Have you ever had a real country ham? A proper country ham? As in salt-cured, hard-wood smoked, aged ham from south of the Mason-Dixon? If you haven’t, you really need to try one as soon as ever you can lay your hands on one.
Country Ham is a food experience unlike many in the United States.
It’s generally sold unrefrigerated, wrapped in parchment and swaddled in cheesecloth.
Meat: Unrefrigerated, uncanned, and covered in mold. Aside from bleu cheese, there isn’t a lot of deliberately moldy food sold in our country. But make no mistake, this stuff is safe as houses. It is one giant cut of pork shoulder cured in enough salt to pay all the Roman Legionnaires of days gone by. It’s smoked. And then it’s aged.
It’s ham the way ham was meant to be. Intense salty ham flavor and chewy texture. There’s nothing even remotely insipid about this ham. It demands for you to love it. And I do. Oh, I do.
Around Christmas, my little sister, jockeying for Best-Little-Sister-Named-Christina-In-The-World status, brought us a Clifty Farms whole country ham when she visited from Virginia. I popped it on a hook in the cellar and saved it for a special occasion*.
*My special occasion ended up being Monday. Just because it was Monday. And I wanted ham. Don’t look at me like that. You try resisting a country ham in your basement.
When you remove the cheesecloth and parchment the scent surrounds you and makes your brain spontaneously combust with anticipation. Brain combustion. Little known complication to eating country ham. The deep pinkish brown rind, golden fat and salty flesh that ranges from almost black to smoky red are a straight up invitation to take a bite cave-man style, but I wouldn’t advise it.
There are a couple things to consider first. You’re going to want to soak it long enough to scrub that mold off. It’s not harmful mold, obviously, but keeping it on there doesn’t really enhance the overall experience. Most folks soak it overnight and give it a real overall scrub with a stiff brush. For detailed instructions on how to dismember your whole country ham and how to bake it, you can visit Clifty Farms website. Country ham is most commonly served in thick pan-fried slices with red-eye gravy. And that is one very good reason to buy a country ham in and of itself. But that’s not the only good and righteous thing to do with one of these.
So what did I do with my big old ham aside from standing in front of it carving off pieces and popping them directly into my gaping mouth? If you keep in mind that country ham is pretty similar to a good prosciutto (but smoked) you’ll have a good idea of where I went with it. I carved the whole thing up and portioned it out to freeze for later use, but saved a bunch of shaved end pieces, the most intensely flavored bits, to do today’s non-recipe recipe. Country Ham Stuffed Dates. If a festive dish got any easier it’d be laughable. I can see a plate full of these as the most envied appetizer ever or a couple lovingly tucked into a beautiful lunch with tart apples and an aged cheese .
A country ham, may at first glance, seem a bit pricey, but they stretch and feed the masses like no other. Because of the strength of flavor and the saltiness, a little country ham goes much further than a city ham of equal size. You get several different types of cuts of meat -slices for frying, big meaty pieces for chopping, shaved or chipped end pieces- along with a big soup bone and a lovely smoked hock. It ends up being a fantastic overall value.
Now a question. Seeing as I have a large amount of beautiful country ham in my freezer I would love to hear your ideas. What’s your favorite way to eat country ham? Or regular ham?
If, sadly, you are unable to procure a real country ham you can substitute thinly sliced prosciutto with good results. But please, for the sake of beauty in the world and food fabulousness, get thee to a hammery and pick up a piece of Americana. You won’t regret it.
This post was not sponsored, requested or otherwise noticed by the good folks at Clifty Farms. To my great chagrin, I’m pretty sure they don’t even know I’m gnawing on one of their hambones up here in rural New York. I seriously believe in their product, though, and think you should all try one of their whole hams at your earliest convenience. If Clifty Farms ever stumbles upon this and is seeking a mighty enthusiastic spokeswoman, they know who to ask! And of course, many, many thanks to Christina for her thoughtful gift.
Country Ham Stuffed Dates
Scroll to the bottom for an easy-print version of this recipe!
- Shaved country ham (or prosciutto)
- Pitted dates (Use the freshest, moistest dates you can get.)
Make a slice, lengthwise, in the date to but not through the center. Stuff a slice or two of country ham into the open date. Don’t overstuff as the ham is intense and salty. Arrange on a serving platter. Store leftovers, tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator.
Country Ham Stuffed DatesRate Recipe
- Shaved country ham or prosciutto
- Pitted dates Use the freshest, moistest dates you can get.
- Make a slice, lengthwise, in the date to but not through the center. Stuff a slice or two of country ham into the open date. Don't overstuff as the ham is intense and salty. Arrange on a serving platter. Store leftovers, tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator.
Nutritional information is an estimate and provided to you as a courtesy. You should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe using your preferred nutrition calculator.
did you make this recipe?
Make sure to tag @foodiewithfam on Instagram and #hashtag it #foodiewithfamily so I can check it out!
Mike j says
Lol what leftovers nom nomnom
Jeanette Munro says
Just went and ordered one! I also told them where I heard about them with a link to this page–hope you don’t mind–I was surprised at how affordable they were compared to some other “ham” places. Thanks!
Great post. I agree with Caroyln regarding the cut of meat used in making a country ham. A cured pork shoulder is a “picnic ham” (something your own quote confirms); a country ham is make from the hind leg. “Picnic ham” is a fattier piece of meat and not as tender as a “true ham.”
I am new to your site and am enjoying the recipes very much. However, I noticed a mistake when reading ‘Country Ham Stuffed Dates”. You mention that “It is one giant cut of pork shoulder cured in enough salt to pay all the Roman Legionnaires of days gone by.” Country ham is made from the hind leg of the hog. Pork shoulder is not ham. Just thought you might want to make that correction for all the non-southerners that read your articles.
Actually, Carolyn, while that is the most common cut, there are some country hams made from a single cut of pork shoulder. Wikipedia: “Country ham is uncooked, cured, dried, smoked-or-unsmoked, made from a single piece of meat from the hind leg of a hog or from a single piece of meat from a pork shoulder (picnic ham). Virginia’s famous Smithfield ham, a country ham, must be grown and produced in or around Smithfield, Virginia, to be sold as such. Similar, lesser known hams from Tennessee and the Appalachians have a similar method of preparation, but are more likely to include honey in their cures and be hickory smoked.”
As with many food terms, there is a lot of gray area where the term “ham” is concerned. When dealing with a whole cut of pork (as opposed to canned hams and other reshaped products), though, ham generally refers to the rear leg of the pig. Usually a “ham” made from the shoulder is not just called ham but specifically a picnic ham to distinguish the two. And picnic hams are usually wet-cured, not dry-cured. That’s not to say a dry-cured shoulder doesn’t exist; just that it’s very rare. So again, by common usage country ham refers to a dry-cured hind leg of pig.
Getting away from all the theoretical definitions of ham types, the hunk of meat shown in the photos above are the hind leg, not the shoulder, so Carolyn’s note is warranted.
I meant to type “is the hind leg” in that last sentence, not are.
My father is from Tom’s Brook, VA and country ham was always a favorite of mine, too. Lots of folks don’t understand that ham! We had one hanging in the kitchen pantry that Mom sliced for frying. Breakfast or dinner, it didn’t matter. She flavored beans, both dried and green varieties with it. Dice it and bake then add to mac and cheese like you would smoked bacon. Yum! My favorite was always the Christmas ham. Soak for two or three days in the old cooler changing the water every six to eight hours to get out most of the salt. Then…then…douse it with a couple cans of Dr Pepper and bake till you had a sticky glaze. OMG! If I tried to explain it to these folks here now in Ohio, they would think I had lost my mind! Love your blog by the way. I use you husbands tartar sauce recipe in the tiny diner where I actually get to cook for money! LOL Everyone raves!
Aunt Tuna says
You are welcome! I will gladly bring up a ham for all the pickles I carry on the way back from a visit with you! xoxoxo