Country ham has spent about 30 years in a difficult place. A small, home-based, or community-based, industry, it was nearly cut off at the knees by 1985 USDA regulations that it couldn't easily meet. These were eased somewhat a few years ago in the same wave of reform that finally permitted prosciutto and serrano ham into the United States.
That being said, you still have to know someone to get a real country ham. And when you buy a whole ham, you've bought a project.
Pictured at right is this year's country ham purchase. It's no Benton's, but it'll do.
In years past, the butcher and deli person at Compton's on West End cut and cooked it, even packing on the black-pepper-mustard-brown-sugar-and-bread-crumb mixture I supplied. It was incredible service.
After Compton's closed, the annual ham went to Todd's Butcher Shop on Charlotte, where Todd sawed the hock into proper pieces for cooking with greens and in bean soup. He cut off three or four steaks for quick weeknight meals from the freezer. The remaining ham fit into a lobster pot for traditional soaking, boiling and baking.
This year, we bought a big, big ham. It's even called "Bigham." It doesn't even halfway fit into the lobster pot. It needs a butcher's touch. Compton's is gone. Todd's is gone. Publix turned me down. Federal regulations prevent meatpacker Robert Regg from cutting up outside meat products.
Do I need to ask Santa for a hacksaw? Or is there someone out there who can cut up my ham? Is it legal? Should we organize a march on Washington?