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In parts of the South, country ham makes the world go round. Pungent, salty and musty, the ham is salt-cured, dry-aged and often finished over hickory-wood smoke. It can be eaten raw, thinly sliced (like prosciutto); on fluffy little finger biscuits; or thick-cut and pan fried, with a slick of coffee-enriched red-eye gravy. These are five of our favorite traditional country hams throughout the South.
Johnston County Curemaster's Reserve, Smithfield, NC
Johnston County's second-generation curemaster, Rufus Brown, creates country hams that are quickly becoming recognized among the world's best. In particular, his Curemaster Reserve hams, made from Heath Putnam Farms' woolly Mangalitsa pigs, are worth seeking out for their silky, delicate smoothness and pristine, earthy flavors—simply unparalleled among American cured hams.
$30 per 24 ounces, sliced; $115 to $275 per whole ham (12 to 18 pounds)
Edwards Wigwam Ham, Surry, VA
The Edwards family has been curing hams commercially for more than 80 years, but their Surry County, Virginia, farmstead smokehouse dates back to well before that. One of the original haute country hams, the Wigwam—reportedly a favorite of the late Jean-Louis Palladin—is cured for 12 months and hickory-smoked to make a pungent ham with deep, porky goodness.
$135 per whole ham (17 to 18 pounds)
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Benton's Aged Country Ham, Madisonville, TN
By now, Allan Benton is a household name, not just in the South but in gastronomic circles throughout the world. His bacon is the stuff of legend, a benchmark of quality on high-minded menus everywhere, and his dry-cured country hams are just as exquisite, with a slight caramelly sweetness amid the judicious smoke and salt.
$8 per 14 ounces, sliced; $65 per whole ham (15 to 17 pounds)
Col. Bill Newsom Aged Kentucky Country Ham, Princeton, KY
Nancy Newsom Mahaffey learned to cure ham from her grandfather H.C. Newsom who worked for decades using a cure handed down from an eighteenth-century family will. Julia Child and James Beard were fans in their day, and today, Mahaffey's hams are in such high demand that she's currently taking only preorders for the 2015 fall hams, to be shipped no earlier than October.
$100 to $115 per whole ham (15 to 18 pounds)
Calhoun's Country Hams, Culpeper, VA
Tom Calhoun, known to locals as The Ham Man, has been dry-curing Virginia country hams for more than 50 years, garnering praise from chefs like Patrick O'Connell of The Inn at Little Washington and Alice Waters of Chez Panisse. (He's also the White House's single source of country ham.) You can't order Tom's hams online, but call up the Calhoun Ham Store and they'll ship one right to your door.
$70 to $85 per whole ham (12 to 17 pounds)
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