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Eat this Word: Country Ham



November 23, 2009


country ham WHAT? Mold gold. Dry-cured in salt, sugar, and other seasonings; slowly smoked over a hardwood fire; then aged up to 12 months, country ham originated as a way to preserve ham in pre-refrigeration days. The result is saltier and firmer than its more common processed, brine-injected cousin, and to the true ham connoisseur, there is no comparison. If you have a hankering for one, consider an outing along the backroads of Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, or Virginia. Most famous of all is the Smithfield ham, which must be made in Smithfield, Virginia, and which must meet criteria laid out by law. According to The American Heritage Cookbook, Queen Victoria had a standing weekly order for Smithfield ham. “Formerly it was not uncommon to find them aged six and seven years,” James Beard wrote of aged, country hams in American Cookery. “They were black, covered with mold, and looked uninviting to the average person, but they gave promise of fine feasting to the ham fancier.” Before cooking, the mold must be scrubbed off with soap and water, and the ham soaked overnight. Before feasting, the ham is sliced paper-thin or a thickish hunk is fried and served with redeye gravy. “There ain’t no secret to curing a ham,” Audrey P’Pool of Trigg County, Kentucky, told Saveur magazine several years ago. “It’s just patience, nature, and God.” WHERE? Joseph Bonaparte, Larry Matson, Michael F. Nenes, and Colleen Johnson's Beard House dinner WHEN? Thanksgiving Day, 2009 HOW? Country Ham–Wrapped Sautéed Monkfish with White Bean, Clam, and Herb Ragoût, Savoy Cabbage, and Glace de Viande