Kentucky Country Ham from Nancy Newsom

Excerpt from Ari’s Top 5 enews

Heritage pork and four years of maturing make for a magical ham

Like this limited-edition ham, Nancy Newsom is one of a kind—someone Charles Kuralt would almost certainly have loved to talk to. For starters, she’s the only professional woman country ham curer in the country! Nancy has an amazing personality, she’s wise, witty, and deeply committed to the craft she learned from her dad, Colonel Bill Newsom, many years ago. Newsom’s is located in the small, 6500-person, western Kentucky town of Princeton. Nearly all the way to the Illinois border, the town has got a beautiful Art Deco courthouse in the center of the town square, a gem you’d never notice from the interstate.

The Newsom family came to Virginia from England in the early 18th century, and later moved west to the Kentucky territory. The smokehouse is still located right in town and is well worth a visit if you’re in the area. In 1975, the Newsom’s hams caught the attention of James Beard, whose support started to get the word out to the rest of the world. Today, in 2022, Nancy Newsom is the only country ham maker I know who’s still doing only traditional seasonal curing. All her hams are started in late December or early January just as would have been done 200 years ago. She’s also the only one who does solely old-school ambient temperature curing—the hams age with natural air temperatures.

A few months back, Connor Valone at the Deli arranged for us to get our hands on a couple of extra special versions of Nancy’s ham! This one is made from Mangalitsa pork, raised on pasture in Missouri, then cured using Newsom’s centuries-old process. Connor wrote to me after he’d finished prepping for last night’s “Best of 2022” tasting:

This evening, I brought down the Newsom’s country ham I’ll be opening at the class, cleaned it off a bit, and mounted it on a humble wooden stand to carve at the event. It felt like an Indiana Jones-type event, pulling back green-mottled layers of dusty paper wrappings layered with natural molds and fat. I got to see the tag placed when the ham was started. January 2019 was the month I started at Zingerman’s, and it’s incredible to think about all that has happened for me personally [he and his wife had their first child earlier this year], and globally for that matter, in that short amount of time; all while this ham was smoking and aging in the quiet, dark, and dank rooms of a 100-plus-year-old historic brick building in western Kentucky before a brief stint hanging in the rafters of a bustling, bright, and spirited room of a nearly-as-antiquated 100-plus-year-old historic brick building some 500-odd miles north. I know we’ll be focused on the Best of 2022 in these coming tastings, but I’ll be proud to present our guests with the Best of 2019 as well. 

Because you are reading this, at the earliest, on Wednesday evening, I have the chance to share from first-hand experience at the Tuesday tasting just how terrific this now nearly four-year-old Kentucky Country Ham is. Each small slice is an eating experience for the ages. Wonderfully intense, complex, concentrated smoke and pork and a lovely bit of salt to bring the flavors effectively to the fore. A quarter pound of this special long-cured, uncooked ham, carefully and thinly sliced by hand by the Deli crew, makes a terrific appetizer. Serve at room temperature with a bit of toasted True North bread. Or swing by the Roadhouse and pick up some of the fantastic buttermilk biscuits to enjoy with it. Supply is limited—Connor forecasts it’ll be sold out by Sunday—so don’t dally!