My Recipe Box

Country Ham, the Old-Fashioned Way

To check that the ham is fully cured, Rufus Brown inserts a probe and then smells it. “The scent I’m looking for is hard to describe, but it’s rich, aromatic, and smells like great ham.”

by Amy Albert

fromFine Cooking
Issue 50

You recreate the seasons when you cure country ham,” says Rufus Brown, proprietor of Johnston County Hams in Smithfield, North Carolina. Country ham heark­ens back to a time before refrigeration, when meat was rubbed with salt, hung to cure, and, in the process, underwent the changes in temperature typical of any agricultural year, with the ham finally ready to eat at Christmas.

In the interests of production, nine months are compressed into three, as Rufus and his small team of processors move the hams from one temperature-­controlled room to another to replicate climate changes. But other than time compression, the method remains the same. Rufus learned the craft from his father, who was a master curer, and he insists on keeping things hands-on, just as his father did.

  • Hand-salted and hand-rubbed, one ham at a time. Linwood Raynor, working along with Gary Williams and Mario Mauricio, massages a dry rub into hams fresh from the slaughterhouse.
  • This ham is salty, but it also has a sweet, buttery edge that’s unique to slow curing and aging. Photo: Scott Phillips

Photos, except where noted: Amy Albert 

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