Country Ham

Country Ham - The Cult of Ham Aficionados of country ham know that the firm, football shaped meat from the Southeastern United States, covered with a fine fuzz of mold and boasting an assertive flavor, is a delicacy to be celebrated. Southerners have been making dry-cured hams in America since the mid-18th century, when recipes first began to emerge from the Virginia colonies. Though domestically produced, they bear little resemblance to “city hams,” the water-filled sweet variety that grace many holiday tables.

For ages country ham was considered food for country-folk and wasn’t considered a delicacy. Now, with the popularity of imported dry-cured hams, the country hams of the American Southeast are beginning to gain popularity and have come to be regarded as a domestic prosciutto, on par with the finest European offerings.

Country Ham - The Cult of HamLike its European counterparts, the meat for dry-cured country hams comes from the rear leg of the pig, though country hams are smoked over hickory until they develop their signature flavor. Country ham is an acquired taste; the flavor is at once gamey, smoky, and intensely salty, and most hams require an overnight soaking in cold water prior to cooking in order to leach out some of the excess salt.

A country ham usually ages about a year, during which time it develops a thick coating of furry mold that imparts the unique flavor. Though historically country ham was made only from peanut-fed Southern hogs, now the diet of the average pig bound for ham is more varied.

Country ham lovers unite each year at the annual Marion County Country Ham Days, a Kentucky festival celebrating this artisanal creation. During the festivities, 6,000 pounds of dry-cured country ham are consumed. Country ham is also celebrated at the Boiled Peanuts website, a clearinghouse for Southern foods. Here, you can order country hams and ham “pâté,” a spread made from the cured meat.

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