When I was a child, I learned very early that there were two types of hams, “city” hams and “country” hams. My grandfather had cured country hams, serving the ham in my grandparents restaurant. Then my uncle took over the ham business and grew it a bit larger. In last week’s Sunday Food post on Lard, I mentioned the “hog killin’” when I was ten. The primary reason for the hog killin’ was to get the hams that Uncle Howard cured and sold although I think that year may have been the last year he raised and killed his own hogs, later turning to Kahn’s Meats in Cincinnati for the hams.
Country hams are, or at least were, a big business in Kentucky. My uncle showed his hams at the Kentucky State Fair each year and in I think it was 1974, won the Grand Champion. There is a Country Ham Breakfast each year at the Fair where that year’s Grand Champion ham is auctioned for charity. If I remember correctly, the year Uncle Howard won it, his ham set a then record by selling for $10K. Last year’s Grand Champion sold for $350K. The current record looks to be $600K (2011).
City hams were all the other, non-country hams – at least as far as my father was concerned. While country hams usually have a sharp, salty taste, the city hams (“deli hams” as a variant) are the cold cut, lunch counter hams. Or the canned hams. They are nowhere near as salty as the country hams.
Which is best? Well, the country ham is generally much more expensive but for folks who love the country ham, it is well worth the price. A one pound package of “Danish ham” at the grocery may run $3 to $4 depending on the brand.
As with every other food item, your choice of hams is dependent on your own taste and experience. I will admit that as a child, I was not all that fond of country ham, preferring instead, slices of “city” ham on crackers. Nowadays, as an adult, I do like country ham sandwiches (especially on salt risen toast) or the traditional southern breakfast of fried country ham, grits, eggs, and red-eye gravy. If I do not have any country ham available, I am perfectly fine eating a slice or two of pan broiled ham at breakfast or dinner either one. Most grocery stores have cooked and uncooked hams as well as individual slices of varying thickness and as always, it is all a matter of your individual taste.
Picture from Jeffrey Loo licensed under Creative Commons