Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Ham Heaven: Kentucky hams invited to Spain (and the Goose)

For "the ham lady," heaven may look like a smoke house. Nancy Newsom Mahaffey, happily known as "the ham lady," cures and smokes country hams according to her family's 200 year old recipes. Her grandfather opened a rural Kentucky general store next to the only stage coach stop on a 90-mile route, and her father took over the business when he was just 18. Today, Nancy still operates that same Princeton, Kentucky, general store, but she also directs Col. Newsom's Aged Kentucky Hams, the only American ham company with a grandfather clause that legally allows ambient (or open-air) dry curing.

And to allow the rest of us a little taste of heaven, Nancy has just released a set of limited edition hams. Free-range, Berkshire pigs provided the hams that Nancy and her team cured for 17 months. These nitrate-free country hams were dry-cured with pure Kentucky air. They've had a hand-rubbed salt cure and swung from the beams of an old smokehouse, but they've never felt refrigeration or unnatural temperature controls. The result is a silky, rosy slice with layers of intense flavor that range from fruity and sweet to raw and piquant. Chris compares these hams to the angelic Iberico. With a richness and concentration that emulates the old world ham plus a much more tempting flavor-to-price ratio, he admits a preference for this particular jamon de Kentucky.

Even in the land of Iberico, these hams are earning some well-deserved credit. During the first week of May, these hams will be celebrated as the first American ham ever featured at the World Congress of Dry-Cured Hams. Held biennially in Spain, the Congress meets for scientific, social, and cultural presentations. And yes, the official Congress schedule includes 30 minutes here and there for "dry-cured ham sandwich break." Sound like ham heaven to you?

Nancy contacted Chris to let him know about the hams' exciting trip to Spain and because she wanted the Goose to have two of these limited edition lovelies. Stop by soon and Chris will hand-slice your portion to order ($18/lb).

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