Country ham: What to look for and where to find it

And there's always a country ham PINK, smoky, deeply flavorful ham -- a few slices sandwiched in a biscuit make for summer-in-the-sun picnic deliciousness. Of course, we're talking ham of the dry-cured country variety -- cured, dried, aged, then smoked (not soaked in brine). It's salty, pungent stuff, best enjoyed when sliced thinly (say, three-sixteenths-inch to one-fourth-inch thick). A whole country ham traditionally comes uncooked, wrapped in a muslin sack and looking like something from an archaeological dig (it's covered in surface mold that has to be removed). Before serving, it needs long soaking and simmering. But ham houses also sell cooked hams (half hams, center portions, etc.). And though Smithfield is known for its hams, there are great country hams from outside Virginia. Here are some reliable sources. Check websites for prices and delivery information. Meacham Hams ( Kentucky), (800) 552-3190, S. Wallace Edwards & Sons (Virginia), (800) 222-4267, Burgers' Smokehouse ( Missouri), (800) 345-5185, Benton's Smoky Mountain Country Hams ( Tennessee), online orders only, -- Betty Hallock

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