Kentucky country ham

An exercise in nostalgia (much transformed) for Easter lunch today: sandwiches of slices of Kentucky country ham — KCH for short — and melted cheddar cheese. The nostalgia is in the ham:

(#1) Thinly sliced ham from Broadbent B & B Foods in the little country town of Kuttawa KY (in Lyon County in far (south)western Kentucky)

To come: on country ham the compound noun and country ham the foodstuff; on my personal history with KCH (associated in my household with Christmas rather than Easter); and on the Broadbent company.

country ham. From NOAD:

noun country: … 2 (often the country) districts and small settlements outside large towns, cities, or the capital: the airfield is right out in the country | [as modifier]: a country lane.

And then, parallel to country lanecountry ham, literally ‘ham from the country’, narrowed to a specific preparation of ham, (typically) from a specific rural area of the US.

country ham. From Wikipedia:

Country ham is a variety of heavily salted ham preserved by curing and smoking, associated with the cuisine of the Southern United States.

Production: Country hams are salt-cured (with or without nitrites) for one to three months. They are usually hardwood smoked (usually hickory and red oak), but some types of country ham, such as the “salt-and-pepper ham” of North Carolina, are not smoked. Missouri country hams traditionally incorporate brown sugar in their cure mix and are known to be milder and less salty than hams produced in more eastern states such as Kentucky and Virginia. They are then aged for several months to 3 years, depending on the fat content of the meat.

Then, from my 4/28/14 posting “Zippy on sleep and more”, about a Zippy cartoon set in the Amherst Diner in Winchester VA (which offers country ham):

Country ham, from [an earlier] Wikipedia:

Country ham is a variety of cured ham, typically very salty. Country ham is first mentioned in print in 1944 [surely it was around well before that], referring to a method of curing and smoking done in the rural parts of North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Georgia, Kentucky and other nearby Southern states.

… There are several methods of cooking a country ham including slicing and pan-frying, baking whole, and simmering for several hours (in several changes of water). Whole hams may need to be scrubbed and soaked for several hours before eating to remove the salt cure and mold. Even when soaked, they are still quite salty.

In the 1970s and 1980s, my Kentuckian father-in-law regularly gave our family a Kentucky ham at Christmastime. He had a connection to an old man, out on a country road [out from Lexington, in central Kentucky], who supplied him with the ham. Our Columbus [OH] household had a huge pan specifically for cooking the thing — a long process of simmering it. The result was served in very thin, dry, dense slices. [typically eaten on beaten biscuits made by Ann Daingerfield Zwicky]

It was not easy to get genuine Kentucky hams then. I imagine it’s enormously difficult now. Through the Southern Foodways Alliance, I did find a writeup on Col. Bill Newsom’s Aged Kentucky Country Ham in Princeton KY [in Caldwell County, in western Kentucky] — [including] an interview (of 8/245/05) with Col. Newsom’s daughter Nancy Newsom Mahaffey

(There are, however, a small number of companies offering KCH on-line.)

In any case, for me KCH comes with intensely warm memories of Ann (who died in 1985, 38 years ago). Ham and melted cheese sandwiches — which the Broadbent people explicitly suggest as a use for their thin slices of KCH — are decidedly non-traditional, especially on toasted slices of Dave’s Killer Organic Bread (“21 whole grains and seeds”), of which I happen to be fond, despite all the organic hype. But it’s a long way from beaten biscuits (It’s a long way, I know).

The classic hot ham and cheese sandwich is grilled — a grilled cheese sandwich with ham added. I will take up grilled sandwiches in an appendix, but pan-grilling is way beyond the capabilities of my disabled hands.

I cannot grill, but I can toast bread and then microwave a composed sandwich, so that’s the way I go. Hot Black Forest ham and (very sharp) cheddar cheese sandwiches are something of a microwave standard for me; they have Dijon mustard on the cheese side and mayonnaise on the ham side, but I think that my trial run with KCH will be spare, unadorned: just toast, KCH, and the cheddar, zapped just long enough to melt the cheese. Then I can consider experimenting.

Note on hams as holiday food. The association of hams with Easter is apparently of considerable age; unlike the association of lamb with Easter, it has no religious basis at all. But the slaughtering of pigs was traditionally done in the fall, with the resulting meat cured throughout the winter, so that the meat would be ready to eat in early spring — hence the association with Easter.

But of course cured meat lasts a long time — and country hams often require a year or more for curing, so that in principle they could be available for eating at any time of the year. Including Christmas.

On the Broadbent company. The company’s Who We Are statement, which I reproduce here verbatim:

Broadbent B & B Foods originated in Trigg County Kentucky [just south of Lyon County]. The company is named after its original owners. Smith Broadbent begin selling Country Ham, Bacon and Sausage from his farm in 1909. Smith Broadbent, II along with his sons Smith Broadbent, III and Robert Broadbent built a USDA facility in 1965 and begin producing USDA inspected Country Ham, Bacon and Sausage. In 1999, they sold the business to Ronny and Beth Drennan, the current owners. In 2008 we moved into a new facility in Kuttawa, Kentucky.

(I originally planned to abstract the crucial information from this write-up, but eventually decided that it had considerable charm as it was, as an example of “fancy” material written with a demotic accent. (I imagine that this kind of writing might well attract the intended audience better than copy prepared by professionals.) I especially admire the Significant Caps in County Ham, Bacon, and Sausage — elevating these items from mere foodstuffs to iconic types.)

Appendix on grilled sandwiches. First, from the allrecipes site, “Grilled Cheese Sandwich:  Learn how to make a grilled cheese sandwich in a nonstick pan with buttered bread and American Cheddar for a classic hot sandwich” by Sara, updated on 11/21/22:

This classic grilled cheese sandwich recipe calls for just white bread, sliced cheese, and butter. It’s easy to switch up the bread and cheese to suit your taste preferences and, if you like, you can substitute mayonnaise for butter.

This recipe calls for sliced Cheddar, which is a wonderfully crowd-pleasing cheese. You can use sharp Cheddar, mild Cheddar, or a blend of both. Another classic choice is plain ol’ sliced American cheese – it tastes nostalgic and gives you a gorgeous cheese pull.

Other delicious options are Gruyere, Brie, Fontina, Gouda, Pepper Jack, and havarti.

This recipe calls for plain white sandwich bread. You could also use sourdough, brioche, or even ciabatta. You can really make grilled cheese with any type of bread you like, but you should make sure the loaf is sturdy enough to handle the heat. Thinly sliced, delicate breads will quickly fall apart.

Then, in much greater detail, from The Salty Pot site, “Delicious Grilled Ham and Cheese Sandwich” by JoAnne


You can use any ham you love for your sandwich. Here are a few options that taste amazing!

— Honey Ham – adds sweetness to the sandwich without being overbearing.

— Smoked Virginia Ham – The smokiness is delicious and adds tons of flavor!

— Peppered Ham – has some spice to it and has a rich flavor that can’t be beaten.

— Spiral Ham – If you have a holiday dinner or any other occasion and end up with leftover spiral ham, it makes the most fantastic sandwich!

— You can also use a Black forest ham, shaved thin. This is what I used today for my sandwich.

Types of Cheese For Your Grilled Cheese Sandwich

— Cheddar – It is my favorite and my first choice when I am making a sandwich.

— Swiss – I love the tangy taste and texture of swiss cheese. It adds a ton of character!

— Provolone – Adds a creamy texture and flavor that goes great with ham.

— Pepperjack – It’s spicy and gives you a kick of flavor that I can’t get enough of.

What Types Of Bread Go Well With Ham and Cheese Sandwich?

Again, bread is one of these things that you can your favorites. There are so many flavors, textures, and styles of bread! You can go as wild as you want and the result will be terrific! Here are a few of my favorite choices:

— Artisan – A tasty bread that has mild flavors and is soft and chewy. You can’t go wrong using this type of bread. I used artisan bread today, but with the twist of grilling it, hence the Grilled Ham and Cheese Sandwich. However, the sandwich police won’t be alerted if you simply want to keep it plain, soft and chewy!

— Sourdough – A sourdough bread is easier to digest and usually the signature tangy flavor goes well with ham and cheese. Put it together and grill it up – it would be an amazing grilled ham and cheese sammy!!

— Pita – they are a pocket that you can fill will all kinds of wonderful ingredients. Typically you don’t grill with Pita bread, BUT there’s nothing saying you can’t! I would totally give this a try! All that ham and cheese in a non-drippy pocket? Oh yeahhh.

— English Muffins – you can turn your sandwich idea into breakfast with an English muffin such as these super easy (and make-ahead) Breakfast Eggers! Plus, because they are so strong, they are easy to grab and go when you are in a hurry.

— Whole Wheat – I love the taste of whole wheat bread, and it is one of my go-to bread choices. It’s a basic but somewhat healthier version of white bread. It would do very well if you were to grill it with the sandwich ingredients.

— Croissant – They are flaky and have a buttery taste. They add a new level of deliciousness to any sandwich. I’ve seen Panini’s made with croissants and they looked amazing



4 Responses to “Kentucky country ham”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    After lunch (yes, early in the day; but breakfast was at 4:30 am). Wow, that stuff is the real deal. Drier and more brittle than the ham in the photo; handling it tends to make it shatter into totally yummy shards. (It’s also surprisingly greasy, so handling it is tricky.)

    What I ended up doing was two open-faced sandwiches: slice of killer toast, half-slice of ham, thick layer of extra sharp white cheddar, another half-slice of ham, zapped for a minute and a half. The ham and the cheese really work beautifully together; and the killer bread’s crunchy texture was perfect. I don’t think I’d add anything to the ham and cheese, though something green and somewhat bitter on the side, like arugula, would be a nice contrast.

    Now I still have most of 2 lbs of the ham, which I estimate could feed 15 or 20 people. But I eat my meals alone and don’t get visitors, so I could be eating ham sandwiches for a long time. Need to look into accompaniments besides cheddar cheese. Or I suppose I could just flake ham into shards and treat them as chewy salty high-umami treats.

  2. Bill Stewart Says:

    Oh, dear. We must do a Pesach version– we do mix meat and milk and eat pork and shrimp. My “lazy” grilled cheese is to toast the bread, put slices of cheese and microwave about 27 seconds. Even easier is to put the cheese on some nice crackers.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Oh wow. I left a couple of ancillary recollections out of my story. One of them was a pre-Xmas lunch prepared, nearly 50 years ago, by Ann together with David (for the rest of the audience: David is now Bill’s husband), a great cook and, relevantly, a Jew. Ann’s contribution centered on KCH; David’s was fabulous potato latkes. In any case, a light Pesach version is easy to imagine.

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