Tales of a Country Ham

I’m very fortunate to know a lot of fantastic food writers, people who make it their jobs to bring us great culinary stories.  One of those individuals whose work I love, and whom I adore as a person even more, is the Charlotte Observer’s Kathleen Purvis.  Kathi is, as my wife’s grandfather would say, “real folk.”  She’s someone you want to drink a beer (or 7) with.  She’s forgotten more food facts than I’ve ever remembered.  And she’s a super writer.

Earlier this week, Kathi wrote about country ham.  This is the South’s finest form of charcuterie, and frankly, it’s fading away.  The good stuff has been replaced by mass-produced, overly salty, shrink-wrapped crap.  But Purvis (and that’s how she introduces herself when she calls on the phone — “Purvis here”) wanted to see how an artisinal country ham maker practices his craft.  How to make a ham so beautiful, so utterly delicious, that you would pay big bucks.

And so she’s doing just that, making a ham with Byron Jordan in West Jefferson using only four curing ingredients: “Brown sugar, salt, mountain air and time.”  I love that.  Read Kathi’s story, which will tell a tale of a country ham, starting last January with a 300 pound heirloom Tamworth pig.  Part II is here.  See the great pictures and a video, too.  This is food journalism at its best.

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5 Responses to Tales of a Country Ham

  1. seahawg says:

    Really great article on a wonderful topic. I haven’t been a great fan of the collectivization of the News and Observer and the Charlotte Observer, but at least one great thing came of it. We get to read some of Katleen Purvis’s writing.

    I remember hog killing weather, scraping the hair off the hide, rendering the lard in old cast iron kettles, and putting up those precious few hams. Salting ’em down, wrapping them in brown grocery bags, and hanging them in the barn. Good times, good times.

    Country ham, red-eyed gravy, grits, eggs, and cat head biscuits. It don’t get no better. The chicken contributed, but the pig was committed!

    With North Carolina being on about the same longitude as Spain, and farmers in the mountains growing truffles beneath their oak trees, why can’t we grow acorn fed pork for profit? Theres a big delta between $2.59 a lb. for country ham and $125.00 a lb. for jamon iberico de bellota. Take some of that “Golden Leaf” money, and invest it specialty pork farming. Why Ashe County might become the Cordoba of North America.

    Country ham is a precious commodity. In fact, there are only two places in the whole world you can find it.

  2. Fuzzy says:

    seahawg revives my memories of hog killin’ when I was growing up. The hams were always the best part.

    I’ve driven as far as Surry, VA in order to lay my hands on a great ham. I hope this type of curing never dies.

    I’ll stay off my high horse regarding governmental over-regulation of the little guys today…

  3. Maura says:

    I’ve corresponded with Purvis a couple times. She’s terrific. And one of the best food writers from a local paper I’ve encountered.

    Thanks for posting this, Varmint. It was a good read.

  4. Aw, Varmit. Thanks for the kind words, man. It’s hard not to have fun when I get to do stories like that.

  5. Soni says:

    THANK YOU! I’ve been looking for a quick and easy Christmas Morning repice! The family is tired of sausage balls! I will make these up on Christmas Eve and Pop them in the oven in the morning! I will also do Turkey for the child that is a turkey freak!Merry Christmas!Carrie

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