Guest post from Tom...
Last December we went to Devil's Gulch Ranch and picked up large sections of pig, which we turned into roasts and bacon and pancetta. We also wanted to try our hand at making a country ham. We found the instructions from the University of Kentucky, watched the video twice, and then dove in.
The ham spent two months in our outdoor fridge, and then about seven months inside Redwood House at Elizabeth's parent's house, doing the "summer sweat", where the salt cure that we applied to the outside equalized through the whole ham. Here's how it looked when we started, with the cure on the outside:
And here's how it looked last weekend, hanging up:
The ham lost a lot of weight, as it should -- from about 25 pounds down to about 17, so that was a good amount of weight loss, which is what you're looking for.
Next we brought it over to the sink to rinse off the excess cure:
And then we got to slicing it up. (We could have boiled the whole ham at this point, if we were having a big party, but the traditional way to serve country ham is sliced and fried up). Slicing it turned out to be quite the undertaking – it was helpful to have many sharp knives and many hands. The ham cured with the skin on, and the skin proved to be very tough to cut through.
Pretty soon we had a tray full of ham slices and tasty pig parts:
and a couple of bones to boot:
We fried up some slices and had them for lunch, along with some late-summer tomatoes. I will freely admit that I think we were all eating the ham a little hesitantly – everything in our modern brains says "Don't eat meat that's been just hanging outside for months! Are you crazy?!?".
But the ham turned out alright (and none of us wound up hospitalized or otherwise incapacitated). My confidence rose once I tasted that it was noticeably salty all the way through. As for the taste? Well, it tasted like ham. It was chewier than the spiral sliced ham you'd get at Easter (but frying might have had something to do with that). I liked having a little grainy mustard on it.
The final result -- 25 pounds of "green weight" turned into about 11 pounds of sliced up, trimmed ham, not including the bones.
So -- would I do it again? Well, maybe. In addition to country ham, it would be interesting to try prosciutto, which uses much of the same basic technique (but which also has you weigh down the ham at the beginning of the process, and results in a firmer ham).