at least in much of the United States—there’s likely to be a ham. So now that the entrée has been chosen, it’s time to decide what to serve with ham.
If it’s Thanksgiving or Christmas, most people don’t have to think too hard. Family traditions run deep and seem to warm us up during the colder holidays. But Easter happens in the spring, during a time of renewal. It’s a time to sweep out the old cobwebs and freshen up with something new.
Easter Ham Dinner
First, the tradition.
Easter ham got its start centuries ago in Europe. Pigs were slaughtered in the fall, and the pork that couldn’t be eaten fresh was cured (by salting, brining and/or smoking). After the considerable length of time required to cure the large hindquarters, the first hams were ready to eat in the spring. This made ham a logical choice for the Easter celebration of northern Europeans…who brought the tradition with them when they immigrated to North America.
The tradition of the Easter ham dinner has been adapted, modified and embellished over the years to include various side dishes unique to each family who celebrates: Mom’s famous scalloped potatoes, or Sis’s favorite pea salad. We wouldn’t dream of imposing on those traditions or your family’s favorite ham recipe…but we have some ideas for accompaniments that can complement and enhance your Easter dinner.
Ham and Swiss: Sandwich Partners and More
Of course, the first accompaniment we think of is cheese. You can either add a slice or two of one of the following alongside the ham and other side(s) on the dinner plate, or do as the Europeans do and serve a small “flight” of several of these cheeses as a separate course between the entrée and dessert.
When you hear the word “ham”, the first cheese that comes to mind is Swiss. A ham and Swiss sandwich is one of the true classics (more on that later), and with good reason. Swiss cheese, whether the original aged, semi-hard Emmentaler or young, buttery Baby Swiss, has a buttery, nutty richness and slight tartness that offsets the salty sweetness of a honey-glazed ham. Other Alpine-style cheeses like Gruyère and Jarlsberg will do the trick, too.
Cheddar is second in popularity (and the first choice for many) for a classic ham and cheese sandwich, and makes a nice plate partner for ham. The sharpness of Cheddar cheese cuts through the sweetness of the glaze and balances the ham’s saltiness. The sharper, the better, in fact; choose a well-aged Wisconsin Cheddar and your ham will be happy.
These soft, creamy French cheeses are nearly identical: very buttery and lactic in flavor with slightly earthy or mushroom notes. The creaminess is the perfect complement to ham’s saltiness and marries well to the honey flavor of the glaze. This is a decadently rich pairing that would be best reserved as part of a cheese course. And what better to accompany a fine Wisconsin ham than a rich Wisconsin Brie?
Blue-veined cheeses (Gorgonzola, Roquefort, Stilton or a high-quality Wisconsin blue cheese) are excellent with ham. These cheeses range from soft and creamy to salty and crumbly, all with a pronounced, pungent bite that plays off sweet flavors—such as a ham glaze—remarkably well. In fact, many people love to drizzle a little honey over blue cheese. When serving blue with ham, tend toward the creamy as opposed to the salty.
What Wine Goes with Ham?
Ham, like many of us, loves a variety of wines. Since ham is pork and occupies that middle ground between red and white, it fits nicely into that category of meats that go equally well with red or white wine.
If you’re a red wine fan, a pinot noir—lightest of the reds—has the cherry fruit notes that go exceptionally well with the honey glaze, and the acidity to cut through the fat. Many pinots also have a smoky or earthy character that complements both the ham and the cheese listed above. Other reds, like merlot or syrah, would also work nicely provided they are more fruity than tannic. As a rule of thumb, the new-world versions of these wines (merlot from California or Chile, shiraz from Australia) more closely capture these characteristics than their more-complex French counterparts, and are more affordable.
For white wines, don’t go too dry. An Alsatian pinot gris or an off-dry German riesling has enough residual sugar to balance its acidity and complement the sweet ham glaze. A key element of pairing wine with food is geography. Honey-glazed ham is a northern European tradition, so a pinot gris from Alsace will tend to pair better with it than an Italian pinot grigio; it’s the same grape, but grown in a different region and with completely different flavors.
So that’s it – your Easter ham dinner is planned! Now all you have to do is send out the invitations, order your traditional, boneless or spiral-sliced ham, and get ready for a meal everyone will remember. The next day, there’s nothing like a ham and Swiss sandwich for lunch…
Ham and Swiss Sandwich Ideas
As mentioned, ham and Swiss go together beautifully…and there are enough variations on the ham and Swiss sandwich that you won’t get tired of them anytime soon. The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board has provided us with a number of tasty options, like:
…or the ultimate chef’s creation, the Gourmet Grilled Ham & Cheese with Wisconsin Swiss!
Of course, since a fine Wisconsin Cheddar is also a fabulous partner with ham, you can substitute it for Swiss in many recipes if you’re just not that into Swiss.
Next, we’ll get into other leftover ham recipes to give your Easter ham new life.