Why Country Ham Deserves More Respect

On Salon.com, Francis Lam ponders whether American country ham, the humbler, smoked version of the Spanish jamón serrano and Italian prosciutto, is going to be the next bacon. Or at least start to get its due for being a great product at a ridiculously cheap price when compared to its fancy Euro-cousins.

Americans have learned to savor European hams, acknowledging them as delicacies--the finest examples can command well over $100 per pound. But country ham in America doesn't have the same kind of reputation among gourmets, and it remains a deeply democratic food. Allan Benton, who makes one of the true gold-standard country hams, charges $6.50 for a 15-ounce package.

He goes on to explore the history of country ham, and discuss how restaurants are embracing it, and even curing their own versions. It's definitely worth a read.

Recently, I tried a great American cured ham called a "Surryano" from Surry Farms in Surry, Virginia. It's smoky, soft, fatty, with a bit aged-funkiness. The hams are made from certified humane Berkshire pigs, smoked over hickory for seven days, and aged over a year. While it's not as cheap as the Benton ham Lam mentions, it is cheaper than buying Spanish or Italian hams, and particularly worth checking out if you are looking to purchase a whole bone-in leg.

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