Country Curing with Goodnight Brothers Ham
Country vs. city is a never-ending debate among ham lovers. No, it’s not about where the ham is consumed or where it’s made, but how. Talk to any Southerner and they’ll vote country over city every time. Why? We met with our responsibly-sourced partner Goodnight Brothers Ham to find out.
Brining vs. Drying
City: City ham (a.k.a. regular ‘ol ham) is the more popular of the two. It’s wet-cured, which means it is injected with a brine of salt, sugar and seasoning to give it a juicier flavor profile. It is then usually smoked and fully-cooked before serving. Southerners call it “city ham” because…well, it just doesn’t originate in the South!
Country: Country ham on the other hand, is dry-cured, meaning it’s rubbed with salt, sugar and seasoning and aged for an extended period of time (never cooked). It is historically prepared in the rural Southeast and was a way for our Appalachian ancestors to have sustenance through the winter. North Carolina is also the second to Iowa as the largest producer of hogs in the country.
Waiting for a Cure
The art of curing ham is a Southern tradition that involves lots of salt and patience. It’s an art that Goodnight Brothers, a family business based out of Boone, NC, has perfected since 1948. “Our way of curing is authentic because there’s really no other way to do it,” said Tony Snow of Goodnight Brothers. “You put salt on a ham, and you wait.” You won’t see city ham anywhere at Goodnight Brothers, though – they produce country ham exclusively.
With the help of modern technology, Goodnight Brothers brings Mother Nature inside to duplicate our natural seasons of winter, spring, summer and fall to speed up the curing process. From start to finish, the process takes around 75-80 days to complete. While that may seem like a long time, Goodnight Brothers still produces 280,000 pounds of country ham a week!
Aging Country Ham
Goodnight Brothers has four seasonal rooms that are temperature-controlled for each stage of aging. In the winter room, hams arrive just three days from the farm and the cure mix is applied by hand to each ham. The room is chilly, staying at 40 degrees, so the salt and sugar can penetrate and stabilize the meat. Once they come out of this room, the hams are pressed and rounded out, then hung in nets. “We really pay attention to detail when pressing our hams in order to get the most yield,” Tony said.
The spring room is warmer and lower in humidity to allow the cure mix to equalize the ham. They stay here for about 14-18 days. They then move to the summer room, where the temperature is maintained at a sweltering 90 degrees. Here, the heat gives the ham a nice golden brown color and after spending 12-16 days here, it is considered cured. The ham is fully finished in the fall room, where the internal salt content of the ham ends up around five to six percent.
Enjoying the Product
City: Everybody enjoys city ham at holiday gatherings on an ornate platter or simply on a sandwich packed for lunch. It can be glazed with sugar or paired it with a delicious mustard. It’s very versatile and often served spiral-style.
Country: When Southerners enjoy country ham, it’s usually a part of breakfast. It pairs wonderfully with scratch-made buttermilk biscuits, in shrimp and grits and added to gravy. But don’t be fooled – country ham is also making it’s way into the charcuterie ranks as a tasty accompaniment to the usual cheese, crackers and salami. It’s slowly emerging as a favorite way to consume pork outside of the South, and that’s something we can celebrate!