I first enjoyed cured Kentucky ham during a three-week road trip that took me throughout much of Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Missouri. A friend and I drove the switchbacks of this beautifully hilled country sampling day-old bourbon from paper Dixie cups on a distillery tour and 12-year-old bourbon in cut crystal tumblers in a fine restaurant, eating slices of pecan pie and drinking sinewy coffee from blue tin cups, and savoring a Kentucky ham dinner in a local bar that remains forever in my mind.
It’s the Kentucky ham that has become a staple in my life. If you don’t live in the South, Kentucky ham (also called country ham) may not be something you’re familiar with. Kentucky cured ham is rich, salty, and dense; similar to Spanish Iberico ham or Italian . It is not a ham you cut into huge slices and eat like honey ham. Aged cured ham uses only salt, brown sugar, hickory smoke, and the variance of aging and weather conditions to create these uncooked hams. No sodium nitrate or nitrites are used and they are aged for several months to two to three years.
Newsom’s Country Ham has become my Kentucky ham source. In 1635, William Newsom first learned to cure venison using sea salt from the Indians in Jamestown, Virginia. The Spanish brought pigs to the New World and the Newsom’s began curing hams. Curing naturally aged hams has been a family business for more than 95 years. Kentucky Colonel Nancy Newsom Mahaffey is now the proprietor, having taken over from her father, Colonel Bill Newsom.
Ordering a Newsom’s Country Ham is now family tradition at my house. I place my largest ham order of the year a bit before Thanksgiving so I’ll have plenty on hand throughout the holidays. After the holidays, any leftovers get divided into small packages and refrigerated separately for use on an as needed basis.
Newsom’s will give you cooking instructions to make the ham into a fine dinner entrée, but I prefer to use it dry and uncooked or as an ingredient in hot dishes. I use ultra-thin slices as a cold appetizer with melon or wrapped and broiled around a spear of asparagus. I shave a bit on top of salads. I sauté small amounts in pasta, rice and potato dishes, scrambled eggs, curries, and in stir fries. A two or three inch square of this ham will fully season a family-sized main dish. A couple of tablespoons in a tomato sauce pack as much flavor as a pound of meat. Just a minced tablespoon flavors a side dish of vegetables or a bean salad. The uses are varied and I’m still coming up with new ways to use it.
Newsom’s also produces a limited number of free range cured hams. This ham is not only free of additives, but also free of antibiotics and growth hormones. They also make a smoky preacher ham, sugar cured and not aged, which lends a milder taste. However, it’s their cured Kentucky ham that keeps me coming back. Whichever ham you prefer, you’ll find each is handcrafted and unique, and the taste is phenomenal.
The Newsom’s Old Mill Store also sells a wide and varied selection of home canned recipes: Amish kettle style preserves (including a sweet potato butter and Damson plum), relishes (including pickled okra and chows) and pickles (try the black eyed pea relish, green tomatoes or spiced peaches). They also have sorghum molasses and wild unprocessed honey.
My Newsom’s order this year includes an aged Kentucky country ham, southern smoked pepper pork, smoked country sausage, ground cooked country ham, and nitrate-free sausage and thick cut bacon.
Milk, eggs, coffee, and Kentucky ham have become the staples in my West Coast kitchen. – by Nancy Zaffaro, RFT Contributor