The Joys of Country Ham

In celebration of our upcoming dinner with Nancy Newsom, we wanted to share a bit on country ham from our cookbook, Breakfast: Recipes to Wake Up For. Country ham is a southern staple and an American treasure. If your appetite is piqued by what you read (or the memories of some ham you've nibbled at Egg), we'd encourage you to go all in and get one of your own. It'll make your meals delicious all summer long.


Of the many things that were exciting about opening Egg, bringing country ham to Brooklyn was near the top of the list for me. We were still in the grips of prosciutto mania back in 2005, and people were just beginning to wake up to the fact that there were other cured hams in the world worth trying. But I hadn’t seen a proper country ham on a menu in the city. And I loved the idea of having a steady supply of country ham for my own purposes.

The ham I used for recipe testing was a standard Smithfield, the staple of every southern table I’d ever eaten at. It had been cured maybe 3 months and it was as salty and dry and pink as I remembered from childhood. I tried it out on a couple of friends, who were taken aback by the saltiness. “You’ll get used to it,” I promised, “and you won’t want to stop.”

But little did I know I’d been hoodwinked all those years, and the ham I’d grown up eating was nothing like the hams that used to hang at the farm. It wasn’t until I got my hands on one of Nancy Newsom’s country hams that I had a sense of what a ham could be. It was like the difference between a slice of American cheese and an aged cheddar. The Smithfield hams I’d grown up on were certainly distinctive, and for me they were the flavor of childhood. But this ham—cured for over a year, during which it’d been subjected to all the vagaries of Kentucky’s weather and the magic of an old ham house—this was the kind of thing you’d build a culture around. It was salty, sure, but that was just the beginning of it: it was funky and moody; the fat on it was translucent and fragrant. I wanted to eat every part of it.

I felt a twinge of a traitor’s guilt when I called to place my first order for hams from Kentucky—after all I grew up calling them Virginia hams. But Nancy’s voice put me at ease—it sounded just like home, even if it was in a different time zone. And her hams, when they arrived, took me back to a time and place I’d never actually been able to live.