Col. Bill Newsom’s Kentucky Country Ham

Eternity is two people and a ham. – Anonymous

No, we’re not going all David Ross or ChezPim on you — cooking-and-food-foto-wise — but one of the highlights of our eating year is a Col. Bill Newsom’s Country Ham from his smokehouse in Princeton, Kentucky. So we’d thought we’d share this little bit of the primordial/artisanal food world with you, along with the work that goes into it.

Newsom’s hams are one of the last of a dying breed. These free-range hams (roughly twice the cost of their other, equally fine products) are cured with only salt and brown sugar (no nitrates or nitrites), lightly smoked and released only in October in every year. Not using the shortcut of nitrites means they’re a lot more work, but you know you’re eating meat the way people have for thousands of years, with no shortcuts. That’s why Bobby Flay swears by them, and why they’re one of the few things in food he and ELV would probably agree on.

“Nitrates insure the cure,” is how Nancy Newsom Mahaffey, The Ham Lady puts it. “That’s the way commercial hams are made to guarantee uniformity of curing time.” Newsom’s truly does it the old fashion way — according to the same recipe the Native Americans gave European settlers in the 1700’s — packing “white sand” (brown sugar and salt) around the hip joint and letting it work its magic on the meat.

Give her a call and she’ll bend your ear with lots of juicy tidbits on country ham culture, art and science. And if you’re real nice to her, she’ll put you on the list for one of these free-range beauties that only get released in October.

This past year, we’ve kept one hanging in a hall closet for an additional 12 months (much to the chagrin of The Food GalĀ®), and what emerged was the gamiest, funkiest, most intense, hammiest ham we’ve ever eaten.

“But aren’t they real salty?” you ask. Of course they are fool. Salt is the essence of country ham; the je ne sais quois of this ancient form of food preservation. It acts as both preservative, sweetener and flavor enhancer of the cured pork. …bringing forth flavors the meat didn’t know it had. And you don’t eat country ham like a 12 oz. steak (or at least most folks don’t). Paper thin slices on a warm biscuit with a slice of not-too-sharp cheddar cheese, and some good mustard purchased from these guys at, is all you need for complete, ham satisfaction.

If you really feel like going native, a big slab o’ meat in a pool of red-eye gravy (equal parts pan drippings (i.e. pure ham fat) + coffee heated up and poured over the steak, goes great with a couple of fried eggs and (more) biscuits smothered in (yet more) gravy. (This time, a sausage-milk-flour-butter-gravy concoction that actually clogs your arteries as you’re eating it.)

Hey, they don’t call the Southeastern United States “Cardiac Alley” fer nuthin’!

Fun Food Fact: There are two ways to cook a country ham: on a long simmer in a huge, outdoor pot with lots of water (we use our propane-fueled, turkey deep-fryer for the purpose), or roasted for 5 hours or so in a low oven until the internal temperature hits 170 degrees F. The simmering eliminates some of the saltiness, but the taste of a slow baked ham (not to mention the aroma that fills up your house) is superior to our taste buds.

Fun Food Fact Number Two: As Kristin Sande and Bob Howald of Valley Cheese and Wine discovered last year (when ELV asked Bob to trim and taste one with him), these hams are equally good raw — served as proscuitto (crudo) — although one fifteen pounder will give you enough paper-thin slices to feed an army.

Fully cooked, it’s almost as big, and even with 2/3’s of it in the freezer, ELV and his staff are gonna be havin’ a hamtastic time for months to come….

4 thoughts on “Col. Bill Newsom’s Kentucky Country Ham

  1. My, my, my. ELV–on the second to the last day of the year, after pages of beautiful photos and tempting words about a year’s worth of meals in Las Vegas–you are ending with what I must say is your most delicious post of 2008.

    Now some do say that I tend to go to exceptional lengths when I portray the beauty of what can come from the kitchen using some of our most basic, natural products. Like cooking a Prime Rib of Beef. I just can’t help myself. But all the prime grade beef in the Midwest doesn’t come close to the wondrous aroma and flavor of a Kentucky Country Ham.

    Gourmets are often in awe of how something so basic-pork, salt, sugar and maybe a hint of hickory smoke-can produce something every bit as delicious and priceless as the most expensive imported prosciutto.

    And so, ELV, you have given me the greatest gift of my 2008 Holiday Season-what I will call the “Country Ham Post.” Thank you.

  2. If you happen to have some left next time we meet, I would pay dearly just for a slice. See you soon!

  3. Wonderful post. Let me echo “dr” as well. It’s been a grand year of reading your blog entries. I hope you’ll let me do one shill that I have no financial interest in.

    One of the great wine programs for mid priced wines is Navarro’s. They also always include a little gift in the Winter shipment. This year it was a primitive mustard. This stuff is so simple and with such good ingredients that is deserves a mention with this post about such great hams. I’ve had it with a different ham recently, and it’s heaven.

    Thanks again John for a wonderful year.

  4. Yummy- didn’t know anyone outside Kentucky even *knew* about country ham! You should mention- goes great with fried green tomatoes.

Comments are closed.