We are talking all things ham this week to celebrate our Annual Ham Sale!
Ham! There is so much to say about ham. More than any other cut on the pig, we talk about ham the most. Each and every week we at Heritage Foods process and sell 200 pasture-raised heritage breed pigs. The average weight of each pig is around 245lbs. And of those 245lbs about 65lbs is ham weight.
Besides weighing a lot, the ham is a challenge to move because the 150 restaurants we sell to each week hardly purchase any hams at all. They buy each and every other cut of the pigs we produce but hardly any hams. We have 400 fresh hams a week to sell and between all the restaurants, they purchase only 5 or 6 total.
All the rest of our hams are dealt with in other ways: different accounts, different trucks to deliver them, different value-added processes are applied to them, different marketing strategies are needed to sell them. Sadly, almost every ham is sold at a loss – the ham market, even the great one we have created with our partners, moves each piece for less than the cost of the pig and processing it. Knowing that, the goal is to move the hams for as close to our cost as possible so that we can still make a profit through the sale of our other cuts.
About 98% of the hams sold in the U.S. are injected hams – also known as wet-cured or fast-cured. From start to finish they take only a few days to produce but they still pack a real punch of flavor. Of our 400 heritage breed hams produced each week about 25% of them are moved in this way. Our injection cure is concocted by our processors at Paradise Locker Meats and their signature blend is a delicious maple-sugar cure. These sweet hams are loved by almost all palates and make for the best tasting sandwiches!
Because water is injected into wet-cured hams along with the flavoring, these deli hams are not shelf stable and must be refrigerated. They last about 3 weeks in the fridge once they are opened and come ready to eat, or heat-and-eat. Because our deli hams come from pasture-raised heritage breeds, they are especially juicy, tender and delicious, the best available on the market for sure, and miles ahead of the hams you find at delis on every corner.
Less than 2% of the hams sold in the U.S. are dry-cured. There are very few people and very few companies that still know how to dry-cure and do it well. Country ham is the term used for hams that are cured in this way and they are dry rubbed with salt. Some producers leave the hams in salt for 30 days, others for up to 50 days. By law a ham becomes a "country ham" when it consists of at least 4% salt and has a water activity of less that 91%. By getting the water activity to 91% they are considered shelf-stable.
Country hams are then aged for as little as 70 days or for as long as 400 days. Country hams can be very salty if they are salted for a longer time and aged for a shorter time. The prosciutto or prosciutto-style hams we feature for sale on our site are less salty and reminiscent of the prosciutti we know from Italy and Spain.
We are very proud to work with so many great country ham and prosciutto artisans. Sam Edwards was our first buyer when we started in 2006 and remains our largest. He is located in Surry, Virginia and continues a long tradition that has lasted in his family for 92 years, and before that since the 1700s when Virginia’s first export was salted ham (and tobacco), sent to England.
Besides Sam Edwards we are so honored to work with Nancy Newsom in Princeton, Kentucky, Al Benton in Madisonville, Tennessee, and Ronny and Beth Drennan of Broadbent Hams is Kuttawa, Kentucky. By moving a part of their production to heritage breed hams, they are bringing new energy and flavors to the U.S. ham market and helping to preserve heritage breeds.
We also proudly work with the best producers of Italian style dry-aged ham, known as prosciutto but the Italian style does not involve smoking. Lorenza Pasetti of Volpi Foods in St Louis, the curing team of Seattle’s Salumi, Antonio Fiasche of ‘Nduja Artisans in Chicago, and Cesare Casella of Casella’s Prosciutto keep Heritage Foods and our network of farms alive.
We hope you will visit our site and try both our wet-cured and dry-cured hams. And of course, there is always our fresh ham, both boneless and bone-in, which are the perfect canvas for almost any seasoning!
Remember our motto – eat the best meat or no meat at all! Especially when it comes to ham!!!
*The Annual Ham Sale only applies to our Maple Sugar Cured Boneless Ham