Producer of Col. Newsom's Aged Hams
speaks at Southern Foodways Symposium




Newsom's Prosciutto Ham Gets
Write-up in New York Times Article

The Ham Lady is in the news with coverage in the NY Times; the Snail, a SlowFood USA publication, Southern Living, Garden and Gun, Cooking with Paula Deen and more...


The Ham Lady by Southern Living
The Ham Lady by Southern Living

Nancy Newsom Mahaffey has through the years been the subject of articles published in many magazines, newspapers, blogs and web journals. There have been many mentions in Southern Living magazine and in 2018, Nancy “The Ham Lady” was featured in a full length story in the Christmas edition.

Author Jennifer Justus, a Nashville-based food writer with more than 20 years journalism experience, has covered the Nashville scene and taken her notepad far beyond on assignment for magazines and journals reaching readers across the nation. Photographer Peter Frank Edwards, based in coastal South Carolina, has taken on challenges for countless publications. He has turned a revealing focus on the food world of the south and has viewed and shared the world through his camera lens.

The story of “The Ham Lady” can be found online through Yahoo at https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/meet-woman-behind-newsom-country-201608762.html?fr=sycsrp_catchall

Click on the link below...

Great Bites in the Bluegrass State: Iconic Kentucky Foods
Great Bites in the Bluegrass State: Iconic Kentucky Foods

The Food Network has identified the best foods in Kentucky and where to find the. Included in this list of iconic foods is Col. Bill Newsom's Aged Kentucky Country Hams.

Garden and Gun - A Country Ham Birthday
Garden and Gun - A Country Ham Birthday

"We believe that operating in the marketplace means service to your customer. That service begins with a quality product. Newsom's offering service to the public since January 1, 1917."

COOKING With PAULA DEEN 2016 ... Made in the South
COOKING With PAULA DEEN 2016 ... Made in the South



{Fun Food Facts}

Made in the South: Col. Newsom’s Aged Kentucky Country Ham

Liven up your holiday feast with one of the South’s own artisan foods, Col. Newsom’s Aged Kentucky Country Ham.

In 2017 this third-generation family business, now run by founder H.C. Newsroom’s granddaughter Nancy Mahaffey, will celebrate its 100th anniversary.

The company produces renowned aged country hams and other port products including sausage, prosciutto, and a milder-flavored ham that Nancy calls the “Preacher Ham.”

Each meat sampler box comes packed with nuts and individually wrapped candies. Visit newsomscountryham.com for more information and to purchase.

—As seen in — Cooking with Paula Deen © Hoffman Media 2016

Newsom’s traditions find a fit at World Ham Congress ... July 2009
Newsom’s traditions find a fit at World Ham Congress ... July 2009

Displayed in a glass case now in the rarified air of a museum in Aracena, Spain, a city 6,000 years old, a Newsom’s aged Kentucky country ham represents the traditions of ham curing at its most artisanal in the United States.

Presenters at the Fifth World Congress of Dry Cured Hams noted that it is Newsom’s ham that is most like its European counterparts in tradition, style and taste.

Two of the presenters at the Congress were Americans, who have become familiar with the Princeton produced ham. Harold McGee, a columnist with the New York Times and a food scientist, opened the seminar portion of the three-day ham symposium, and Peter Kaminsky, an author of several books, television producer and columnist with the New York Times, offered the wrap-up session for the Congress. Both have high regard for the local product from the Newsom family.

McGee, who recently discovered the local ham, talked to the producers, food connoisseurs and preser­va­­tion­­­ists gathered in Aracena about Newsom’s ham and the ham industry in the United States. He put Newsom’s in a class of its own.

Kaminsky, who has visited Princeton on more than one occasion to talk to Nancy Mahaffey, gather information for articles, arrange for hams to be cured and enjoy the flavor of the Newsom cure, had long ago put Newsom’s in a class of its own in the book “Pig Perfect.” He said it was a visit to Newsom’s that launched his quest for the best around the world and his book has sent many in search of the perfect pig to the Newsom counter.

“It was such a wonderful honor for me, and I was indeed privileged to be the first American ham producer invited to attend in the 10 years that the Congress has been in existence. In Spain, Jamon (ham) is a tradition, but not just that, it is in some areas a way of life,” said Mahaffey.

Ham has been a tradition for the Newsom family since the 1700s, when the Newsoms brought the Virginia process with them to settle in Kentucky with a land grant in the pioneer region that later became Christian and Caldwell counties. The first Newsom ancestor in America was a William Newsom, who arrived at Jamestown, Va., in 1642.

“I never would have believed it would come to this. We have just been trying our best to preserve the way we do ham — the natural cure, the artisan, ambient weather way. We are fortunate that food writers, chefs and our customers seek us out. In Spain, it’s a whole culture, a whole industry dedicated to preserving the Jamon tradition,” said Mahaffey.

Her invitation to the congress had come in the final stages of planning the event. Miguel Ullibarri, one of the individuals helping to publicize and organize the congress, which is presented every two years, was contacted by cookbook writer Mark Scarbrough for some information about ham and mentioned that if the Congress was thinking about an American ham, it should be Col. Newsom’s Aged Kentucky Ham — the ham that Nancy Newsom Mahaffey had been curing since 1987, when her father Bill Newsom retired from the business that his father H.C. Newsom had started in 1917.

Ullibarri knew of Mahaffey, had heard of Newsom’s though he had never talked to her before. Both — the “Hammaker’s Daughter” in Princeton and Miguel, his guide to the pork of Spain — were subjects who figured prominently in Kaminsky’s Pig Perfect.

So the invitation was anxiously extended. At first Mahaffey thought that the Congress just wanted a ham for display, but that was not the case at all. Of course, they wanted the ham, but just as much they wanted the American woman who produced the authentic, artisan ham of America’s ham curing traditions. “They extended an invitation that included my travel and accommodations for several days. They treated me royally, and they were really delighted to have an American ham,” she said.

“The day that I visited the Jamon museum, television crews were there filming members of the Congress talking about my ham. In at least three sessions of the Congress, my ham was a topic of discussion. It truly was a wonderful thing to know that a small business from Princeton, Ky., was held in such esteem.”

Mahaffey said that the trip included some sightseeing, of course, and in Spain the hogs and the hams are a major part of the sights to see. She saw the farms, the pigs raised in groves of trees, the salting rooms, the curing facilities, the industry, the museums and the ritual of Jamon.

“It is a very different world,” she noted, “even in the poorest home, there is wealth if they possess an aged Jamon.”

Mahaffey said that she particularly remembers one narrow cobblestone street of Jabugo that exuded the essence of Jamon, surrounded those who passed through with the wonderful smell of the aged ham.

“Everyone eats cured ham, every day,” she marveled.



In the photo Newsom’s Aged Kentucky County Ham (left, front) occupies a glass museum case alongside Spain’s finest Jamon.

(This story appeared in the June 3, 2009 edition of the Princeton Times Leader.)

Smokehouse: An American Profile ... Nov. 2013 AP
Smokehouse: An American Profile ... Nov. 2013 AP

by Stuart Englert

Smoking remains a popular way to flavor and preserve food.

Nancy Newsom Mahaffey, 57, of Princeton, Kentucky, uses a centuries-old family recipe to produce Col. Bill Newsom’s Aged Kentucky Country Ham, preserving a meat-curing method used by her father Bill Newsom, grandfather H.C. Newsom, and English ancestors who settled in Surry County, Virginia, in 1635.

“You don’t want to cook the ham,” says Mahaffey, nicknamed The Ham Lady. “I build a small fire that bathes the hams in cool smoke from top to bottom.” Each winter, hams are hand-rubbed with salt and brown sugar to flavor the meat and extract moisture. After a month, the salt-inoculated hams are washed and hung in the smokehouse. On a cool, damp spring day, a smoldering fire is lit and the hams are smoked for several weeks, giving them an amber color and distinct smoky flavor.

“Curing and smoking are an art form,” says Mahaffey, who monitors humidity and temperature inside the concrete-block building during the smoking and aging process.

“Usually my last smoking occurs on a cool day in June,” Mahaffey adds. “I don’t sell the hams until they’re at least 10 months old.”

Food preservation

Humans have smoked meat since prehistoric times, discovering that exposure to a smoldering fire dried and flavored animal flesh. Centuries before refrigeration and the canning process were developed, people salted and smoked fish and meat to prevent spoilage, to repel insects, and to preserve food for winter and lean times.

In Colonial America, nearly every farm with pigs had a smokehouse to cure and store bacon and hams, and during the 19th century, commercial smokehouses processed boatloads of herring and sardines in coastal fishing villages such as Lubec, Maine.

Virginia has the largest concentration of historical smokehouses, with reconstructed meat-curing structures at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville, and Patrick Henry’s Red Hill in Brookneal. Of the 88 original structures at Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, 10 are smokehouses dating to the 18th and 19th centuries.

“The smokehouses were used to preserve pork,” says Frank Clark, 48, supervisor of the Department of Historic Foodways for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. “Pork was a staple in the diet.”

Each December, Clark and a team of historic interpreters demonstrate how English colonists butchered hogs and salted hams prior to smoking in the Governor’s Palace smokehouse at Colonial Williamsburg, the world’s largest living history museum.

Taste that smoke

While smokehouses aren’t as prevalent in the United States as they used to be, smoking remains a popular way to flavor and preserve food.

Thousands of smokehouses—from small backyard sheds to large commercial facilities—dot the nation, producing tons of smoked cheese, pork, poultry, sausage, seafood and wild game.

“Whatever food you smoke will develop a smoky flavor,” says Stanley Marianski, 65, author of “Meat Smoking and Smokehouse Design,” noting that wood from fruit and nut-bearing trees—apple, cherry, hickory, oak and pecan—provide the best results.

“Any hardwood is fine for smoking,” adds Marianski, of Seminole, Florida. “You shouldn’t smoke with softwood such as fir or pine because they contain a lot of resin.”

In Alaska, salmon and reindeer sausage is smoked with alder or birch wood, and in New England, smoldering corncobs flavor bacon, ham, sausage and turkeys.

“Frequently we cure the meat with maple syrup and then smoke it with corncobs. It’s a very good combination,” says Sam Cutting IV, 54, owner of Dakin Farm in Ferrisburgh, Vermont. “Corncobs produce a sweet, delicate flavor that’s not as pungent as hardwood.”

In the Catskill Mountains, Waldemar Kozik, 54, carries on the tradition of his ancestors by smoking Polish kielbasas (sausages) and fish in a backyard kiln that he and a friend built at a family retreat near Glen Spey, New York.

“I never go to the store to buy gifts,” Kozik says. “I give my sausage and smoked meats to friends for Christmas presents.”

Age-old tradition

The holiday season is the busiest time of the year for commercial smokehouses. In Kentucky, Mahaffey sells most of her hams at Newsom’s Old Mill Store or via mail order in November and December.

Customers have been buying Newsom’s smoked country hams for their Thanksgiving dinners and as Christmas gifts for generations.

“One of the finest things I’ve ever laid on my tongue,” says Randy Oehmig, 70, of Crystal River, Florida, describing the smoked ham that his family has savored for 50 years. “The combination of the smoky flavor and saltiness is almost indescribable.”

In the early 1960s, Oehmig’s father Von and his three brothers went on a “ham hunt,” searching the nation for the best salt-cured country ham. After a few years, they settled upon Col. Bill Newsom’s Aged Kentucky Country Ham and the Oehmig family has ordered the smoky delicacy for holiday meals and gifts ever since.

“A lot of what we like to eat is from our heritage,” says Mahaffey, who built a smoldering fire in a newly built smokehouse in Princeton, Kentucky, this spring, preserving a culinary art and an age-old family tradition.

Secure meat storage
Once common in the United States, smokehouses were built of brick, logs, lumber or stone, and used to store meat after completion of the smoking process. Smokehouses often were padlocked to deter thieves.

American Profile Magazine, November 2, 2013

Good Food Award Charcuterie Winner ... 2011 TL
Good Food Award Charcuterie Winner ... 2011 TL



A nationwide celebration of good food the artisan way took place in San Francisco from mid-January through February. To launch the month-long event, the nation’s top artisan goods were singled out for the first ever Good Food Awards. Among the winners was Col. Bill Newsom’s Aged Hams of Princeton.

Nancy Mahaffey was on hand at the celebration in California on Friday evening, Jan. 14, when the awards were presented. Newsom’s Free Range Aged Ham was selected as charcuterie division winner for the southern region.

Mahaffey was among 71 artisan food producers from across the U.S. selected to receive Good Food Awards. There were 780 entries from every region of the country in competition for the awards.

The Good Food Awards honored the nation’s makers of high-quality chocolate, coffee, beer, cheese, charcuterie, pickles and preserves.

“It was truly an honor to be in San Francisco taking part in the Good Food Awards. There were many wonderful products highlighted,” Mahaffey said.

A part of the Seedling Project of San Francisco, the event recognized food artisans, who are preserving a way of life and environmentally compatible methods of production. “While it is unquestionably delicious, the food that they produce,” said Sarah Weiner of the Seedling Project, is “tied to communities and cultural traditions.”

Also, Weiner said, the food produced by the GFA winners is responsibly produced.

Mahaffey said that the program highlighted a national movement that she has also seen taking root from her retail store in Princeton. “It is not just with the product that I sell, but with the young gardeners who are buying seeds and plants for their own gardens, looking at quality and sustainability.”

Newsom’s ham is cured using a recipe that dates to a family will of the 1700s. The first member of the Princeton Newsom family had landed at Jamestown, Va., in 1642 and the venture began.

“The Indians were already here curing venison. Then the Spanish brought the pigs. The Newsoms have been curing hams ever since,” she said.

Ham curing has grown not just into a business, but a way of life, an art for Mahaffey as it was for her forbearers. All Newsom’s hams are ambient weather cured in limited numbers and nitrate free.

Weiner and her Seedling Projects team brought together a group of nationally renowned food producers, food writers, grocers, farmers and chefs to create the first Good Food Awards.

Among those who helped to organize and judge the event were Ruth Reichl, former editor of Gourmet magazine, Nell Newman of Newman’s Own, Paul Bertolli of Fra’ Mani, Alice Medrich, award-winning cookbook author, and Alice Waters, founder of Berkeley’s Chez Panisse and the Edible School-yard.

“It was a great pleasure to visit with Alice Waters again,” said Mahaffey. The two had connected by telephone a few years earlier to talk about the Princeton ham. They last met at a Slowfood Bluegrass event in which Mahaffey was paired with Chef Kathy Cary of Lilly’s in Louisville.

Also, while Mahaffey did not attend a couple of years earlier, Newsom’s Ham was included in the 2008 Slow Food Nation as part of the Taste Hall of Fame.

The Good Food Awards were an outgrowth of the Slow Food Nation extravaganza, where thousands of attendees made their way to the tasting pavilions at Fort Mason in San Francisco to sample some of the nation’s best foods.

Weiner said that the Good Food Awards lived up to her expectations on several levels — the quality of the food, the dedication of the artisan producers and the outpouring of food fans, who gave the winners their due.

“On Friday night, the fooderati of the Bay Area and beyond came out to thank them. It was standing room only after the hundreds of chairs were filled, and the applause when their names were announced reverberated all around the historic Ferry Building,” she wrote in her Seedlings Blog.

She also noted that thousands were drawn to the Good Food Awards Marketplace on Saturday to taste and buy.

The Good Food Awards, Weiner said, will raise the bar for the nation’s artisan food producers, just like the James Beard Awards have raised the bar for chefs.

The Good Food Month celebration continued in San Francisco through Feb. 20 with dozens of Bay Area events showcasing the breadth of the nation’s artisan food production.



...This article appeared in the Feb. 2, 2011 edition of the Times Leader newspaper in Princeton, Ky. ...

A Coming of Age: Ham and Bourbon at the Brown ... Jan. 2013 TL
A Coming of Age: Ham and Bourbon at the Brown ... Jan. 2013 TL

A new link from Princeton to Louisville was forged a couple of weeks ago when the smokehouse meats of Col. Bill Newsom’s Aged Kentucky Country Hams were featured on a special menu for a five-course “Ham and Bourbon” dinner at The Brown Hotel.

The event was held Jan. 11 in The English Grill at The Brown and featured ham curer Nancy Newsom Mahaffey’s products and the culinary creations of Chef Laurent Geroli.

A week before the dinner, Geroli, The Brown chef de cuisine James Wilfong, publicist Jamie Estes and Rachel Goldenberg of Estes Public Relations and food writer Steve Coomes made a visit to see the Princeton business and its owner firsthand.

The products sold locally and nationally by Newsom Mahaffey were paired with bourbons from Heaven Hill Distilleries. Newsom Mahaffey, owner of Col. Bill Newsom’s Aged Kentucky Hams and Newsom’s Old Mill Store, is the third generation owner of the Princeton business that started as the H.C. Newsom Store, a general store down by the old mill on Main Street.

Her grandfather opened the door to his store on Jan. 1, 1917. The formalization of the commercial ham business came when her father Col. Bill bowed to regulations of sales of hams from the family farm, requiring construction of a federally inspected facility in the 1960s.

She took on the family business in 1987 when the grocery store location, which remains vacant, was gutted by an overnight fire. Newsom Mahaffey had been working with her parents in the family business, but became the driving force behind the Old Mill Store and Col. Bill Newsom’s Aged Kentucky Hams when her father, already in his 70s, looked at the burned out store and at his daughter, who wanted to go on, and said, “All right then, you do it.” And, do it she did.

Newsom Mahaffey proceeded to delve into the retail business and to steep herself in the nuances of the aged ham business, which used a curing process that had been in her family since the 1700s. Through this venture, she has made the discovery, “That it is not people who make history, but history that makes people who they are.”

In those years since 1987, Newsom Mahaffey has continued the mercantile tradition begun by her grandfather, Hosea, and the ham curing tradition begun by her father, Bill. Newsom’s hams had attracted the attention of such celebrated chefs as James Beard and Julia Child.

The hams that Nancy crafts have earned her the name “The Ham Lady,” continued to be a staple of James Beard award winners and nominees across the country, gained her a place in Peter Kaminsky’s “Pig Perfect,” have been featured in numerous newspapers, magazines and books, and in 2009 earned her an invitation as the first American ham maker to attend the World Congress of Dry-Cured Ham in Aracena, Spain, where a Newsom’s ham was placed in the Jamon Musuem.

The business has come now, under her guidance, to another fork in the road with a small expansion planned to hold on to the parameters of the 300-year-old process, while adding the capacity to produce just a few more of the hams that chefs like Geroli want to give a try — just a few more to give those looking for that old ham flavor an opportunity to try the Newsom’s version.

Newsom Mahaffey said that many of those who seek out the ham have read about it in magazines, newspapers, blogs and webzines across the country. “We often find out about who has written about us from our customers and friends, who will tell us where they have seen an article or share a clipping.”

“Events like those at The Brown are a wonderful tribute for us,” said Newsom Mahaffey. “It is a real validation that we are holding on to those traditions, not just how we craft our hams, but service to the public as well, that have meant so much to each of us — my father and my grandfather before him.”

In the hotel promotions of the event, Estes wrote, “The world’s finest dry-cured hams will be the main attraction at the Brown Hotel on Friday, Jan. 11 at 7 p.m. when Col. Bill Newsom’s Aged Kentucky Country Ham and the English Grill present a one-of-a-kind 5-course dinner.

“Executive chef Laurent Geroli will highlight smokehouse aged country ham, bacon, sausage and prosciutto in a gourmet meal infused with Kentucky bourbon.

“Nancy Newsom Mahaffey, “the Ham Lady” and current owner-operator of Col. Bill Newsom’s Aged Kentucky Country Ham, will share the story of her grandfather’s 95-year-old, family-operated ham business at the event. The company gained notoriety as a favorite of the late James Beard. Mahaffey will talk about the ‘lost art’ of artisanal ham curing and explain how she uses a 300-year-old process to hand-craft country delicacies.”

The day for The Brown event started with two morning television programs. Newsom Mahaffey and Chef Geroli were featured — she talking about her historic business and store in Princeton and he cooking up a sample of the evening’s menu and discussing the dinner ahead at The English Grill.

Newsom Mahaffey and Geroli appeared live at 8:15 a.m on WDRB in the Morning and live at 9:15 a.m. on WHAS11’s Great Day Live.

“I really wasn’t looking forward to the television part of the day, but I did feel honored that they had chosen Newsom’s to highlight for this event.

“Everyone that we dealt with was so professional that they made the day go smoothly,” she said.

“Chef Geroli, chef Wiilfong, all the staff at The Brown, Jamie and Rachel were wonderful to work with.”

At The English Grill The dinner at the English Grill started at 7 p.m. The menu included: •Savory Bourbon Waffle with Newsom’s Smoked Cured Bacon Jam paired with Bourbon Eggnog, Evan Williams Bourbon and Eggnog •Newsom’s Smoked Sausage Po’ Boy with Pumpkin-Bourbon Mustard paired with Berhheim Sparkle, Bernheim Wheat and Sparkling Wine •Seared Grouper with Newsom’s Aged Country Ham Brown Butter, Whipped Parsnips, Honey-Bourbon Carrots paired with Cold Toddy, Larceny Bourbon, Honey and Lemon •Seared Filet Mignon with Truffled Cauliflower Puree, Fig Jam and Newsom’s  Dry Aged Prosciutto paired with Old Fashion Fig, Evan William Single Barrel, Fig Jam and Club Soda •Dessert: Newsom’s Smoked Cured Bacon-Chocolate Soufflé with Bourbon Anglaise paired with Elijah’s Coffee, Elijah Craig 12 year, Kahlua, Coffee and Bourbon Whipped Cream

With each course on the menu, Newsom Mahaffey spoke to the diners offering a course on Newsom’s and the ham curing business.

About the Brown Hotel

The Brown Hotel, located at Fourth and Broadway, has been a Louisville tradition since 1923. It is home to the AAA Four-Diamond English Grill and the casual venue J. Graham’s Café, where guests can try the legendary sandwich called the “Hot Brown.”

The Brown Hotel holds a AAA Four-Diamond rating, is a member of Preferred Hotels and Resorts and Historic Hotels of America and was recently named one of the world’s top 500 hotels by Travel + Leisure Magazine.

For more information on this luxury hotel, visit www.brownhotel.com or call (502) 583-1234. Follow the Brown Hotel on Facebook and Twitter.

About the Chef Geroli

Laurent Geroli was born and raised in Montreal, but his culinary career has taken him all over the U.S. and the Caribbean. He received his first taste of professional cooking when he was courted to work in his uncle’s catering business while still in high school. Geroli later accepted a job at the prestigious Four Seasons Hotel in Montreal.

With the appreciation for his talent growing in the restaurant world, his career allowed him to travel and work on sandy shores at various Club Med locations in the Caribbean and Mexico. Then the Ritz-Carlton took notice of the young chef. He worked in Ritz-Carlton hotels from St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, to Phoenix, Arizona to Montreal. Now with over 20 years of culinary experience, Geroli thrives by celebrating the cuisine he showcases at the award-winning Brown Hotel in Louisville, having thoroughly earned an esteemed position among Louisville chefs.

About the Bourbon

Heaven Hill Distilleries, Inc., is a private family-owned and operated distillery company headquartered in Bardstown that produces and markets the Heaven Hill brand of Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey and a variety of other distilled spirits.

Its current distillery facility, called the Heaven Hill Bernheim distillery, is in Louisville.

It is the seventh-largest alcohol supplier in the United States, the second-largest holder of bourbon whiskey in the world, the only remaining family-owned distillery in Kentucky (not counting the Brown-Forman Corporation, which is publicly traded but more than two-thirds family-controlled), and the largest independent family-owned and operated producer and marketer of distilled spirits in the United States.

WDRB, WHAS11 Weblinks for the television appearances are:

WDRB in the Morning: http://www.wdrb.com/story/20562415/bacon-lovers-rejoice-brown-hotels-newsoms-ham-bourbon-dinner

Great Day Live at WHAS11: http://www.whas11.com/great-day-live/video/Kentuckys-Ham-Lady-Brown-Hotel-Chef-Ham-it-Up-186477281.html

(This story appeared in the Princeton Times-Leader, Jan. 2013)

Pig Perfect by Peter Kaminsky 2005
Pig Perfect by Peter Kaminsky 2005

Holding to tradition requires a very large measure of faith, a certain level of tunnel vision, devotion to an ideal and the determination to be excellent. Nancy Newsom Mahaffey holds on to tradition. She is the third member of her family to serve as proprietor of a retail "general store," but the first to do so with a parallel operation using an internet storefront to span the worldwide web. The store is the framework, but the ham — what "the Ham Lady" does to pork — is the meat, the foundation and the sauce.

The Newsom family began to sell aged country ham out of the farm smokehouse. And, the market grew into a mail order business for hammaker Bill Newsom, Nancy's father. Along came new federal regulations to ship his products across state lines and Newsom did what had to be done with the facility to comply. However, as other ham producers learned the tricks of the quick cure trade, Bill stayed with the Newsom way...tradition — no nitrates, ambient curing with the weather and time enough to develop the flavor that food writer Peter Kaminsky was able to identify at a busy New York city restaurant operated by Chef Daniel Boulud, several state lines away from the small town of Princeton, Kentucky.

Kaminsky — whose interests and talents take him in many directions — has found himself on several occasions crossing the Newsom path, and in particular Nancy's, who is now the sole owner and proprietor of Col. Bill Newsom's Aged Kentucky Country Hams.

As the author of "Pig Perfect," the New York writer found himself on the trail of an adventure that took him across the south of the United States and then some, into the warrens of gourmets throughout the northeast and across the seas to Italy, Germany and Spain.

Kaminsky had a full introduction to Newsom's ham during a writing assignment for Food and Wine magazine and he gave full measure of acknowledgement to Nancy's efforts in his book. A chapter is written about her ham craft and other references are sprinkled throughout the book.

Kaminsky's story begins and ends not in chapters or pages, but for publishers and printers there must be a mechanics to it. The story is a quest.

And, so in chapter one, it begins..."Among the things I had hoped to accomplish in my life," he writes, "chauffeuring twenty-three pigs from Missouri to North Carolina was not one of them. But here we are, three men and a load of hogs barreling down the interstate that runs east out of Missouri into Tennessee. It is late afternoon in late summer, the prettiest light at the prettiest time of year."

Kaminsky was bound east with his load of Ossabaw Island hogs. And, in that journey east, he made a stop in Princeton parking the trailer of pigs in the shade of Nancy Mahaffey's back yard. Over a supper prepared in her kitchen, they talked about the hogs and curing traditions.

The quest for a perfect pig is told in Kaminsky's book and chapter two is about the hammaker's daughter. As he writes at the conclusion of chapter one: "Because I love ham so much, and because I love to travel, I set out on a journey in search of heavenly ham. Eight years ago, I tasted one in a small town in Kentucky. As I think back on it, that encounter really started me on my quest, transforming me from a casual ham tourist into a pork pilgrim. Proust had his madeleine. I had Newsom's country ham."

..........................................

This is chapter two..........

I was in Louisville, Kentucky, with time on my hands. Out of boredom, I picked up the city guide that the Mariott Hotel chain had considerately left for me. My attention was drawn to a picture of a fin de siecle dining roam — all oak paneling and Tiffany fixtured — at the Hotel Seelbach. The chef, Jim Gerhardt, had, according to the caption, cooked at the James Beard House in New York.

Beard was, literally, a giant of modern American gastronomy. He stood six feet seven and weighed three hundred pounds. He lived on West Twelfth Street in Grenwich VIllage. Since his death in 1985, his home has served as a dining club-cum-food shrine. When a chef is invited to cook there, it amounts to a culinary Good Housekeeping Seal of approval.

I telephoned the Seelbach.

Gerhardt wasn't available, but his second-in-command, Mike Cunha, took my call.

I introduced myself: "I'm a food writer from New York and I love country ham. I saw that you had cooked at the James Beard House, so I figured you were the guys who could tell me where I might find one."

"I have two in the refrigerator, so I suppose I could sell you one. Why don't you meet me at the hotel?"

"How much?" I inquired.

"How does fifty dollars sound?"

"Sold," I said, reflecting momentarily that to anyone listening in, my ham purchase was going down like a dope deal. But the ham, Colonel Bill Newsom's country ham, turned out to be so good that a few slices served in the editor's office at Food & Wine magazine got me an assignment to visit Princeton, Kentucky, where the Newsom family make their hams, and where the current ham maker in chief, Nancy Newsom, has a country store, the kind where you can buy sausage, fruit, brooms, candy sticks, and laundry soap.

I had no idea where Princeton, Kentucky, was, but I assumed it was near Louisville. Gerhardt met me at the airport, and informed me that Princeton was two hundred and some miles down the road. "Not far from Paducah," he added by way of clarification, which would have cleared things up had I known where Paducah was.

"If you're going to build a menu based on the specialties of this region, which is what we are trying to do," Gerhardt observed on the drive, "you can't find anything more basic or special than a traditional country ham."

As a fellow ham idolater, I understood his enthusiasm. A country ham, full of the complex flavors developed in the course of aging, is one of the glories of American cuisine. Actually, "faded glories" would be more accurate, because the days of the small farmer or service-station owner having a few home-cured hams to sell are pretty much gone. So are the "real" Smithfield hams that once upon a time were fattened on peanuts and left to hang for a year. Today, by Virginia statute, "Genuine Smithfield hams are hereby defined to be hams processed, treated, smoked, aged, cured by the long-cure, dry salt method of cure and aged for a minimum period of six months; such six-month period to commence when the green pork cut is first introduced to dry salt, all such salting, processing, treating, smoking, curing and aging to be done within the corporate limits of the town of Smithfield, Virginia." Six months, in my opinion, is barely — actually not even close to — enough time to make a great ham.

Also gone, it would seem, are all the hog farmers in eastern North Carolina who used to hog down their peanut fields (i.e., let their pigs out in the fields to finish the harvest of nuts and greens). A hundred phone calls had turned up exactly zero farmers who fed their pigs the old-fashioned way.

Nearly seventy years ago, Rex Stout wrote "Too Many Cooks," a murder mystery in the course of which his hero, detective/gourmet/orchid fancier Nero Wolfe, delivers an address to a convocation of chefs. His subject: the contribution of the Americas to haute cuisine. Country ham tops his list.

The indescribable flavor of the finest of Georgia hams, the quality of which places them in my opinion definitely above the best to be found in Europe, is not due to the post-mortem treatment of the flesh at all. Expert knowledge and tender care in curing are indeed essential. They are found in Czestochowa and Westphalia more frequently than in Georgia. Poles and Westphalians have the pigs, the scholarship, and the skill; what they do not have is peanuts. A pig whose diet is 50 to 70 percent peanut grows a ham of incredibly sweet and delicate succulence, which well-cured, well-kept, well-cooked will take precedence over any other ham in the world.

You would have thought, with the dining revolution in America, that such country hams would have become a high-ticket gourmet item in the way that Spanish serrano and Italian Parma hams have. Despite the fact that all three are made from, at best, feed-lot pigs, and more often the inmates of confinement operations, long-cured domestic hams are less available in the American market than are their foreign counterparts. The peanut crop, once the prime source of pig nutrition, is now destined for human or beef-cattle consumption.

But even more significant than the change in the pig's diet, Americans associate ham with fat, so I think the psychological calculus runs as follows: "If I am going to sin and eat a pork product, it might as well be European because that effete and decadent continent is more likely to produce a really sinful sin." In other words, if Americans are going to eat pork, their premium hams will come from abroad but their day-to-day pork will be the conventional lean pork—i.e., as dry as bones—that the industry has put forward to counter the unjustified, bad-cholesterol rap of pork. I say unjustified because where the fat of grain-fed beef is rarely more than 40 percent heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, free-range pork, finished on a diet of acorns and grasses, can have up to 55 percent monounsaturated fat. Such fats, also found in olive oil, help raise the HDL (good cholesterol) and lower the LDL (bad cholesterol).

The American food writer James Villas wrote a piece in Esquire in the mid-seventies ("Cry, the Beloved Country Ham") that first piqued my interest in learning more about long-cured country ham. In that article, he sounded an alarm that proved to be false in one aspect but true in its overall perspective. It was his feeling that American country hams were so good (they were) that the FDA and the big meat companies would find a way to put the small producers out of business and appropriate the name "country ham" for a high-priced, third-rate product.

The description he gave of ham making in that article tells the story of the way things were for this spectacular regional product.

In the old days the diet of most hogs included plenty of milk and if possible peanuts for soft texture, and lots of table scraps for flavor, hence the expression “slopping the hogs." Depending on locations and temperatures, animals are generally butchered during the first cold spell, around November and never before. Once processed the huge hams are hung bone side down for at least 24 hours, to allow the meat to drain and cool. If the weather remains cold fine, if not the shanks are wrapped in brown paper for protection against flies or spoilage causing skippers (insect eggs).

After this initial procedure, the hams are taken down, packed in a salt cure, which might have included other ingredients such as sugar, black pepper or mustard, and left for about a month at temperatures ranging from 28 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Then they are soaked in water, hung up again to dry, rubbed in pepper or wrapped to ensure further protection against vermin and insects, and smoked 4 or 5 days over slow burning hickory chips, before being left to hang in a barn or storage room to age under natural or atmospheric conditions for not less than a year.

Country ham makers still follow the same steps but with a more compressed narrative. They start with leaner pigs, usually from a factory farm. The green ham (fresh and uncured) has less fat than an old-fashioned porker, which means it cannot age as long as ham did in the old days; it will dry out before the flavors mature. As for the danger that Villas foresaw of the big players in meatpacking horning in on the gourmet market, this never happened. Long-cured ham is something the accelerated factory-to supermarket system cannot afford time-wise. Filling the vacuum left by the lack of country ham, prosciutto, and, more recently, serrano hams have captured the premium-ham niche quite effectively.

There are fewer American ham makers now than there were in 1974 when Villas wrote, and their hams are rarely aged as long as they used to be. Smithfield, a name that once meant hams made from pigs raised on peanuts and hung for a year and a day, now means neither of those things, and the fine old Smithfield Company has the biggest operation in the country of environmentally ruinous hog factories.

Newsom's and a few other traditionalists who have found their way into the gourmet back eddies of food culture still exist, but barely so. We Americans have not been raised to treasure ham as the elite food that the Spaniards feel it to be. Where a first-rate jamon iberico de puro bellota (Iberian ham from acorn-fed pigs) might fetch $300 from a public of educated and passionate consumers in Spain, hams such as Newsom's will fetch, at most, $59.95. Iberian ham, as of this writing, cannot be imported into the United States because the immaculate and hygienic Spanish slaughterhouses that I visited were not built according to USDA standards. That Newsom's makes its ham without adding nitrates, a preservative that the USDA requires unless the maker can meet very stringent conditions, and the fact that their hams can age so long, make them both remarkable and delectable, which is how the Hotel Seelbach chef, Jim Gerhardt, came upon them.

"We were tasting as many Kentucky hams as we could. Newsom's flavor profile knocked me out [it is cured only with salt, sugar, and hickory smoke — no pepper, no added nitrites]," Jim remembered. "I called Nancy Newsom and she said, ‘You know we have always sold a lot of our hams in New York and California, but we don't get as much call for them in Kentucky."'

"Why is that?" Gerhardt asked.

"Twenty years ago, a chef came from New York on a ham-tasting tour. He said ours was the best he'd ever tasted and he began to order them and so did his friends."

"What was his name?"

"Beard . . . James Beard," Newsom replied. It was a sufficient second opinion for Gerhardt.

When we arrived at Newsom's store in the pretty little town of Princeton, Nancy, a beautiful dark-haired woman with a quick laugh and a friendly drawl, ushered us in and led us behind the meat counter and into the back room for "a vertical ham tasting." Assisted by Eddie Thompson, who had boned and sliced the store's hams for thirty-seven years, we tried hams that had been aged ten, fourteen, eighteen, and twenty-two months. I had never eaten such old hams; in fact, I had been told that they were impossible to produce because the meat would become too dry and hard. But the Newsom ham house sits near swampy low ground, which accounts for a providential amount of humidity that keeps the hams moist for longer periods of time. All of the hams Nancy offered us were good, but the oldest ham had a complexity of flavor that stood out from the rest.

Having whetted our appetites, we piled into Nancy's pickup and drove to a shady street where lunch awaited at her parents' home. Her mom, Jane, welcomed us in the soft, lilting accent of her native Mississippi. Her dad, Colonel Bill (do something noteworthy in Kentucky and they make you a colonel), was in the kitchen frying up the ham and making redeye gravy.

"You fry the ham steaks till the fat is clear," the tall and lanky old man explained. His chiseled features reminded me of the New Hampshire cliff known as "the Old Man of the Mountain." “Then you add coffee and flour for thickening to make the redeye."

Though simple in the making, in its taste, redeye gravy (so named for the "eyes" of fat that form when dark coffee is added to the pan drippings) is a very sophisticated sauce. The burnt bitterness of the coffee exactly counterbalances the saltiness and fattiness of the meat. It probably doesn't need thickening, but in the South, thickening sauces with flour is an article of faith.

When Colonel Bill had finished his preparations, we adjourned to the dining room, where lunch was laid out on a serving table in a sun filled nook. The light was diffused through sheer white curtains; the full bowls and platters steamed; the blue of the china plates stood out against the lace tablecloth. Along with the ham and redeye gravy, we ate crisp and tart fried green tomatoes, Sevin top turnip greens (a local variety), sliced sweet onions, and buttermilk biscuits covered with spoonfuls of sweet and flowery-smelling sorghum molasses.

"I suppose you'll want to see the ham house," Colonel Bill said by way of signaling the end of the meal. We followed him through the backyard to what Nancy referred to as his ham “treasury," a building the size of a large garage.

"I was in France during the war," he said to me as we walked. "Saw Europe. Best time of my life." I took his confidential tone to mean that he had raised some hell back then. It was the first of three opportunities he took to share this information. He must have had a really nice time.

We entered the smokehouse. From floor to ceiling, the dimly lit, ghostly room — as still as a choir loft in an abandoned church — was filled with hams, two thousand of them. Like the foam on rows of beer steins filled to overflowing, golden-white and blue molds clung to the hams. The cascade of molds reminded me of a limestone cave, cool and silent, full of stalactites. You find such chambers all through the valleys of the Midwest. Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher lost their way in one.

Colonel Bill spoke, not so much breaking the spell as carrying it forward as he explained his ham-making process. In late winter, he said, the hogs are slaughtered and the fresh hams are cured in salt. They are smoked in the spring. The critical steps in their maturation come with "the July sweats," when, during the hot months, the flesh of the ham expands into the outer covering of mold. In the winter, the meat contracts, drawing with it taste-enhancing enzymes.

Interestingly, the other jewel of the Kentucky table, bourbon, relies in similar fashion on the seasons of hot and cold. In the summer, the maturing bourbon mingles with the charred inner layer of the oak aging barrels. Then, in the winter, liquid is drawn back through the charcoal, carrying notes of woodiness and a smooth smokiness.

Gerhardt and I took a ham from the rack and inhaled deeply, almost reverently. Colonel Bill stepped forward, as did Nancy. We smiled at the camera that Mike pointed at us. I still have the picture.

The rows of moldy hams, fading off into misty blackness; the smoky wisps from the dying hickory fire; the gaunt old man — it looked like a waiting room for the afterlife.

That was eight years ago. Nancy, now the only woman colonel in the ham business, has divorced and goes by Nancy Newsom Mahaffey. Colonel Bill has since passed on. Eddie Thompson too. As Nancy put it, "I was with him to give him a kiss good-bye when he went to meet the angels." She comes up with these sayings as her natural way of speaking. Old-fashioned, of the country, personal. As for her hams, to this day, they set the bar for America. In Spain, her hams would be a million-dollar business. Here she just gets by.

I get the sense with Nancy and her hams, as with so many artisanal producers, that if the traditionalists can stay afloat and hang on for a few years, the growing movement for quality food will stabilize their businesses. In much the same way, the top restaurants in France have helped the smallest and oldest cheese makers manage to remain afloat.

If the Nancy Newsoms of the world go under, in five or ten years, some true ham believer who has just graduated from culinary school is going to set up his or her own business, painstakingly re gathering the knowledge that the Newsoms have had for generations.

We are at a point in culinary history where the promise of a return to the old ways needs to be preserved. Soon the old masters will be gone and, like students of a dead language, we will have to reacquire their knowledge all over again.

Perhaps you cannot see such tradition, but you can surely taste it and feel it. During a meal late last year with my friend Pascal Vittu, an expert in traditional French cheese making, I served him a few slices of Newsom's ham. With it, we savored an Epoisses cheese that smelled like old socks. With fresh-baked crusty bread and a chilled albarino, we were adrift in a haze of well-fed well-being.

"My teacher Bernard knows where we can get spectacular ham in France," he said. "There's this cheese maker near Burgundy . . ."

I had heard enough. The promise of great ham, French cheese, and Burgundy on its home turf: I couldn't think of three better reasons for a trip. I did not know it at the time, but it was Pascal's invitation that marked the beginning of a yearlong pork pilgrimage.

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This chapter is reprinted here with the author's permission.

Pig Perfect...... Encounters with Remarkable Swine and Some Great Ways to Cook Them by Peter Kaminsky published by Hyperion released May 2005

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For additional information about Peter Kaminsky see the Chefs Page on this site.

Fancy Food Show Speaker 05/KCRW Good Food Interview
Fancy Food Show Speaker 05/KCRW Good Food Interview

Col. Nancy Newsom’s Kentucky Ham

Is Keeping Some "Fancy" Company



Aug. 17, 2005 — The Times Leader Princeton, Ky.

A Princeton businesswoman has seen the spotlight rising on her unique enterprise during the past two years.

Newsom’s Aged Kentucky Ham has been featured in a new book being released across the country. The book is “Pig Perfect” by New York Times outdoor writer and food columnist Peter Kaminsky.

Owner/ham producer Nancy Newsom Mahaffey was recently interviewed and featured on a food show broadcast by KCRW radio in California. Her aged hams have been touted by several chefs, restaurants and catering companies across the nation, and featured by food writers for magazines and newspapers such as the New York Times, Executive Chef and the Snail. And, just five short weeks ago, “the Ham Lady,” as Mahaffey was named a couple of years earlier by the Wall Street Journal, was a guest expert speaker on an educational panel at 51st annual Fancy Food Show in New York City.

Col. Nancy Newsom Mahaffey’s aged ham was keeping some “fancy” company at the show. She was invited to appear with her ham at the event which drew several thousand visitors to the Jacob Javits Convention Center, July 10-12.

“This is truly an honor to be flown to New York to appear on the program for this food show. I have always said that I would like to take my ham to the show someday, but had never seen it as something that my business could afford, And, here it is the second time in the past two years that my ham has been featured at events in the Javits Center by invitation,” Nancy said.

Invited as a specialist in the field of aged country ham and prosciutto ham, Mahaffey was tapped as a national expert ham producer appearing in a guided tasting that focused on the artisan, dry-cure of Newsom’s ham and hams like it.

Following the speaking engagement at New York, Nancy appeared on the radio show “Good Food” broadcast on KCRW radio in Santa Monica, Cal. Noted chef, restaurateur and show host Evan Kleiman introduced Nancy’s aged hams, traditions and expertise to her audience of food fanciers.

Kleiman, who tested the ham as an internet customer before making contact with the store, called Nancy the ham goddess of good taste.

She asked that question that many who find the ham are curious to know. "Do you have an apprentice? Is there someone to carry on?" Nancy replied, "Well, yes, sort of, he just doesn't know it yet."

Newsom’s ham has been gaining recognition by food writers and chefs across the nation as a truly traditional product — artisan in nature.

The ham takes a prominent place in Kaminsky’s book which entails a seven-year study of pork, aged, rare and exotic hams as he travels the world over in search of the perfect pig.

Kaminsky devoted a chapter of his book to the Princeton ham producer and makes reference to Newsom’s ham throughout the work.

A story produced for Food and Wine magazine several years earlier sparked the idea and began the quest that took Kaminsky throughout the south to every haven of prized country ham and across the ocean to the Mediterranean, Italy, Spain and the Black Forest region of Germany.

He explored the way pigs grow and, of course, the way that their meat is cured.

Kaminsky states that Newsom’s ham “sets the bar for American standards” of aged ham quality and flavor.” Newsom said that the book has been a wonderful validation of her efforts to keep the tradition and artisanship in the product that comes from her smokehouse.

“I don’t know if it is the equivalent of being discovered by James Beard, who has been recognized as the father of gourmet cooking in the U.S., but it is certainly a milestone of recognition for our business,” Nancy said.

Beard found Newsom’s in 1976, wrote about the Colonel’s ham and people across the nation started ordering as the beginning of mail order business.

The ham was recently featured in an article in Gourmet magazine, Nancy has been interviewed by Men’s Vogue and the Executive Chef. Also, Newsom’s ham was included in the New York Times with two recent restaurant features and has been interviewed for upcoming articles.

The ham process stays true to tradition. That is one constant that must remain in the business, Nancy says, but the nature of the marketing and her own growing role as an expert speaker in demand have changed. “It’s been evolving. It has to evolve not to be swallowed up in the slow pace of our small town economy,” said Nancy.

The market has grown to include the internet and the mail order season has extended. The hams are still all given individual attention and hang for several months before considered ready for a table.

What’s next? Well, it’s getting close to ham harvest time — that’s exciting. And, Nancy has been contacted by yet another national attraction arranging a lineup of experts to speak about food traditions and Col. Newsom’s aged Kentucky hams.

And so, the story goes…

Epcot International Food & Wine Festival 2005
Epcot International Food & Wine Festival 2005

Ham producer Nancy Newsom Mahaffey is an artisan — a traditionalist in a world that is coming to value the genuine article more and more.

Nancy achieved a long-held wish of attending the Fancy Food Show in 2005, taking her ham to New York not in a booth exhibit, but as a featured part of a panel program about aged hams.

Then in the fall, Nancy achieved another milestone as a speaker about artisan foods at the Epcot Center International Food & Wine Show at Disney World in Orlando. The topic, of course, her aged ham.

Pride of Princeton ... the country’s choice for ham ... Louisville Magazine 2009
Pride of Princeton ... the country’s choice for ham ... Louisville Magazine 2009

By Josh Moss, Staff Writer, Louisville Magazine, April 2009 edition

The phone is ringing inside Newsom’s Old Mill Store. It’s a nippy February morning and somebody, somewhere, wants Col. Bill Newsom’s county ham, which is a common request for Nancy Newsom-Mahaffey to get. She’s used to the calls. “What country are you from?” she asks the man on the other end, the slightest drawl creeping into her voice. “Oh, OK, you’re in Hawaii.” Turns out the man used to live in Kentucky and tasted a country ham in the 1950s. His palate has missed the flavor ever since, but he heard about Newsom’s ham in Princeton, Ky., a small town more than 150 miles southwest of Louisville (and more than 4,000 miles from Hawaii), and hopes to find what he’s searched for decades to find. “You came to the right place,” Mahaffey, the “Ham Lady,” says. “I think that you’ll find that this ham has an old-fashioned flavor.”

The 53-year-old Mahaffey — who kept her married name even after her 23-year marriage ended in 1999 — is a kind, introspective woman who writes poetry about nature and has warm eyes the color of maple syrup. Her thick, dark hair covers her ears, and she smokes Doral cigarettes. When having a conversation, she’ll give your biceps the gentlest squeeze. She’s been running things since 1987, and her products are as popular as ever. There are country hams and prosciuttos and a barbecued version known as a “preacher ham.” Mahaffey sells about 3,000 hams annually, two-thirds of which go out in November and December. She starts praying in October. “I don’t make a lot of money, but it’s enough for a comfortable living for me,” she says. Out of the six figures the business pulls in, she keeps five digits.

In which states can you find her hams? “All of ’em,” she says. And recently, she shipped to Belgium, Canada and Puerto Rico and, last Thanksgiving, to a soldier in Iraq. The ham has quite the reputation. A decade before the 1985 death of famous American chef and food writer James Beard, whom many consider the father of American-style cooking, he praised Newsom’s ham in American Airlines magazine, helping to spread the word. Countless stores have been published since. In Peter Kaminsky’s book Pig Perfect, he devotes the second chapter to Newsom’s, saying, “As for hams, to this day, they set the bar for America.”

“We’re very much an enigma; we’re in it for tradition and integrity,” Mahaffey says. “Maybe we do set the standard for American ham.”

“It has a great reputation in the industry,” says Candace Cansler, executive director of the National Country Ham Producers Association. Some of Louisville’s best chefs have taken notice. Jim Gerhardt, the first Kentucky chef to use Newsom’s, recently returned to the executive chef position at the Seelbach Hilton’s Oakroom. Back in 1996, he was traveling the state looking for high-quality foods for the Oakroom’s menu. He came across Newsom’s. “It’s the best I’ve ever tried,” Gerhardt says.

It was Gerhardt who turned Mark Williams, Brown-Forman’s executive chef, onto Newsom’s. “It always blows my mind talking to (Mahaffey). She’ll say, ‘Oh, it’s going OK. We’re getting ready to be busy because Bon Appetit just named us the best ham in the world. And Bobby keeps calling.’ I’ll say, ‘Bobby who?’ And she’ll say, ‘Bobby Flay,’” Williams says, referring to the celebrity chef. “It just floors you when you talk to her because she’s so down to earth, and it’s such a small operation she runs.”

On Inauguration Day, Proof on Main’s head chef, Michael Paley, was in Washington, D.C., for the Kentucky Society of Washington’s Bluegrass Ball. He created dishes with Kentucky products such as bourbon, bison and fish. The menu also included Newsom’s ham.

The curing process has been in the Newsom family for centuries. Originally from England, Mahaffey’s ancestors arrived on the Virginia shores in the mid-1600s. By the late 1700s, on a 1,600 Revolutionary War land grant, they moved to Kentucky on the Caldwell-Christian County line. “My family has always been a family of workers. I think that goes back to their pioneer days,” Mahaffey says. “You couldn’t be a pioneer and travel as far as they traveled and not be gutsy.”

In 1917 her grandfather, H.C. Newsom, opened a general store that sold pickles, glassware, crackers in barrels, garden seeds, fresh produce and a few hams. “Everybody cued their own hams back then,” Mahaffey says. “That’s just what you did.” Today Newsom’s Old Mill Store is in the same set of buildings as her grandfather’s original. It’s a three-story structure from the 1850s that produced Civil War uniforms and, later, flour. The old mill equipment, dusty and out of action, still occupies the top two levels, which Mahaffey has considered converting into a museum.

The bottom floor is where she runs her operation. Hundreds of jarred items — jalapeno-stuffed olives, sweet onion pasta sauce, peach salsa, cherry cobbler — from mostly Kentucky vendors pack the shelves. There are handmade brooms and books with titles such as Cooking With the Horse and Buggy People. A meat counter remains busy throughout the day. In the back, there are areas where workers can clean and box up hams and send them around the world.

During breaks, two of her three full-time employees — that number increases to, say, seven around Christmastime to help assemble gift baskets — sit at a table near a front window and smoke cigarettes and reat the Times Leader or the Cadiz Record. Lonnie Robinson, a 51-year-old with big eyeglasses has been working in the store for more than 30 ears. “Our ham is not one that has any chemicals,” he says. “It’s just brown sugar and salt, just like they did a long time ago.”

Mahaffey’s grandfather died in 1933, and her dad, Col. Bill Newsom, then just 18, took over. He and his wife eventually turned it into a full-scale mom-and-pop grocery. Nancy and her brother, more than eight years her senior, grew up in a Cape Cod-style home nearby, where her 92-year-old mother lives today. Since 1963, the ham house has been in the back yard. Sometime over the years, Mahaffey says, her father, who died of Parkinson’s disease in 1999, perfected the ham-curing process. “My father came in and smelled like the smoke from the ham house. He smelled like that all the time,” she says. “He used to say the dogs loved him.”

The method she uses today is the same as it’s always been. Mahaffey won’t reveal which states ship hams to Princeton, but once they do, usually in January and February, Newsom’s applies a brown sugar-and-salt seasoning a few times. After spending some time absorbing the rub — “I’d rather not say how long,” she says — the next major step takes place in the hanging house behind a padlocked door. Nails on wooden stanchions hold thousands of hams. Mahaffey burns green hickory in an iron kettle several different times to fill the room with smoke. A mold eventually forms on each ham’s surface. “It fives it a more distinct flavor. It has more of an aged, pungent, musty flavor that comes from molds,” she says. “Each ham house has its own mold. A lot of commercial curers don’t like for mold to be on their hams.”

The entire process takes months, years even. “Whatever weather is happening outside, it affects my hams inside the ham house,” she says. Mahaffey won’t even sell a ham if it has not aged at least 10 months. (“That’s unheard of,” says Brown-Forman’s Williams.) Some hams remain in the hanging house for two years of longer. No artificial nitrates speed up the process. And, of course, a couple of tricks are confidential. “Military secrets,” she says.

“They’re one of the few hams that do the very old aging,” says Edward Lee, 610 Magnolia’s head chef. “Most of the country hams that you see do a very short cure, maybe a couple of months. Newsom’s is the only on I know that does a longer cure. It gets nuttier and saltier; it becomes much more complex. There’s many more layers of flavor. It’s the best in Kentucky, but, really, probably one of the best — if not the best — in the country.”

Lilly’s chef-owner, Kathy Cary, has been serving Newsom’s for 15 years. “You’re not rushing anything,” she says. “It’s doing it the old, ‘slow food’ way — they way it should be done.”

By age 19, Mahaffey was married and, a few years later, was raising two kids, now grown with children of their own. Her dad always worked her brother hard and never planned for his daughter to run things. “Dad wanted me to be a secretary,” she says. “I almost turned my head, put a finger in my mouth and gagged. It definitely wasn’t a Newsom man’s plan for his daughter to take over.” By her early 20s, though, Mahaffey was doing mail-orders by hand. “I can remember being pregnant with my first child doing that,” she said. At 26, she was working next to the men in the ham house.

Behind her father’s back, she calculated proportions of brown sugar and salt and took mental notes about the length of time each ham spent in the handing house. “I didn’t want him to think I thought he was ready to drop dead,” she says. “But somebody needed to know something about the hams if something happened to him.” Then in October 1987, an electrical fire destroyed the grocery. A picture of a flute-playing pig standing in a garden was one of the few items that survived the flames. “Dad said, ‘I’m done.’ I said, ‘Well we’re gonna have to open up somewhere because we have a full ham house of hams that aren’t sold yet.’ He told me to do it. And I did.” Though the grocery never reopened, Mahaffey’s been in charge of he hams and the general store, which she started next to the original location, ever since.

“Dealing with ham, it’s just an intuitive ability,” she says. “It has a lot to do with being connected to nature and being connected to weather. I’ll guess I’ll just say this: There’s more to the gene pool than we know.” And she never considered reworking the formula, though a minor expansion is in the pipeline. “I’ve stayed with the natural process because it wasn’t broken; it didn’t need fixing. I realized years ago that it was going to be a lost art.”

Mahaffey is in the back of the general store, where an employee is cleaning a 27-month-old, barley-fed, free-range ham that he’ll ship to food writer Peter Kaminsky in New York. Mahaffey still considers him a dear friend. The old wooden floor sags a little when you walk on it, and it’s so cold you can see your breath. Her son John, whom she calls John Boy, heads back to ask a question about the hanging house. He’s 28 years old with shaggy hair and a stocky build. He can pretty much do whatever needs to be done around this place. “If something were to happen to me,” Mahaffey says, “John would be ready to take over.” Which is something she hopes her son will do because the business would remain in the family. Besides, in the future she still thinks it will be viable enough for him to raise a family.

“My father used to say, ‘People are not stupid. They will come around.” There are people now looking for a flavor they’ve been looking for for years,” she says. “And they don’t find it until they find people like — I’m not saying I’m the only one out there — but find people like us.”

(Pictured above are Nancy Newsom Mahaffey and her son, John Mahaffey.)

A Quest to Taste Kentucky's Best ... Kentucky Monthly 2012
A Quest to Taste Kentucky's Best ... Kentucky Monthly 2012

Caldwell County Boasts Newsom's Kentucky Cured Country Ham



By Dana McMahan

When H.C. Newsom started selling country items in his Caldwell County general store, the United States was poised to enter World War I and Woodrow Wilson was president.

H.C. died young, and the business passed to his 18-year-old son, Bill, who ran the store and gained the attention of famed chef James Beard in the 1970s, which led to Colonel Newsom's Aged Country Ham expanding to a mail-order business that still thrives under the direction of his daughter, Nancy Newsom Mahaffey, who is affectionately known far and wide as "The Ham Lady."

That's the brief tale. The real story extends back to 1642, when the Newsom family arrived in Virginia from England and first began curing hams. "The process has changed little since the 1700s, when salt and brown sugar were used together in what was called the sugar-cured method," Nancy says. "By today's standards, people would think 'honey-baked.' "

Beard, beginning in 1975, used Newsom's hams and wrote about them often, giving Newsom's the credibility needed to succeed. In 2009, the company was invited to participate in the fifth World Congress of Dry Cured Hams in Aracena, Spain, and is the only U.S. ham displayed in the Jamon Museum (in Spain).

"We are the smallest national ham-curing business left and the only one using the old-fashioned methods -- using just salt and brown sugar and hickory smoke," Nancy says. "Our process was born before nitrates were even discovered."

There is also no climate control used. "It's true: The hotter the summer, the better the ham," she adds.

This year's batch is bound to be good.

October 2012--Kentucky Monthly

Country Ham: Move over, prosciutto ... Fine Cooking 2013
Country Ham: Move over, prosciutto ... Fine Cooking 2013

By Matt Lee and Ted Lee

A country ham is a wonderful thing: the hind leg of a pic, cured in salt, brown sugar, and seasonings, often ( but not always) smoked, then left to age in a dry environment for months. During that time, the meat loses up to a quarter of its weight from evaporated moisture, resulting in a transcendently delicious, rosy ham that's super-concentrated, buttery, slightly gamey, and very salty. It has more in common with Italian prosciutto than with city ham, the pink supermarket staple familiar to most Americans. City ham is cured in brine -- a totally different process, resulting in a totally different product.

A seasonal southern tradition . . .

Country ham is the original American ham, dating back to the days of the Virginia colonies. Ham curing was undertaken to preserve pork over long periods. Pigs were slaughtered in the winter when the cold would help preserve the meat as it cured. The hams were then hung to age throughout the summer months -- warm weather is thought to deepen their flavor. (It also causes mold growth, but the mold is totally harmless.)

Most country ham is still seasonal. Every year in October and November, a fresh crop of hams comes on the market. Later in the year, longer-aged hams start becoming available, but generally the smaller ones, a diminutive 12 pounds or so, are snatched up early. By the following September, it can be hard to find a whole ham smaller than 18 pounds. Modern ham producers can control for temperature to avoid that cycle, but many of our favorites still do things the old-fashioned way and keep roughly to this schedule.

It's traditions like that as well as other regional nuances that differentiate the many country hams When you eat a country ham, you're tasting the variety of the pig, the feed it was raised on (for example, Smithfield hams from Smithfield, Virginia, historically were raised exclusively on peanuts, and often still are), and the particulars of the curing process: the ingredients in the cure, the duration of smoking (if any), the atmospheric conditions, and the length of aging. Discussions of the ham "terroir" -- similar to those that accompany the appreciation of fine wines, chocolate, and coffee -- are not uncommon among aficionados.

Cooking is optional. . .

In the South, the traditional preparation of a whole country ham for the dinner table is a days-long production. It requires scrubbing the innocuous mold off, sooting the ham in cold water for a day or two, simmering on the stovetop for several hours, and finally baking it with a glaze. Such a ham is thinly carved and paired on the plate with a piquant relish or chutney to offset the salt for holiday meals, or tucked into buttermilk biscuits for festive cocktail hours.

In recent years, however, we've started to look to European ways with dry-cured hams; we're just as likely to eat it uncooked and sliced paper-thin, appreciating its intense saltiness, minerality, and creamy fat. And we've seen chefs serve a tasting plate of different country hams so diners can compare and savor their various flavors.

Along with this more broad-based appreciation have come creative uses in the kitchen. We love to use country ham in place of bacon or pancetta in egg or pasta dishes (like linguine). We also like playing around with preparations that honor the ham's down-home roots -- a boldly flavorful ham relish for spreading on crackers or sandwiches or a cheesy spoonbread made with grits. Whether it's being served as an artisanal treat or a country tradition, we're just glad to see this once-humble ham high on the hog.

Newsom's Country Ham is one of four country hams that the Lee Brothers say that they like and would recommend for Fine Cooking readers to try. Newsom's Country Ham: These hickory-smoked Kentucky hams boast an all-natural, nitrite- and nitrate-free cure of salt and brown sugar. Aging for around a year creates a mellow ham with a distinctly ruby color that lends itself well to baking.





Fine Cooking April/May 2013

Newsom's invited to 5th World Congress of Dry Cured Hams ... May 2009
Newsom's invited to 5th World Congress of Dry Cured Hams ... May 2009

The “Pride of Princeton” will be in Spain next week representing the United States at the 5th World Congress of Dry Cured Hams. Newsom’s Aged Kentucky Country Ham is already enroute and the Princeton woman who masters the cure will be joining her product on the European continent in a couple of days.

Nancy Mahaffey, known nationally and soon to be internationally as “the Ham Lady,” said that she is “truly honored” to be the first American ham producer to participate in the congress.

If there were to be a mecca for dry cured hams, it would be in Spain, and “to be invited by the organizers of the congress to attend the event is the ultimate recognition.” The congress will be held at Aracena, Spain, in a region known for its production of much-in-demand “Jamon.”

Mahaffey said that Aracena is a small city, about the size of Princeton, tucked in an area of Spain near the sea and highly prized for tourism.

The congress will include several varieties of Spanish hams, also hams from France, Germany, England, Italy, China and, now, country ham from the U.S.

It is not a competition. The congress deals with scientific developments and research about ham production. There are also cultural and social presentations that surround the art of dry curing ham.

As she eyes the trip to Spain, Mahaffey notes that the path to this part of the journey has had many pitfalls, but rewards that far outweigh the struggles.

A set of photos found tucked away in a storage box, as she searched for her passport, document one of those milestones in the Newsom journey. The pictures show a burned out storefront on East Main Street, two doors west of the main entrance to the Old Mill Store. One of the photos shows some pots of chrysanthemums that Mahaffey had set in a tribute before the gaping hole that had been her family’s grocery store.

“I had set the flowers there as a remembrance, but, someone came along and asked ‘Are they for sale?’ — And, so I sold them, and the next group and the next, until there was absolutely no question about whether or not the business would go on.

“The people of Princeton came in to support us, and we have built on that support. We treasure it,” Mahaffey declared. “It’s a wonderful thing to me, as a ham producer — one committed to a tradition that has vanished in many areas — to be able to take my product, my family’s heritage, to an international event like this. But I know, as I have heard already from so many of my friends and customers, that I am taking the goodwill of Princeton with me.”

Mahaffey said that during the conference the country hams cured in Princeton will be the subject of a powerpoint presentation. The presenter will be New York Times columnist Harold McGee.

The conference in Spain is the third recent notoriety for Newsom’s ham.

In the May edition of Bon Apetit Newsom’s country ham was one of top three food recommendations from Kentucky in the feature “The United Plates of America...A guide to the best things to eat, drink, and buy in all 50 states.”

The business was featured in the April edition of Louisville magazine. Writer Josh Moss wrote about the local businesswoman and her business in an article that was titled “The Pride of Prince-ton” and billed on the cover as “The Country’s Choice for Country Ham.”

Moss’s story is another one of those welcome “words” that draw people from across the country to the country store on Main Street.

“I’ll look up,” Mahaffey said,” to see someone browsing through the aisles or approaching the counter and asking, ‘Are you the Ham Lady?’”

A couple from Texas came to the store on the day that Mahaffey was boxing up the hams to be sent to Spain. Also that day there were visitors from Florida and Arizona. Another day, two vintage Mustangs were parked in the store lot below waiting as their drivers, one from Alaska, the other from Minnesota, came to see ham store.

The Alaskan had come across Moss’s story in a Louisville magazine that made its way to Anchorage with a traveler, and, as he and a friend were driving to the Mustang convention in Birmingham, Ala., a stop at the ham store — right along the way — seemed like a nice adventure. And, so they come to Prince-ton, to meet the Ham Lady, sample the ham, order some for the fall, and start thinking about the next trip to this place where they felt so welcome.

That sense of Princeton is being adopted by the city for a new brand and soon to be designed logo. Sam Koltinsky, Princeton’s Main Street Manager, said that the phrase “Pride of Princeton” is a natural fit.

“We’re proud of Nancy Mahaffey and Newsom’s. It’s a wonderful asset for us,” he said. “And this is going to be a slogan that just fits with everything we do — Pride of Princeton.”

This article appeared in the May 2, 2009, edition of the Princeton Times Leader. Now.....Nancy's back (see the next story), the hams stayed in Aracena, but more are taking the cure in the Newsom's ham house to be ready for you this fall.

Bon Appetit's Best to Eat, Drink and Buy ... May 2009
Bon Appetit's Best to Eat, Drink and Buy ... May 2009

Foods across the U.S. were rated in the May '09 issue of Bon Appetit magazine and Newsom's ham gained a nod.

In a feature titled "The United Plates of America," Bon Appetit provided a “guide to the best things to eat, drink and buy in all 50 states.

The picks in Kentucky were. . .

Seasonal Feast: Town and Country ... Dec. 2012
Seasonal Feast: Town and Country ... Dec. 2012

Seasonal Feast, December 2012

Creating the Holiday Masterpiece feature for Town and Country magazine in December, 2012, the food editors chose to include Col. Newsom's Kentucky Country Ham.

"This year's seasonal feast was assembled with help from America's best heirloom seed companies and food purveyors. Their stunning produce, crumbly cheeses, fragrant cured meats and flaky desserts are ready for their close-ups in these tempting tableaus." The photographs are by Ditte Isager with illustrations by John Burgoyne.

The list of meaty subjects counted Newsom's Aged Kentucky Country Ham — among the T&C top picks for the holiday.

Made by Southern Hands ... Southern Living 2011
Made by Southern Hands ... Southern Living 2011

PRIDE OF PLACE: Made by Southern Hands

Products made by Southern Hands were featured in one of the holiday shopping guides produced by Southern Living magazine in 2011. Col. Bill Newsom's Aged Kentucky Country Ham was honored with inclusion on the list just 10 southern food gems.

The November 2011 edition of Southern Living listed these special deliveries — mail order treats to simplify the holiday season, recommending as well that many of the products would make great hostess gifts.

The Southern Living guide recommended "Kentucky Country Ham — serve up Princeton-made Col. Bill Newsom's Aged Kentucky Country Ham on a small biscuit as a pre-Thanksgiving dinner app (to help keep the hands of your nibbling family members off your beautiful turkey)."

Of course, many ham lovers may reverse the order with turkey as the appetizer and a beautiful cooked country ham as the holiday main course!

Kentucky Short List ... Garden and Gun 2011
Kentucky Short List ... Garden and Gun 2011

Visitors to Louisville and of course, the home folk of this southern metropolis, place Chef Kathy Cary and her restaurant Lilly's on any short list of places to chow down. It is hands down a true fine dining experience in every aspect.

The subject of a brief feature in the October/November 2011 edition of Garden and Gun, the Louisville chef touted her own short list of 8 must visit places. Among these places that Chef Cary can's live without is Col. Bill Newsom's Aged Kentucky Country Ham in Princeton: Top-notch quality ham cured and aged to perfection.

Much of Kathy Cary's inspiration derives from her knowledge and love of Kentucky, where she learned to love food at an early age in her mother's kitchen. After apprenticing to a Cordon Bleu-trained chef in Washington, D.C., she started a small catering firm there and then became a chef at a stylish Georgetown restaurant. She returned to Kentucky, married songwriter/musician Will Cary, and opened her first La Peche gourmet-to-go shop in 1979.

Lilly's opened 24 (26) years ago, with its award-winning interior designed by Will, and an award-winning, ever-changing menu that makes use of local products from local producers.

Garden and Gun, O/N 2011

What's the best way to serve country ham?  Louisville Magazine, April 2010
What's the best way to serve country ham?  Louisville Magazine, April 2010





Louisville Magazine

April 2010 Derby preparations

Ever since he took a 1996 road trip to Princeton, Ky., and discovered Newsom's country ham, chef Jim Gerhardt has explored its smoky and salty permutations.

Now splitting his time between the Oakroom and Limestone restaurants, Gerhardt has gone frequently to the country ham frontier -- using it for, among other things, tapenade, deviled eggs, even crab cakes.

But here's his best and easiest recipe for success: Thin-slice country ham, cut it into one-eighth-inch strips and then cut again into cubes. Saute it over mild heat in olive oil (don't let it smoke). Dry it on paper and save the oil. These firmed-up ham bits are perfect as a shrimp-and-grits garnish or for sprinkling on salads.

And the oil -- oh, the oil -- becomes a base for an ingenious country ham vinaigrette. (Hint: puree together three egg yolks, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, the juice of two lemons, two ounces apple cider vinegar and one tablespoon minced shallots, then slowly add about 12 ounces of olive oil to desired consistency and salt and pepper to taste.)

You're still not done. Keep the bone, drop it into veal stock and reduce the liquid by half, then add a little pepper. "That's the sauce for our pork chop," Gerhardt says.

The Pork is in the Mail ... Garden and Gun 2008
The Pork is in the Mail ... Garden and Gun 2008

A cultural tour of the best mail-order food in the South.

by Fancine Maroukian

When Hogs Fly: A Newsom's aged country ham, delivered to your door

Years ago it was impossible to get your hands on great Souther food unless you actually lived down the road from it. Or maybe you had a relative who loved you enough to bring back some Rendezvous ribs from a trip to Memphis, or if they really loved you, a Newsom's aged country ham from Kentucky. These were foods that you had to travel to enjoy, but now they can travel to you. The easy part is picking up the phone or going online. The hard part is waiting for the mailman.

Newsom’s Aged Country Ham Princeton, Kentucky The Newsom kin have been curing ham since the late 1600s. First settling in coastal Virginia, the family migrated to Kentucky in the late 1700s when tobacco farming depleted the soil and the government was giving out land grants. In those days there were no federal regulations about smoking and curing; everyone did their own. But as times changed and people stopped doing for themselves, Granddaddy took over the town’s grocery store and began selling country hams. Now run by third-generation granddaughter Nancy Newsom Mahaffey, the company uses a curing method passed down through a family will dating back to 1792: hand-rubbed salt-and-brown-sugar seasoning, hand washing, smoking with hickory wood, and ambient curing (instead of climate controlled), which means the curing time depends on the changeable weather. Newsom’s hams, made even more famous when American culinary legend James Beard spread the word in a 1975 American Airlines magazine, are limited in number with each crop, and every whole ham has a numbered certificate to authenticate the product.

gardenandgun.com

September/October 2008

photographer Peter Frank Edwards

(August 12, 2008)

What a Ham! The Courier-Journal April 2010
What a Ham! The Courier-Journal April 2010

What a ham! Kentucky makers have the cures to perfect your Derby feast

April 21, 2010 The Courier-Journal

By Ron Mikulak

The Kentucky Derby and the mint julep are forever entwined. But should it also be permissible to do Derby without eating country ham?

The rich, salty, essence-of-pork experience of true country ham has long been a culinary signature of Derby parties. Today, a resurgence of ham making is taking place in Kentucky so it is time to consider the pleasures of real dry-cured ham — and how to prepare it properly.

Indeed, ham and bourbon are two of the first great artisanal culinary products perfected south of the Mason-Dixon line. At one time, every county around had a master distiller brewing up a unique blend of sour mash, and a master ham man (or lady) working out his or her own special cure for those fat pig legs hanging in the ham house.

Over time, both ham making and bourbon distilling were absorbed into the maw of large corporations, and the products standardized to the dismay of aficionados who cherish the memory of different, localized approaches developed by small producers. In the last decade, however, artisanal approaches to both whiskey and ham production have surged, as individuals rediscover what our ancestors knew about how to coax top quality from local resources.

A Common Process… It turns out that there are more than a few similarities between crafting bourbon and curing ham. When the artisan, be it a distiller or a ham maker, first sets out to perfect a product, basic decisions have to be pondered. Bourbon has to be made from at least 51 percent corn, but beyond that the mixture of grains — in the mash is up to the distiller, who makes a judgment about how the blend of corn, wheat, barley or other ingredients will affect the flavor of the end product.

Likewise, there are just a few ways to cure a pig's leg to make it into a ham, but the decisions on the specific blend of techniques is a personal decision of the ham maker, guided by tradition, experience or imagination. Some hams are cured completely in salt, others with a mixture of salt and sugar. Some cures add pepper, and some add nitrates. Some hams are hung in a smokehouse to age, while other ham makers eschew smoke.

Both bourbon and hams are aged, the best for more than a year. An "old" ham is 2 years old, but some might be aged up to 3.

The ambient temperature over the course of aging affects both whiskey and meat. Summer heat expands bourbon in aging barrels, forcing the colorless neutral grain spirit that comes out of the still into the pores of the wooden barrels, where the whiskey picks up flavors and colors. In the fall and winter, the liquor contracts, pulling the liquid, and the flavors, out of the wood.

Similarly, pigs used to be slaughtered only in the cold weather, the salt cures hand-rubbed into the meat, beginning the long, slow controlled fermentation during the winter months. Then, drink the "sweating season," the summer's heat liquified a ham's fat, and gravity pulls that liquid fat down through the flesh, imparting flavors and imbuing the meat with a silky texture.

As it ages, bourbon will lose some mass through evaporation, the "angel's share." Hams, too, lose weight during aging. Indeed, ham must lose a minimum of 18 percent of its fresh weight during the curing and aging process to be legally sold as "country ham," and some specialty hams will lose up to 25 percent or more.

..……

Nancy Newsom Mahaffey cures fewer than 10,000 hams a year at Col. Newsom's Old Mill Store in Princeton. She has decided to remain a smaller operation, and to cure her hams in a more traditional way, using a family recipe handed down in a family will from Virginia in the late 1700s. "Sometimes, businesses get the desire to grow, to get big, and when they do, they have to water down their process," she said. "One reason why the ham business was commercialized is that once people built their facilities, they couldn't afford any downtime. They had to get bigger to keep what they had built." Newsom buys her pigs from a variety of hog producers, outside of Kentucky and from within the state. She starts all of her hams in January, hand-rubbing twice with a cure of brown sugar and salt, but no added sodium nitrate. Once the hams are hand-washed and taken out of the salt, they are hung in netting and aged at ambient temperatures, not climate controlled, and the rest of the process is a blend of art and science. Most of her hams hang, aging, for at least 10 months, gearing for sale at about a year old. Some are held for as long as two years. As they hang, they will lose between 22 percent and 32 percent of their original weight. "When the skin feels right, I smoke them with an iron kettle with green hickory, until they start looking right, from 10 to 20 days, depending on the weather and the humidity. Smoke is for both flavor and appearance, and a bit of added preservative," Newsom explained. Last fall, Newsom was invited to the 5th World Congress of Dry Cured Hams, held in Aracena, Spain, where one of her hams was selected to hang in the Jamon Museum in Aracena. Newsom's hams were among James Beard's favorite country hams, and Newsom was accorded a chapter in Peter Kaminsky's book "Pig Perfect: Encounters with Remarkable Swine and Some Great Ways to Cook Them."

My Old Kentucky Ham… The New York Times 2010
My Old Kentucky Ham… The New York Times 2010

May 2, 2010 The New York Times

My Old Kentucky Ham By Christine Muhlke

Webmaster's Note: Aged hams are ever popular on country tables and with gourmet diners. The miracle meat became the subject of an article in a May issue of The New York Times. Several businesses were mentioned as the story took a geographical track, coming out of the north along the coast, the author’s quest started in Tennessee then followed the trek of the pioneers moving through the volunteer state toward Nashville and then north into rural Kentucky's ham country, finishing with one of the nation's smallest ham producers, but acknowledged to cure some of the country's best hams.

…As Tennessee's hills and hollows softened into Kentucky's green, horse-dotted vistas (scarred by trees felled by an ice storm), the concept of terror came to life. Driving past humble farmhouses, I imagined the generations of subsistence farmers who salted hog legs every fall so they'd have something to eat later in the year. It's their great-grandchildren's hams we're eating now; they got better every year. Some day, Italians might drive these back roads to explore America's great ham country…

(About our ham) …We headed east to Colonel Bill Newsom's in Princeton, a pretty town with old brick buildings and a sleepy town square. The sign marking Newsom's Old Mill Store boasts of its heritage and its hams. Inside was a blast from many pasts, from the penny-candy sticks to the bulk seeds for farming. But Nancy Newsom Mahaffey and her Kentucky hams are clearly the draw.

Colonel Bill's daughter has taken the mantle with authority. Warm, chatty and opinionated, “the Ham Lady” held court at the counter, talking about a ham conference she was attending in Spain and Michael Pollan's new book with a couple who had driven from Lexington to buy nitrate-free bacon. This while also discussing planting conditions with local farmers and making sure everyone got in their sandwich order at the two-man counter. If you told any of these people that guys with pig tattoos waited outside in the cold to taste this ham in New York City, they'd take away your cobbler-in-a-jar. It was hard to imagine that anything from this timeless store could make its way to a noisy restaurant on Second Avenue and 13th Street. But what a delicious journey to make — in either direction.

I ate my BBQ “preacher ham” sandwich in the Trail of Tears Commemorative Park around the corner, sipping a root beer next to a waterfall that was used as an encampment when this was the American frontier. Now it's another kind of frontier, and just as salty. ………… Newsom's Old Mill Store Through-the-looking-glass country store selling some of the country's best ham. 208 East Main Street, Princeton, Ky., 270-365-2482

All in the Details ... 2008
All in the Details ... 2008

Details magazine, a publication of the Conde Nast corporation, selected Newsom’s Ham for the March 2008 food page in the magazine's know+tell section.

Writer J.J. Goode focused on the topic of Country Ham.

This is what he had to say: When long-awaited (and ridiculously expensive) Iberico ham finally made the trip from Spain to the United States last December after a shift in USDA regulations, many gourmands just shrugged and turned back to a domestic pork-related obsession: country ham.

Chefs in New York, Atlanta and elsewhere are taking the down-home classic -- in the South, it's traditionally pan-fried and served with eggs and biscuits -- and putting it into salads alongside grilled figs, or laying thin strips of it on plates like prosciutto. Artisanal country ham, like the kind made by Newsom's (go to newsomscountryham.com to order), has a complex, musty flavor -- the result of eing cured, smoked and aged -- that makes it worthy of exaltation. And it won't cost more than the china you serve it on.

The article also lists a recipe for Redeye Gravy, includes a photo of an aged Newsom's ham with a large chunk carved off and lists restaurants in Atlanta, San Diego and New York where ham is the focal point of recipes that include eggs Benedict with ham flavored grits, squash salad and ham laced with a flavorful rim of fat and served on crispy bread with coffee-spiked mayonnaise.

Race for the Cured ... Rare Prosciutto NY Times Magazine ... 2007
Race for the Cured ... Rare Prosciutto NY Times Magazine ... 2007

Col. Bill Newsom's Aged Kentucky Country Ham gained a listing in the New York Times Magazine's spring 2007 issue. Columnist Oliver Schwaner-Albright took a look at some of the products from American artisan meat sources. He writes. . .

"The meat slicer could be the first appliance to earn a place on the kitchen counter since the espresso machine. That's because American artisans are no longer hiding the salumi -- Italian for cured meats. The process by which cuts of meat, usually pork, are salted and aged in a place that's cool, dark and drafty, like a mountain cave (the traditional method) or a well-ventilated meat locker (the Food and Drug Administration's preference), is now being mastered on these shores."

. . .Newsom's aged ham has been produced in the same facility, one that has been likened by some to a crypt housing the results of the family artistry with pork. . .

Schwaner-Albright reviewed bresaola, coppa, lardo, mortadella, prosciutto, salame, soppressata and speck. He listed the Newsom reference in his comments about prosciutto.

"PROSCIUTTO A ham hind leg that's been boned, salted, air-dried and traditionally ed for eight months, prosciutto is the big game of salumi. Most prosciutto is crudo, which means salted when raw and then aged. . . . Rarer still is prosciutto cotto, where the leg is cured and then cooked. You can find it at Col. Bill Newsom's Aged Kentucky Country Hams in Princeton, Ky., and as the center piece of the artisanal ham tasting at Manhattan's Bar Americain."

the Eye on Life with Ham ... Forbes Life 2007
the Eye on Life with Ham ... Forbes Life 2007

The artisan efforts of Col. Newsom's Aged Hams drew the attention of ForbesLife magazine last fall. It was a brief mention, but had great impact -- once again chefs and consumers across the U.S. cleared the racks taking every ham in the smokehouse.

Here is what The EYE had to say about Newsom's Ham in the September 2007 edition of ForbesLife. . .

HAM CONFIDENTIAL

Can we keep this between ourselves? It turns out that the smoky, deeply flavored ham we've been loving from some or our favorite hostesses and restaurants -- like Artisanal in New York and High Cotton in Charleston -- comes from the same source: Col. Newsom's Aged Hams in Princeton, Kentucky. Introduced in 1917 and now overseen by “The Ham Lady,” Nancy Newsom Mahaffey . . . Newsom's hams are free-range, nitrate-free, cured with brown sugar and salt, smoked over green hickory wood and left to hang for months. Available in September. When they sell out, they are gone 'til next year. $4.89 per lb. (270) 365-2482, www.newsomscountry ham.com.

"Lost Art" Meating Place Magazine ... 2007
"Lost Art" Meating Place Magazine ... 2007

How many foods can count mold as an asset? Such is the case with Newsom's aged Kentucky country hams, although the Princeton, Ky.-based ham processor and country store does feel compelled to warn consumers on its web site that the mold doesn't affect the quality of the meat, and, in fact, indicates proper aging.

Newsom’s is one of the only businesses in the U.S. producing strictly ambient weather-cured country hams, dubbing the process a “lost art.” Under the watchful eye of owner Nancy Newsom Mahaffey, who proudly calls herself the "Ham Lady." the hams are dry-cured using a method dating back to the 1770s; smoked with hickory wood; and aged for many months in the Kentucky climate renowned for producing quality country ham.

"Weather, time and age are what makes this ham," Mahaffey says.

Which don't necessarily make for the best business model. Newsom's produces only one batch of aged country hams per year, and withholds sale of the product until it believes maximum flavor has been attained. Each ham gets a numbered certificate of authenticity and sells for $4.39 a pound, with an average ham weighing 13 to 20 pounds.

“I don't mass produce," Mahaffey says. "I make less money, but I also have less headaches and a lot more freedom."

Freedom she's intent on keeping, even if the rest of the industry leaves ambient-cured ham out in the cold. “I’m not ever going to do it any other way,” Nancy Mahaffey promises. “It’s tradition. It’s preserving something that’s natural, something that’s not fabricated, something that’s not trying to fool the public."

A Ham So Good, They Numbered It ... Esquire 2006
A Ham So Good, They Numbered It ... Esquire 2006

Newsom’s aged Kentucky country ham is “ambient cured,” which means outdoor air of varying temperatures passes over each ham (as opposed to the faster, more conventional indoor curing process).

In other words, the curing time all depends on the weather.

When it’s ready, each ham gets a numbered certificate of authenticity.

Milestones for Newsom's Ham on Main Street ... 2007
Milestones for Newsom's Ham on Main Street ... 2007

Milestones were reached for Col. Newsom’s Aged Kentucky Country Hams in 2007. The family business was founded on Jan. 1, 1917, as a general mercantile retail store, and on Oct. 4, 1987, the business, which had become a full-service downtown neighborhood grocery, suffered a catastrophic fire. With the fire, which gutted the grocery, Nancy Newsom Mahaffey, known nationally now as “the ham lady,” became the third generation of her family to own, operate and put her entrepreneurial stamp on the retail business.

The first store, H.C. Newsom Store, general mercantile and groceries, was established by Nancy’s grandfather. His customers arrived at the Main Street store by horsedrawn wagon and buckboard (a sideless flatbed style) to carry away barrels and bags of flour, sugar and meal; nails and building supplies, wagon wheels, tombstones, notions, household items, whatever foodstuffs they couldn’t grow themselves, and, of course, aged meats. It was “one-stop shopping” for an era gone by.

Newsom was a great promoter and even offered sets of dishes as a premium to loyal shoppers.

When H.C. Newsom died, he left four children, the oldest of whom, was to follow him into business.

William H. Newsom, at age 18, took on the mantle of the business and the household with three younger siblings, his mother and a couple of other relatives to provide for in the extended family.

Provide he did. Bill Newsom knew hard work and its rewards — not all monetary. He invested his efforts in building a cornerstone business, supporting his church and community. And, he adapted to change — traffic on Main Street was converted from two-way to one-way and, when federal regulations dictated in the 1960s, he built a facility to meet the USDA rules for curing country hams.

Nancy was Bill Newsom’s youngest child and on occasion trailed behind her busy father or (so it seemed to the child) waited on him much of the time. Bill and his bride Jane (mother of Nancy and Jim, her older brother by nine years) were both at work in the store daily for six-day work weeks.

Actually, Nancy recalls hers as a busy childhood, but apparently one in which she was preparing all the while to become third in the line of Newsom entrepreneurs to produce and market aged meats — in particular the Colonel’s Kentucky Ham.

Eventually, as a young working mother Nancy had joined the grocery staff and begun working with the mail order business. “Dad wouldn’t tell you how to do anything but one time. You paid attention or you learned how to watch for what you wanted to know without asking,” she recalls.

Bill offered the lessons daily as he worked in the grocery with his daughter until fire gutted the Main Street store.

About 12 years before the fire though, the transition from grocery had begun as it must with modern supermarkets springing up and drawing away the downtown trade. The late James Beard, an internationally renowned chef and author, stumbled upon Colonel Newsom’s hams tucked away in the Kentucky hills in 1975.

Beard wrote about Newsom’s in his syndicated gourmet reviews, made sure that many of his friends had a taste and the word was out.

Writers across the country discovered Newsom’s and the business, the family and the product made a good story time and again in Esquire, the New York Times, Women’s Day, Food & Wine, The Wine Spectator, Gourmet Digest, True Grits, Gourmet, Country Home, New York Magazine, Men’s Vogue, SlowFood USA, The Splendid Table, Chow and most recently ForbesLife. (Now Details March 2008 has added a feature on Newsom's.)

Nancy and her ham tradition were also featured in a widely distributed book by author Peter Kaminsky, who is also a columnist for the New York Times.

“We have been fortunate that people have found us and that they want to write about us and tell other people about us. If you have a good product and give good service, people appreciate it,” Nancy said.

The Newsom business might have folded in the face of that disastrous fire of 20 years ago, but Nancy remembers telling her father, “You can’t quit now. We’ve got a smokehouse full of hams to sell.”

He had replied, “Well, then you do it.”

And so, she did.

Nancy had barely let the embers of the old building grow cold when she was opening her Old Mill Store, just two doors down. The Newsom’s had rented the old Purina store for part of the plant and garden supply business, one of the other mainstays through the decades. The “Mill,” protected by a fire wall and the quick response of the Princeton Fire Department, was virtually untouched by the fire next door.

The mill and tavern building, actually two structures at one point, are among the city’s oldest buildings and have a legacy of history that ties the community to stagecoach trails and the civil war.

Nancy and Ed Thompson, who had worked with the family for years at the time of the fire, soon got to work in the mill store and set some chrysanthemums out on the sidewalk to soften the scene that was all charred timbers and scorched iron. Someone came along and bought them, then their replacements, then more and more, came into the store, bought the hams and whatever Nancy could find to offer that year and the next, and the next, and on.

Yet another transition was in the making even as the Newsoms — Bill gave his moral support and became a fixture in Nancy’s store — were rebuilding. It was the “World Wide Web.”

Dictated by the marketplace and pace of today’s lifestyles, the Newsom business was taken in yet another direction. The smalltown business became firmly established as a national mail order and Internet retail outlet featuring Newsom’s artisan ham — recognized by food critics, restaurateurs and writers across the country as “a truly rare find.”

Newsom’s became a “.com” in 2000 (www.newsomscountryham.com) recording the business’ first internet sale on Nov. 14 of that year.

“It is quite remarkable what God has in store for our lives. There are so many blessings every day. Our customers are part of our family, and now we have them all across the country,” Nancy said.

The year has been a busy one for Nancy and her crew. An article in Esquire magazine’s shopping guide last December emptied the smokehouse and the shelves.

“You just don’t look for that to happen. It is truly good fortune,” she said.

And, here it may be happening again. ForbesLife magazine included a short story about the ham and “ham lady” in September. “We picked up the pace then and haven’t had a chance to catch our breath. Now, we’re actually going into the ‘busy’ season,” she said.

“It’s not supposed to be easy. And it’s not, but it’s rewarding. I’m not looking to be a corporate giant. I want to do it our way as long as possible. We have a tradition — we have a traditional product, and I plan to keep it that way.”

The Newsom family ham tradition is one that pre-dates the 1770s — a long lineage.

That tradition — producing aged ham as an artisanal product — drew Nancy an invitation to speak for a Kentucky State Fair demonstration in this summer and gained her an invitation (which she accepted) to take part in the SlowFood celebration hosting the nationally renowned chef/nutritionist Alice Waters at Crestwood in September. Both events were new milestones for the ham.

...In the photo above, Chef Kathy Cary (left) of Lily’s in Louisville and ham curer Nancy Newsom Mahaffey (right) of Col. Newsom’s Aged Hams in Princeton teamed up for a Slow Food Bluegrass Kentucky Harvest Festival at Waldeck Mansion in Crestwood. Chef Mark Williams (second from left) was the host. Chef Alice Waters (beside Nancy) was the event speaker.

...In the inset photo, Ham producer Nancy Newsom Mahaffey of Col. Newsom’s Aged Kentucky Hams in Princeton joined Chef Jim Gerhardt (left) of Louisville for a Slow Food Bluegrass program at the State Fair this summer.

The Newsoms have a habit of looking at those milestones as building blocks. It is not uncommon for family businesses to fold with a third generation. That is usually because they keep trying to do the things that got them where they are — things that just don’t work in changing times. However, the Newsom family business has been more about customer service, preservation and entrepreneurial innovation — things that tend to work in any marketplace.

The face of Main Street has radically altered over the decades. There is no opera house, no pool hall, no blacksmith, no JCPenney, no Ben Franklin, no Scotty’s Corner, no Villager, no Sears, no Goldnamers, Lillie Belle’s or Federated Stores, but there is Newsom’s, and there has been a Newsom’s store on Princeton’s Main Street for 90 years.

Chow ... the Mold is Supposed to be There ... 2005
Chow ... the Mold is Supposed to be There ... 2005

By Sue Moore

Photography by Kate Lacey

The following contains excerpts from the article in Chow magazine. Sue Moore is the meat forager for Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. The inspiration for her article began when Alice Waters, the restaurant owner and leader in the natural food movement wanted a ham for Christmas dinner. She did not get a Newsom's ham then, but she located our business and secured our ham for another occasion. There were many telephone conversations to follow.

Ham producer Nancy Newsom and chef/nutritionist Alice Waters met the year before this article at a food source and chefs gathering coordinated through the University of Kentucky in Lexington.

...................................

The history of the country ham is the history of preservation without refrigeration. Traditionally the process began in the late fall and winter when the weather turned cold. The hogs were slaughtered, and their back legs were rubbed down with a salt-based cure, the exact ingredients of which were often closely guarded family secrets. . . .Many producers use sugar or brown sugar in the mix. . .Sometimes it's called sugar cured, and when people hear 'sugar cured,' they think it's gonna taste sweet, but the greater percentage of the cure, over 50, is salt, and salt is what does the curing. ...

When spring arrived and temperatures began to rise, the hams were washed of their cure and hung to dry in the "hanging house." When the time was right, the hams were smoked, then put back up to hang. All this was done to prime the hams for the hot summer months ahead. And a lot of salt was used. ...

Surviving the summer, or the "July sweats" as it's known, is what gives the ham its deep flavor. As it hangs, it becomes covered with mold. When the weather heats up, the ham expands and the meat absorbs some of the mold. It's this mold, along with the cure, that gives the meat its character.

"And every ham house has its own mold," according to Lady Colonel Nancy Newsom Mahaffey, of Princeton, Kentucky, whose family has been putting up hams in the Virginia style for generations. She earned the title of Lady Colonel from the state of Kentucky for her work curing hams. "So when it gets so hot in the summer and I think I just can't stand it one more minute, I say to myself,'Nancy, the hotter the summer, the better the ham."'

Atmospheric conditions dictate most of a ham's development. When a batch of hams "come up"—that is, when they're washed of their cure and hung to dry—is determined by the weather. How long they hang before they're smoked also varies due to weather conditions. Weather even determines the day to smoke. You can smoke hams on a nice day or a rainy day, but doing so on a real humid day will generate a lot of heat. "You've gotta be careful," says Mahaffey. "And it's not all over with once you hang 'em up. Do I need to pass air over them today or not? There is an intuition to it. And it all depends on the weather."

. . .With modern heating and refrigeration, hams now can be made yearround. At many facilities they're made four or five times per year, though the majority are still started in the winter because "green" or fresh, uncured hams command the best price. The cure is rubbed on the ham. It's reapplied two weeks later. Then the ham sits on a shelf at 38°F to 40°F for about 40 days. The cure is then washed off, and the ham goes through ten days of between 50°F and 55°F temperatures. After that it goes to the "heated room" for six weeks, where the temperature is cranked up to 75°F to 90°F. The procedure simply mimics what used to happen out in the barn. . . .

(Newsom's hams are an ambient cured aged meat, exactly the way they used to be in the barn. There is no heated room in this process. The facility produces only one crop a year. Also, there are no nitrates.)

...............

Like wine, a ham develops nuanced flavors with age. Mahaffey prefers the "exquisite" flavor of her 15-month-old hams.

"You have to understand something about Southern cooking: people will cook something and cook it again. There is no such thing as blanched green beans in the South. And most people will cook these hams to death. It's true. I never ate a piece of toast that wasn't burnt until I was an adult."

Do you have to cook these hams to eat them? The USDA remains silent on the subject because no one has ever pushed to have raw country ham sanctioned. The fear is that, if asked, the USDA would not approve it and would require a label saying country hams shouldn't be eaten raw.

. . .Not surprisingly, then, each person seems to have his or her own way of cooking a ham—boiled, steam-baked, fried with or without coffee grounds.

Here's how Mahaffey cooks her hams: First, remove any excess mold by scrubbing the ham with a bristle brush and a vinegar-and-water solution. Then soak the ham overnight in cold water in a cool place. (For hams more than one year old, soak for two nights, changing the water once.)

Drain off the soaking water and fill the pot with new water to cover the ham. The ham should be floating in the water. Add 1 cup brown sugar and 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar to the pot and bring to a rolling boil. Then turn the heat down so that the water just "breaks a bubble." Cover and cook 15 to 20 minutes per pound. Turn off the heat, remove the lid from the pot, and let the ham cool in that water. (Be sure to remove the lid. If you don't, you'll have, according to Mahaffey, a "big pile of mush.")

After the ham has cooled, remove it, pat it dry, and trim off some of the skin while leaving some of the fat on. Mahaffey likes to serve her hams at room temperature sliced about 1/8 inch thick.

. . .And a note of caution: "The older the ham, the less cooking time."

.........................................

The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service gets right to the point: "The word ham means pork which comes from the hind leg of a hog." And, "Hams are either ready-to-eat or not."

If only it were that simple. The American country-ham lexicon includes a long list of terms: fully cooked, uncooked, smoked, long cured, bone in, nitrites, nitrates, salt cured, sugar cured, Smithfield, center cut, half ham. Bottom line: the product closest to Italian prosciutto is a country ham cured and aged for so long that its meat is perfectly preserved and requires no cooking at all. According to Nancy Newsom Mahaffey of Col. Bill Newsom's Aged Kentucky Country Ham, a country ham canbe eaten safely without cooking after ten months of aging (other sources say six months). Complicating matters is the fact that some hams labeled for cooking first actually don't need it (the instructions are a protection from regulation). Unnecessary cooking will result in tough, rubbery meat rather than a sweet, melt-in-the-mouth experience.

In colonial America, hogs were the least destructible, most economical form of animal protein to raise. Dairy cattle needed smooth, open fields to thrive, and fowl and sheep were easy prey for wild animals, whereas hogs were tough and could forage on marginal farmland while the homesteaders took time for more pressing work. Slaughtered and processed in the late fall, hogs became the winter's food, a longlasting commodity that stored well before refrigeration and good roads changed the nation's eating habits.

Dry curing, as opposed to the brine-injected or "city" cure of most grocery-store ham, is still done in traditional ways that date back to the mid-1600s. Tidewater Virginia produced the first country hams, but the practice spread throughout the Southeast. The cure is made of salt and sometimes sugar for tenderness, pepper, and nitrites or nitrates which speed curing and impart a deep pink color. Hams are usually rubbed with cure twice and kept around 40°F for a month, during which time the salt preserve penetrates to the bone. Excess rub is removed, and then the hams are wrapped and aged at various temperatures for six months to a year or even longer. Smoking over a low hardwood fire is optional. The exact recipes are closely guarded secrets.

Country hams that require cooking have their own lore. They sometimes come crusted in benign mold; scrub that off, then soak the whole ham for up to three days in several changes of water to draw out extra salt, and keep scrubbing. Then either steam-bake or simmer. The stove top slow-simmer method calls for water plus anything fun. . .ginger ale, cider, wine, Coca-Cola, vodka.The hard part is finding a vessel big enough for the job of holding the ham plus water to cover it. Oven-steamed ham requires less water but involves lots of temperature changes and clock watching.

Producers are making it easy to try country ham a little bit at a time by doing some of the cooking themselves and shipping small quantities of all types. Don't be put off by the shiny vacuum-sealed packaging as long as the label says Made in U.S.A.—Nan Chase

Gourmet Magazine Measuring Up "Preacher" Ham 2005
Gourmet Magazine Measuring Up "Preacher" Ham 2005

Gourmet Magazine produced a taste test of ham specialties for the Easter holiday. In this instance, Gourmet's editors tested city hams and the alternatives to the traditional dry-salt cured country ham. Here is some of what they had to say about ham, and in particular, Newsom's "Preacher" ham.

Gourmet Magazine February, 2005 Volume LXV, Number 2 TESTING FOR PERFECTION HAMMING IT UP When we tested mail-order hams for their Easter dinner suitability, we ended up organizing them into two categories: Smoky and Mild. Sometimes a super-smoky ham is shown to greater advantages when used almost as a condiment, nestled into a fresh, warm biscuit or shredded into a risotto, for instance. All the hams we tried are city cured, or baked, hams; they are juicy, meaty hams that are often glazed or studded with cloves, not the dry-salt-cured type. When ordering a half ham, we generally prefer the shank end - it looks more elegant, plus you get a bone for soup. We also prefer a ham that isn't spiral cut; those dry out too much in the oven. For testing purposes, we simply ordered what was available at the time from each producer. The rule of thumb for heating a half through is 10 minutes per pound in the middle of a 325-degree F oven. Wrap it in foil first; if the ham comes already wrapped in foil, check for a plastic layer underneath, discarding it if found.

SMOKY HAMS WE LIKE HAM FLAVOR & TEXTURE VISUAL APPEAL . . .

Col. Newsom's Hams (Kentucky) bone-in "Preacher" half ham (7 to 9 lb.) . . . If you love hickory smoke and juicy meat, you'll love this, although a plateful might be too much of a good thing (try it tucked inside biscuits instead).

Country Home 2005 Heirloom Foods
Country Home 2005 Heirloom Foods

Newsom's aged Kentucky country ham was included in a feature in Country Home magazine in the Nov. 2005 issue. The ham was featured as part of a heritage holiday dinner that would grace a country table anytime. The products used in the recipes for the feature were identified as heirloom foods.

There were heritage turkeys, beans, wild rice, Iroquois white corn, cranberries and country ham. The recipies were Maple and Balsamic GLazed Heritage Turkey, Country Ham and Wild Rice Stuffing and Cranberry Chutney with Caramelized Onions.

Here is what the Country Home writers had to say about the ham:

COUNTRY HAM Long-aged country ham lends a deep, smoky note to our wild rice stuffing, and it will do the same for simple vegetable sautes. You can also use it as you would prosciutto or speck, thinly sliced on a cheese and fruit plate. Nancy Newsoms Mahaffey is one of the last remaining Kentuckians who dry-cures country ham (as compared to brine-cured "city ham") the old-fashioned way without chemicals. ... It's flavor ripens for a year or more after a long, slow smoking.

Looking at The HEIRLOOM MARKET for this feature Country Home found generations of gardeners and cooks connected with their edible heritage through the tradition of seed saving, preserving the most flavorful, juicy, and beautiful progenies for harvests to come. With the trend in agribusiness, many of these heirlooms disappeared in a deluge of durable, uniform varieties that could be grown anywhere and withstand shipping, at the expense of taste. Fortunately, revivalist farmers are bringing heirloom produce, heritage meats (such as fuller-flavored Berkshire pork), heritage-variety fresh eggs, and farmstead cheeses to local markets, selling them to grocery chains, and even shipping fresh from their Web sites. ...In some parts of the country... it is now easy to find purple-striped rattlesnake beans with their curly tips; every imaginable shape and hue of potato, from flavorful All-Blues to knobby fingerlings; a cornucopie of Hubbard, Turban, and Crookneck squash; and snappy, naturally blushed apples galore. Visit www.seedsavers.org for heirloom seeds and their kitchen uses.

And, the ham .... you are joining thousands whose search for heirloom foods has led them to this Web site. The ham can be purchased only from Newsom's. We welcome your order through our Web site today, or any day, round the clock; and we welcome your inquiry at our store on East Main Street in Princeton, Ky., on Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. — come by or call 270-365-2482.

Newsom's Ham is a hit at WCR Conference ... 2004 NCH
Newsom's Ham is a hit at WCR Conference ... 2004 NCH

Not All Grits and Greens — All that Ham

Ham producer Nancy Newsom Mahaffey, Owner of Newsom’s Old Mill Store in Princeton, was among the food industry professionals selected to participate in the 2004 National Women Chefs and Restaurateurs Conference held Nov. 6-8 in Louisville, Ky. The conference was based at the historic Hilton Seelbach Hotel, where Newsom’s Aged Kentucky Country Ham is used on the menu by Chef Todd Richards.

Nancy joined Kathy Cary, Chef/Owner of Lilly’s/La Peche, and Sarah Fritschner, Food Editor of The Courier-Journal of Louisville, Ky., to present one of seven Master Classes.

Nancy, Kathy and Sarah combined their talents and expertise in the presentation “Not All Grits and Greens.”

The WCR billed the group as knowledgeable, professional and innovative.

The chefs and culinary students participating in the conference were invited to “Join these Kentucky professionals as they share their knowledge and ideas on local flavors and products – especially aged country ham."

Sarah talked about sustainable agriculture in the region, as farmers find alternatives to raising tobacco; and she concentrated on demonstrating local products and flavors from Kentucky and Southern Indiana.

Nancy, known as “the Ham Lady” in Western Kentucky, spoke about the mark of an aged country ham, how to cure a ham and how to buy one, how to market the ham on your menu, and even how to fry a slice of good country ham so it won’t be tough.

Kathy, a three-time James Beard Award nominee for Best Chef, Southeast, shared her ideas and inspirations about new ways of presenting a variety of Newsom’s products: aged country ham, Newsom’s much-praised prosciutto ham (both crudo and cotto, uncooked and cooked), hickory smoked country bacon and sausage, ground country ham, and finally, Newsom’s smoky barbecue ham, or “Preacher Ham” as it’s called. It was evident that in this part of the country, it’s not all grits and greens.

“It was indeed an honor for me,” Nancy said, “to be invited and included among the speakers at this conference. I am very gratified that chefs across the nation are finding Newsom’s hams — country, prosciutto and our smoky barbecue — and including them in popular dishes on their menus.”

Nancy noted that the late Chef James Beard was the first national figure to find and spread the word about the Colonel’s ham.

New York Magazine features The Egg and Newsom's 2005
New York Magazine features The Egg and Newsom's 2005

Newsom's ham is delightedly becoming a favorite with chefs across the country. When the Egg opened at Sparky's in New York last year, Newsom's ham became a prominent feature on the menu and was included in the New York Magazine write up about the new food establishment.

New York Magazine wrote. . .Week of Aug. 8, 2005: Egg

Restaurant Openings & Buzz "Egg serves breakfast every day till noon "

By Rob Patronite & Robin Raisfeld

It might seem counterintuitive — masochistic, even — to open a breakfast-only joint in nightlife-loving Williamsburg. Especially one that flips its last flapjack by noon. But if anything can roust self-employed slacker-artistes out of bed, it’s Egg, a terrific new southern-style café that has quietly started operating mornings out of the garagelike premises of Sparky’s American Food, the hot-dog specialist with a gourmet aesthetic.

Egg and Sparky’s don’t just share space — they share culinary philosophies and a passion for top-notch ingredients.

Egg chef George Weld expresses his southern heritage all over his short, mouthwatering menu, along with his devotion to local and artisanal producers, from Anson Mills grits to Dines Farms sausage. Even the scrapple man gets a shout-out.

There are fluffy pancakes, housemade sorghum granola, and mint-strewn caramelized grapefruit, not to mention country-friendly service.

But the undisputed star of the morning show is Col. Bill Newsom’s Kentucky ham, an undersung American treasure that ham hound Peter Kaminsky celebrates in his recently published paean to pork, "Pig Perfect." Served as a side or tucked into a buttermilk biscuit with melted Grafton Cheddar and a smear of homemade fig jam, the ultrarich, deep-red ham is a complexly flavored reminder or why breakfast is tryly the most important meal.

Egg, 135A N. 5th St. (nr. Bedford St.), Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY

LA Weekly's Gold has Pearls of Wisdom ... 2005
LA Weekly's Gold has Pearls of Wisdom ... 2005

As the year wound down LA Weekly writer Jonathan Gold offered some critiques of breakfast foods across the country in an article penned about companies offering foods across the internet. Here is some of what he had to say. . .especially the part about Newsom's.

Counter Intelligence Send a Salami...

By JONATHAN GOLD Thursday, December 29, 2005 - 12:00 am

This time of year, even we stay home and cook. Los Angeles, of course, is a wonderland of local organic produce, a hub of farmers’ markets and sustainably raised meat, of boutique gourmet shops and supermarkets representing the finest cuisines of every continent. But occasionally, most often around breakfast, the most important tool in our kitchen can be a laptop computer.

www.newsomscountryham.com. When James Beard died a decade or two ago, one of the friends of the great cookbook writer, knowing only that he spent a great deal of time talking on the phone to Col. Bill Newsom, asked the proprietor of the tiny Kentucky smokehouse whether he had any thoughts to contribute to the eulogy. “He did call me several times a week,” the colonel allowed. “But all we ever talked about was ham.” Col. Newsom’s ham, made now by his daughter Col. Nancy Newsom, is ham worth a lifetime of obsession — if fried country ham with redeye gravy is your thing (it is ours). Include a jar or two of Windstone blackberry jam in your order — breakfasts will never be complete without it again.

NY Times looks at Country Ham and Prosciutto ... 2003
NY Times looks at Country Ham and Prosciutto ... 2003

Col. Nancy Newsom Mahaffey's Aged Kentucky Country Ham was one of three featured in a September article appearing in the New York Times. The Times article focused on the U.S. hams in a comparison with old-world prosciutto.

Here are excerpts from that September 17, 2003...NY Times article...

'Taste My Prosciutto,' He Said With a Drawl By DANA BOWEN

...just a... few small commercial producers...still hang country hams for longer than six months, rendering the meat dark red and velvety with a complex flavor similar to that of prosciutto.

………

Country hams from the South never used to be eaten uncooked. Traditionally, they have been soaked to remove some of the salt from their cure, and then simmered in a sweet liquid like ginger ale, or even cheap Champagne, to neutralize the emphatic salinity.

.....

"If you put a big, thick, salty slab of country ham on the plate here, people don't know what to do with it," said David Page, the chef and an owner of Home, a restaurant in the West Village in Manhattan, who toured Kentucky back roads for artisanal country ham (and bourbon) in November. "But when you shave it thin and describe it as American prosciutto, they begin to understand what it is."

Mr. Page wraps tissue-thin, uncooked slices around sweet pickled watermelon rinds: a Southern rendition of Italy's prosciutto and melon.

Candace Cansler, executive director of the National Country Ham Association, a trade association in Conover, N.C., said that the birth of interest in prosciutto-like uses of American country ham could not have been better timed. The production of country hams has held steady at six million annually for the last five to seven years, Mr. Cansler said. Many small producers have gone out of business, and large ones are making more hams than ever before.

Until the 1950's, many rural Southern families slaughtered their own hogs and cured their own hams. Today, few Southerners can recall the savoriness of those country hams. With changing tastes, only the fiercest fans can palate the pungency of the once-coveted two-year ham — let alone the sight of it, furry with mold.

All country hams are by definition dry-cured. But many now taste more like so-called city hams found in supermarkets — those that are brine-cured, sweeter-flavored and easy to cook.

"Country ham has been stigmatized as a Southeastern food," Ms. Cansler said. "We're going to have to give it another name if we want to go for gourmet — something that suggests a prosciutto-style product."

While in Italy the word prosciutto just means ham, to American country-ham producers it has come to symbolize the profit potential of their own products.

"We've grown an average of 20 percent each year over the past seven years," said David Biltchik of Washington, who advises the Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma, which accounts for 90 percent of the $50 million to $60 million worth of Italian prosciutto sold annually in the United States.

..............

"We can learn a lot from our European cousins," said Sam Edwards, a third generation country ham producer. "They're selling their hams for $20 to $30 a pound." His hickory-smoked Wigwam Brand whole country hams on the bone, aged about a year, cost about $4.50 a pound.

Joe Amadee, a distributor for Sermara Enterprises, an American company that sells Italian equipment used to salt and to dry prosciutto, said he has outfitted more than a half-dozen country-ham producers. "People who understand the prosciutto process realize it's pretty much the same as the country-ham process," he said.

The Food Safety and Inspection Service of the Agriculture Department agrees. The same regulations govern all dry-cured hams produced in the United States, whether country or prosciutto style. Dry-curing with salt helps prevent bacterial growth, making the hams safe to eat uncooked.

The regulations leave room for stylistic differences. Italian or domestic prosciutto is covered in salt for 10 to 14 days before it is hung to age, as compared with standard country hams' 35 to 50 days in salt. While imported prosciutto must age 400 days, the domestic equivalent generally ages nine to 12 months. Prosciutto is never smoked, like some of its country-ham cousins.

The biggest difference between country ham and prosciutto is how they are eaten. Since country hams have always been cooked in the Southern states where they are cured, most country-ham producers do not consider them ready-to-eat meat like prosciutto. Thus, the Agriculture Department requires that labels on uncooked country hams contain safe-handling and cooking instructions.

Nancy Newsom Mahaffey's country-ham business in Princeton, Ky., run by her family for 86 years, is old-fashioned: she salt- and sugar-cures just a few thousand nitrate- and nitrite-free hickory-smoked hams a year. Wolfgang Puck, Emeril Lagasse and other chefs have used her sweet-smoky speck-like hams.

"My first market is Kentucky, which I consider a compliment," Ms. Newsom Mahaffey said, "but my second is California." For that second market, and for chefs who intend to use her ham uncooked, Ms. Newsom Mahaffey recently started selling her hams as Gourmet-Aged Prosciutto Ham, even though the label says the customer has to cook it.

...................

New York Magazine 2005 Holiday Food Guide
New York Magazine 2005 Holiday Food Guide

Ham — Country Ham (salty); City Ham (sweet).  

Nov. 14, 2005 — Holiday Food

The Christmas ham, that glazed, glistening culinary symbol of the holiday, has a kind of Burl Ives quality to it, which only raises the stakes for holiday cooks to get it just right.

Ham, technically speaking, is the upper portion of the hind leg of the pig. There are two basic types of ham: city ham and country ham. City hams, also known as wet-cured, are by far the most common hams, the type typically sold in supermarkets. City hams are cured in a solution of salt, water, preservatives (usually including nitrites and nitrates), and various sweet or savory flavorings. Many city hams are also smoked over hardwoods, such as hickory or maple. What you want in a city ham is a whole or half ham, with the bone in. Beyond that, which city ham you choose is a matter of taste. . . . Whole city hams come in sizes ranging from fifteen to seventeen pounds and cost from $2 to $6 per pound.

Country hams, also known as dry-cured hams, date to the days before refrigeration, when salting was the only means of preservation. Instead of being wet-cured, country hams are rubbed with a layer of salt and other ingredients and hung to cure for several months. The process is similar to that used for prosciutto. American country hams are usually smoked as well, to add flavor. Country hams can be eaten raw, like prosciutto, but Americans typically prefer them cooked.

Cooking a country ham is a chore. Mold that forms on the ham’s surface during the curing process has to be scrubbed off, then the ham has to be soaked for several days, with several changes of water, to release some salt. Finally, the ham has to be boiled or baked. The result can be worth the wait: Country hams have a deep, rich, and intensely salty flavor that hamophiles swear by.

Unlike city ham, country ham is best served in small thin slices, traditionally on biscuits — large, thick slices are generally too salty. If you prefer a somewhat less salty country ham, look for one that’s been aged for a relatively short time — the longer the ham is cured, the more salty and intense its flavor. Cooked country hams can be mail-ordered if you don’t want to cook them yourself.

A Kentucky outfit called Colonel Bill Newsom’s Country Hams makes a dark-red, salty, deeply flavorful ham, using a recipe from the 1700s. Country hams range in size from fifteen to eighteen pounds and typically cost from $2 to $5 per pound (premium hams like Newsom’s cost more).

When buying a city ham, keep the following terms in mind. If the ham is marked plain “ham,” it means no water has been added. Ham “with natural juices” has 7 to 8 percent water added, ham with “water added” has up to 10 percent extra water, and “ham and water product” may contain any amount of water (as the amount of water increases, the quality of the ham decreases). When looking for a city ham, look for a slight layer of fat around the outside. The fat draws off the salt — the more fat, the less salty the ham. When buying a country ham, buy from a reputable producer.

Where to Buy. . . Colonel Bill Newsom’s Country Hams are available via mail order (15-to-20-pound bone-in raw ham, $4.39 per pound; sixteen-to-eighteen-pound whole bone-in cooked ham, $85 to $100; 270-365-2482 or newsomscountryham.com).

the Snail -- this Little Piggy! 2003
the Snail -- this Little Piggy! 2003

Issue No. 4 December 2003

by Allison Radecki

On a gray and drizzly Saturday morning in September, my New Jersey telephone connected with Princeton, Kentucky and immediately brightened my day. I was a writer in pursuit of hog heaven, which many chefs and ham fans have joyously located here on earth at 208 East Main Street in the western corner of the Bluegrass State. My mission was a simple one: to learn about pigs and speak with Nancy Newsom Mahaffey, owner and proprietor of this pig paradise, Colonel Bill Newsom's Aged Kentucky Country Hams, an 85 year-old family business which reenacts historic tradition every year through the natural curing, smoking and aging of its (100 percent nitrate and nitrite free) prized ham products.

The quest to expand my ham horizons first led me to Peter Kaminsky, a New York Times contributing columnist, author and "ham idolater" to learn the basic facts of aged country ham. "Just like wine," Kaminsky explained, "food that matures develops more and more flavor over time. A salt cured country ham, full of the complex flavors developed in the course of a year of aging, is one of the glories of American cuisine."

Kaminsky should know. His book, "Pig Perfect: Encounters With Remarkable Swine" (due out next Fall from Hyperion Books) catalogs his lifetime love of all things pork. Featuring a history of barbecue, pigs, and a discussion of sustainable farming, "Pig Perfect" recounts Kaminsky's "personal odyssey" of pork, which has taken him around the globe. From Spanish ham houses lined with honey colored pork butts, to Ossabaw island (off the Georgia coast) where descendants of pigs brought to the New World by the Conquistadors still roam, Kaminsky has logged many miles in pursuit of the ultimate oinker.

On the day we first spoke, Kaminsky was readying himself for another pig pilgrimage, a road trip from Brooklyn to Missouri "to pick up 24 Iberian hogs and take them to the Carolinas." His goal was to try and approximate, through American curing and smoking, the flavor of the aged hams he had tasted in Spain. Evidently, this was no novice ham lover I was speaking with.

It was Kaminsky who pointed the Slow Food USA office in the direction of Newsom's artisanal products, which he discovered years ago while in Kentucky with time on his hands. A quick flip through a Louisville tourist magazine had him phoning a local restaurant for some swine sleuthing. "Yup. I have a ham," crackled the chef on the end of the line. "It's fifty bucks. Come on down." In the dark shadows behind a restaurant kitchen, in a transaction that seemed more like a dope deal than a legal ham handover, Kaminsky encountered his first Newsom's ham. He has been singing their praises ever since.

In between tales of his high ham adventures, Peter explained the basic facts of aged country ham production. The ham is a hind leg, cut long on the hock and high towards the loin. It may measure two feet in length and weighs from one to two dozen pounds. To cure meat is to treat it with salt in order to preserve it. Developed through necessity long before the days of refrigeration, aged country ham provided farmers with meat that would keep without spoiling over the winter months. The ingredients for the cure vary, depending on the state in which the ham is made. Some include black pepper and white or brown sugar in their cures. Not all country hams are smoked. Secret ingredients are often hinted at, with many country ham makers tight-lipped as to what specifically gives their product its unique tang and flavor. Cures, like passed down recipes for a fine Southern barbecue, are cherished heirlooms for families to protect and treasure. The salt mixture is rubbed into the meat, usually by hand, with the curing process lasting from thirty to fifty days, depending on the ham’s size. After a period of time, which allows the salt to "equalize" throughout the meat, the ham is then smoked. Smoke acts as yet another form of preservative. After smoking, the ham remains raw. The next step in a country ham's development is a trip to the ham house, where the smoked meat "hangs" for a period of time. Most farmers who cure their own hams wait at least nine months before eating them: some devotees delay up to two years. It is during this lengthy "hang time" where the real flavor magic takes place in this true "slow food." The chemical reactions that happen over the following months produce the fine flavors of an aged ham. Harmless molds of white, blue and gold hues grow over the hanging hocks. This mold is crucial to a country ham's taste evolution. During the "July sweats" of the hot summer months, the flesh of the ham expands into the outer covering of mold. In the colder winter weather, the meat contracts, drawing in with it the taste enhancing mold enzymes. Fat too plays an important role in the maturing of a country ham’s flavor. "Fat, to a ham," explained Kaminsky, "is the equivalent of tannin to a Burgundy. If it has structure, the fat will allow the flavor to compound."

After absorbing all of this country ham history I was hungry, and even more excited to have a Newsom's encounter of my own. Within 24 hours of my first phone call to Princeton, I was chatting away with this third-generation Newsom. In the conversation’s first few minutes she had me hooked with a tale of Christopher Columbus gnawing on a slice of cured ham during his famous voyage of 1492. Story time with a gourmet twist. What could be better? With gracious and personalized attention, in phone calls, in person or over the internet, Nancy Newsom Mahaffey is keeping a lost art alive. Selling only retail, and in limited numbers (naturally curing about 5,000 hams a year) Col. Bill Newsom's Aged Kentucky Country Ham draws customers from across town and across the country alike. The traditional flavors and traditional methods are what keep people coming back for more — and Nancy is more than happy to explain how it all came to be.

Nancy's father, Col. Bill Newsom, took over the Princeton business in 1933 when he was 18 years old. He continued to run the mom and pop establishment, which was made nationally famous by James Beard, until 1987, conducting business across the counter and in the nearby smokehouse, where he cured his own hams. "The cure depends on the family," Nancy explained. The Newsom recipe came from Virginia, where most country hams were developed. "Our Virginia land was depleted from tobacco farming," she continued. "It wore the land out." A land grant eventually caused the Newsom clan to pack their belongings and move the family to Kentucky.

Newsom's method (a cure with only salt, sugar and hickory smoke—no pepper, no nitrates) was discovered in an old family will dating from the 1770s. The flavor is a mix of the smoke and the curing — with the geographical specifics of the humid Princeton environment adding its own, signature touch. "As my Daddy used to say," Nancy added, "every ham house has its own mold."

The Newsom's is a low-ground ham house, not far from a swampy area. Whether it's due to the changeable Kentucky climate or the underground spring that runs beneath the property, extra moisture in the air allows the Newsom hams to say moist longer. All the hams are smoked in an iron kettle by Nancy herself, a job I can tell she relishes by the enthusiastic life in her voice. "As my best friend told me," she confided, "'Nancy, you’re the only person I know who can sit down in front of a fire and tell it to burn — and it will!'"

In 1987, Nancy Newsom Mahaffey took over the store from her father and began to rebuild the family business on the cornerstone of its aged country hams. Today, Newsom's continues on its mission to practice the 'lost art' of naturally curing and aging hams, to which modern day commercialized methods cannot compare. (Whole hams average 15-20 pounds. When sold by weight, the price is around $4.39 per pound.) Nancy advises customers to soak the ham in milk or water before boiling or baking. This step restores moisture to the meat and reduces the salt content even further. To order a ham log onto www.newsomscountryham.com which sells the hams, as well as a variety of regional specialties available at the Old Mill Store.

Southern Foodways Alliance
Southern Foodways Alliance

Princeton, Ky., Sept. 15 — Ham producer Nancy Newsom Mahaffey, owner and operator of Col. Newsom’s Aged Kentucky Hams, was among the food experts chosen to participate in the 6th annual Southern Foodways Symposium planned for Oxford, Miss., Oct. 2-5.

Known nationally as “the Ham Lady,” Mahaffey took her country ham product to the event. The aged ham is produced from a curing process that has been in her family since the 1700s.

Newsom’s ham is marketed in Princeton at Newsom’s Old Mill Store, by mail order and on the internet at www.newsomscountryham.com.

The commercial ham business was started by her father, Col. Bill Newsom, as a division of the H.C. Newsom Store, established in 1917. Newsom’s ham attracted the attenion of Chef James Beard and was a staple at the James Beard Culinary Institute.

The Newsom’s small town family grocery store was lost in a fire in 1987 and reopened by Mahaffey in a building next door as Newsom’s Old Mill Store, a working country store.

Mahaffey was commissioned as a Kentucky Colonel in her own right in 2002 because of her business achievements and contributions to Kentucky. The Colonel maintains a traditional craft with her artisan ability in the art of curing aged hams — the curing of her Col. Newsom's Kentucky Aged Ham.

“The nature of our cure involves an age-old process to produce a handcrafted product,” said Mahaffey. Col. Newsom’s ham is unique in the marketplace today because there is no nitrate or nitrite used in the cure.

Col. Newsom’s Aged Ham represents what is considered today to be one of our nation’s “lost arts” — the true artifact — a naturally cured aged ham. Mahaffey, who is one of just a handful women ham producers in the nation, said that the cure is unlike most commercialized processes which shortcut the time and aging process.

“It’s not just the closest we can come. If you are looking for authentic country ham, you have found it,” Mahaffey said.

The symposium at which Mahaffey appeared on Saturday evening was presented by the Southern Foodways Alliance, which is led by Director John T. Edge. Coordinator of the symposium was Mary Beth Lassiter. The event was held on the University of Mississippi campus at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture.

Mahaffey was among four U.S. ham producers assembled by Chef Jim Gerhardt to present the “Jack Daniel’s Country Ham Summit.” The presentation was Saturday evening, Oct. 4.

In the Photo Above: Col. Nancy Newsom Mahaffey (center) is pictured with Chef Jim Gerhardt (left) at the ham summit, where dozens of patrons tasted Newsom's Aged Ham and learned about the differences in aging and production methods.

Slow Dining With Newsom's Prosciutto ... Princeton, Circa 2004
Slow Dining With Newsom's Prosciutto ... Princeton, Circa 2004

A local chef and an herb grower have enlisted the aid of a ham producer to fill out the menu for a “Slow Dinner.” The event is a fund-raiser to establish a local chapter (convivia) of an organization that promotes awareness and educates the public about food ecology and sources — and making what we eat the natural way. Slow Food is an international movement that seeks to preserve and re-establish food traditions and a more harmonious way of life.

Chef Andy Fair of Echo Charlie’s, herbalist Marissa Kilgore of Black Barn Herbs and ham producer Nancy Mahaffey of Col. Newsom’s Aged Kentucky Country Hams are the principals involved in a Slow Dinner planned Friday, Nov. 19.

Fair has put together the menu for the five course dinner and will do the food preparation. The dinner will be served at Echo Charlie’s on Lake Barkley. Kilgore is furnishing the herbs and organically-grown vegetables.

Mahaffey is furnishing Newsom’s ham, prosciutto and bacon.

The sponsors for the event are Fair’s employer Eddy Creek Marina, Fortner Gas, Mahaffey’s Newsom’s Old Mill Store in downtown Princeton and Kilgore’s Black Barn Herbs.

Why Slow Food?

“We believe in what Slow Food stands for,” said Kilgore.

“It’s just so much better,” Fair said. “I’m so tired of processed garbage. I don’t want to go to drive-thrus and fast food.

“It is so much more fun to pick up your food, cook it with friends and family and then sit down and eat with them.”

Slow Food’s primary purpose is educating the public about “slower foods” — organically grown foods, economically and ecologically fragile foods and plants, and artisans, like Nancy Mahaffey of Col. Newsom’s Aged Country Hams.

“We are about buying from and supporting our local producers,” Kilgore said.

“We just really want to start getting across the importance of knowing where your food comes from,” she said.

Fair has been the chef at Echo Charlie’s for over a year. He comes from the St. Louis area (Edwardsville, Ill.), but has been familiar with this region of western Kentucky all of his life, traveling here because his father uses Eddy Creek Marina.

Fair, who turned 27 on Saturday, received his training as a chef at Johnson and Wales University. He has a bachelor’s degree in food science and human nutrition from the University of Illinois.

Kilgore, a mother of two young children, has been involved with Black Barn Herbs for three years, growing and marketing in the area.

This past year she started growing vegetables, too. “I do it all organically,” Kilgore said.

Mahaffey is the owner-operator of Col. Newsom’s Aged Kentucky Country Hams. She is the third generation of the Newsom family to cure hams using a family recipe that dates to the 1700s.

Her hams are marketed locally at Newsom’s Old Mill Store, the current day version of a family business established in 1917, and on the internet at newsomscountryham.com.

Fair’s kitchen is one of Kilgore’s customers for herbs and vegetables, and soon after coming to the area, he discovered Newsom’s.

Fair said that he was introduced to the Slow Food way and the organization in Urbana, Ill., about two years ago by Chef Alice Waters.

He said that Waters is a proponent of ecological stewardship and natural foods and is involved in many education programs, particularly teaching elementary school children about the benefits of gardening and how to do it.

After talking to Kilgore in his search for the kinds of food that he likes to use in the kitchen, Fair discovered an ally in his plans to bring the Slow Food way to western Kentucky.

Kilgore said that the pair applied to Slow Food, head-quartered in New York, to establish a chapter in this region — the Purchase Area Slow Food Convivia. “There is one in Louisville and one is being started in Lexington, but there is nothing in this area. They granted us a convivia. Now we have to work hard to get members. We have to raise our own operating funds,” she said.

As she began to formulate her plan to bring the Slow Food way into the area, Kilgore approached Mahaffey with her Slow Food discovery, only to learn that Mahaffey’s product was already known to Slow Food and had been the subject of a feature article in the organization’s U.S. publication The Snail in December. Mahaffey’s ham is one of a few across the nation produced by historic methods.

She spoke Monday about her ham as part of a seminar presented at the National Women Chefs and Restaurateurs Conference, held in Louisville. “I really believe that it is an important thing for people to teach their children how to grow their food — how to garden. It’s a disappearing art, but something that may become a necessity again one day,” Mahaffey said. “Food producers are being briefed on the potential for bioterrorism as it relates to the ingredients that are used to manufacture food on a large scale,” she said. Kilgore pointed out that much of the food in groceries today “comes from Chile, and we don’t have any idea what they are using on it.”

Educating the public and increasing awareness about the types of food that Mahaffey and Kilgore produce and that Fair cooks is a primary goal of Slow Food, which now exists in over 45 countries with more than 70,000 members.

Reservations are required for the fund-raising dinner. The event cost is $40 per person or $75 per couple. It is planned to accommodate 40, Fair said, but the restaurant could seat up to 80 for the event.

For information or to make reservations, persons can call Kilgore at 270-365-5023 or Fair at 618-638-2523. The annual membership cost for Slow Food is $60 for individuals and $75 for couples.

In the Photo above: Chef Andy Fair (left), ham producer Nancy Mahaffey and herb grower Marissa Kilgore sample Newsom’s Aged Hams prosciutto as they prepare for a Slow Dinner fundraising event for the area’s Slow Food convivia.

Princeton, Ky., circa 2004

New York Times 05 The Egg and Newsom's Ham
New York Times 05 The Egg and Newsom's Ham

Diner's Journal by Eric Asimov

New York Times, Friday, Oct. 14, 2005

(This story appeared in the New York Times about one of the many restaurants that Newsom's County Hams is privileged to list among its clientele. Our hats off to George Weld and Egg.)

The pancakes are eggy, yet so feathery light that they are seemingly gone before you've begun to eat. The maple syrup is so richly flavored you can practically see the steam rising from a sugar shack in the snowy woods. The grits, from Anson Mills in South Carolina, are imbued with the taste of corn, and the country ham, from Col. Bill Newsom in Princeton, Ky.—well, let me just say that this dark and ruddy ham, served in thin slices that almost crumble at the touch, is so profound that you want to pause in midbite and thank the gods for putting this meal in front of you.

At Egg, a sliver of an operation in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, somebody loves breakfast. That is clear, and it's just as clear that it's an outside job. New Yorkers don't love breakfast. They barely tolerate it, except when it's called brunch. Then they stand in the rain for an hour waiting to eat somebody's poor excuse for eggs Benedict. But breakfast? That's what you drink on the subway, or buy from a cart on the way to the office.

Sure enough, George Weld, the proprietor of Egg, is from the South. He grew up in Virginia and the Carolinas, the heart of American breakfast country,where his father was a traveling minister. His big reward as a child was pancakes for dinner.

Having resettled in New York, Mr. Weld, now 33, was livmg a typical Williamsburg life, working at a dotcom, trying to write a novel. He became friendly with Brian and Melissa Benavidez, who coincidentally owned Sparky's All-American Food,

an all-natural hot dog and hamburger joint in a narrow space that looks like an old garage, with a concrete floor and flea-market furnishings. Sparky's was open for lunch and dinner. Mornings were considered dead time, naturally.

With the Benavidezes, Mr. Weld hatched a plan. Each morning Sparky's would become Egg, serving breakfast until noon, at which time the space would revert to Sparky's.

Mr. Weld's pancakes are indeed a reward, but there is more. Like scrambled eggs, a dish that is so woefully undervalued in New York that the typical fried-to-shoe-leather texture is not just accepted, it's preferred. That's why people pour ketchup on eggs. At Egg, if you ask for eggs scrambled soft, you receive eggs with pillowy curds so light that they rival the pancakes for airiness.

Or consider the country-ham biscuit, a fat buttermilk biscuit layered wlth that wondrous ham, sweet fig jam and Grafton cheddar from Vermont. Try this, and it becomes impossible to settle for one of those fastfood egg-and-muffin combos again unless, of course, you enjoy standing in the rain for brunch and drinking bad coffee through a bitten-through plastic top.

Egg, 135 North Fifth Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, (718) 302-5151. Breakfast, 7 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to noon Saturday and Sunday. Breakfast, $5 to $7; sides $1.50 to $3. Cash only.

The Egg has moved to 109 N. 3rd St., between Berry and Wythe in Brooklyn ... 2014

That Breakfast Ham ... Saveur Magazine '08
That Breakfast Ham ... Saveur Magazine '08

Saveur October 2008

Saveur magazine produced a "Breakfast Issue" for October.

The Pantry by Hunter Lewis listed the breakfast favorite sources in the Breakfast Issue.

Hunter Lewis shared his favorites for breakfast recipes.

In producing the stories for this issue, we discovered food products and destinations too good to keep to ourselves, said Lewis.

Listed in the breakfast meats is Kentucky Country Ham from Col. Bill Newsom's Country Hams at 270-365-2482, www.newsomscountryham.com.

Food Tour of the South: Budget Travel, 2010
Food Tour of the South: Budget Travel, 2010

A long association with Chef Kathy Cary has produced a mutual admiration between the renowned chef and Col. Bill Newsom's Country Ham. When Chef Cary was featured in Budget Travel magazine, June 2010 issue, Newsom's was on the list of her six favorite places.

Cary's renown speaks for itself. The Louisville chef/owner of Lily's Bistro is a five-time James Beard Foundation Award nominee.

"At Lily's Bistro in Louisville, Cary combines the ingredients — catfish, country ham, locally sourced meats, cheeses and produce — of her native state with flavors and techniques from Europe, Asia, and the Mediterranean to create some of the Bluegrass State's most innovative dishes."

As one of Cary's favorite Kentucky places, Col. Bill Newsom's Country Ham was listed as the "best aged ham, a James Beard favorite." Visitors are invited to "meet Nancy known as the 'Ham Lady,' and daughter of Col. Bill.

Lilly's Bistro is located at 1147 Bardstown Road, Louisville; 502.451.0447; www.lillyslapeche.com.

Mind of a Chef
Mind of a Chef

Newsom's Passes Century Mark
Newsom's Passes Century Mark

Princeton, KY. Aug. 19, 2017 — Nationally, Princeton's oldest retail establishment is known as Col. Newsom's Aged Hams — locally, it is Newsom's Old Mill Store, or just "Newsom's."

Among the most recent national accolades that owner and operator Nancy Newsom Mahaffey hails as “blessings” for her small family business are being named an “icon” among Kentucky food products and listed as “one of the country’s best hams” in the April edition of Southern Living magazine. A foodnetwork.com series featuring the Best Food in America by State identified Col. Bill Newsom’s Aged Kentucky Country Ham in Princeton as one of the iconic foods to seek out in the Bluegrass state. Southern Living recognized the Gourmet BBQ “Preacher” Ham.

A member of the Newsom family has owned and operated the retail enterprise at the lower end of Main Street — 208 East Main — since January 1, 1917 when the business was established as the H.C. Newsom Store. The current owner and operator is Nancy Newsom Mahaffey, the third generation to serve the public at Newsom's.

Nancy said that the store and its patrons are celebrating Newsom's 100th birthday all year long. "It takes more than just a family and crew working for a business to last a hundred years. It takes all the customers, loyal through the years and newcomers, across the nation, around the surrounding area and throughout the community."

This past Christmas, she started putting extra items in the bags of her customers and in January started a series of Trader Bucks giveaways on the Newsom’s Old Mill Store Facebook page. The first winner was Tracy Jenkins who quickly claimed her bucks in ham, both country and "Preacher" ham. Kathy Curtis followed in February taking her prize with some of both hams.

"We're doing a monthly giveaway through our Facebook page," Nancy said. "That's really been a good addition for us, letting people know what is changing in the store. We can let them know about new items or remind them of what we have to offer every day."

Nancy is also doing a monthly giveaway in the store. The first was a BBQ "Preacher" ham half going to Nancy Trevallian of Dawson Springs. Subsequent winners have included Charles Brennan, William Fox, Jeanie Duncan, Edna Hamby and Karen Parrent. Those drawings continue throughout the year and patrons are encouraged to enter every time they come into the store.

The Newsom’s enterprise in Princeton, came into being on Jan. 1, 1917. Hosea Cleveland (H.C.) Newsom was 32 years old when he became proprietor of the store. He had worked locally for the Beaver Dam Planing Mill as a lumber salesman, before changing jobs and putting in a few years with the Smith Grocery. In fact, it was the Smith store on Main Street that he acquired and made his own establishment.

Newsom had grown up in a working family, less than a quarter-mile from the Newsom Cemetery, now 8 miles east of Princeton on Ky. 91-South. H.C. was the son of William Hosea and Mary Irene Newsom of Christian County. William Newsom was a prominent farmer of his day. H.C. married Ora P’Pool in 1909. The couple set up housekeeping in a house on what is now Hopkinsville Street and had five children, Irene, William H. “Bill,” Don “Pool,” John and James (who died in infancy). Irene served as Princeton’s city clerk for a number of years, Bill stepped into his father’s role at the store at age 18, Dr. Don was a successful dentist with a practice in Owensboro and Dr. John was an orthodontist with a practice based in Hopkinsville.

The business grew and changed with the development of the nation. Newsom’s was well-placed in the city business district, beside the Mill and across the street from the Livery Stable, which was also a blacksmith’s and later an automotive repair shop. At the start of Newsom’s in this rural region some customers or vendors would come in horse-drawn wagons, while others arrived in that first generation of cars and trucks taking to the roads. The cars and trucks of course won out, but horses and wagons still had their part to play. A young H.C. had paid court to Ora, a farmer’s daughter, often traveling from Princeton by wagon, hitching a ride, to visit the young woman that he would claim as a bride.

H.C. died at age 49, leaving Ora, daughter Irene with two young children of her own, sons Bill, Don “Pool“ and John — just 18 months old — and the H.C. Newsom Store on East Main Street in downtown Princeton.

“I can only imagine what it was like for my Dad, just 18, stepping in for his father to run the store for his mother and there was Aunt Fanny (Newsom, H.C.’s sister) too, who worked there with them,” said Nancy.

Bill, who had actually started working at the store when he was 8-years-old, stepped up to meet the challenge. Along the way, he claimed Jane Williams as his bride in 1940. Ironically, Jane was born in 1917, the same year as the store that would serve as the family’s calling and become the service that the family would carry on in Princeton.

There was a stint of service in WWII for Bill, then back home to pick up the mantle of Newsom’s store. He became active in First Baptist Church, as had the generation before him. With Jane supporting him at the store, which had turned from the general store era into the “Mom and Pop” neighborhood market, the family was active in the community and Bill took a leading role in the retail association, locally and at the state level. Jane and Bill had two children along the way, Jim in 1947 and Nancy in 1955.

It was the 1960s when transition came for the family’s country ham business, which is the Newsom’s mainstay today.

Bill had sold country hams at his grocery store through the years, but the demand for them grew only as the nation transitioned from a rural, agricultural base into urban commerce and an industrial economy. 

“Daddy had been doing hams himself and bought a few from local farmers when he liked how they cured them. That is what he sold for several years, really nothing like we do today,” Nancy said.

The basic resources for the ham business were there though — the cure, the facility and the demand. It was a question of tying it all together.

The Newsom cure was tried and true, verified by a will dating to the 1700s. And, the heritage for the process was there, a forefather landing at Jamestown, Va., in 1634. The family grew in Surrey County, Virginia, then migrated to North Carolina and then into Kentucky settling in Caldwell County in 1823 with a Revolutionary War Land Grant. 

A commercial facility for the country ham process came into being in 1963, when government regulations came into the picture. If you were going to be free to sell hams across state lines, interstate commerce, the process had to meet federal inspection — thus Bill contacted the late Sam Steger and undertook construction of a federally approved plant.

Demand had come locally and was spreading with a mail order list building for a few/several hundred hams shipping to customers in other states.

“Our mail order was ‘founded’ by the late James Beard, the father of gourmet cooking. He had written about us in the American Airlines magazine, and that launched it for us,” Nancy said.

Beard had been turned onto Col. Bill Newsom’s Country Ham by a Kentucky transplant who lived in Virginia. The woman had read Beard’s comments about country ham and wrote to him that he “had not had a real country ham until he had one from Col. Bill Newsom’s Country Hams.” Beard heeded the recommendation, purchased one of the Newsom hams and thus a long association was born.

“He would call Daddy at home. And, they would talk about ham. It seemed like he wanted to know everything, and he called a lot. When Chef Beard died (in 1985), they called Dad (as one of the people considered as close associates) for a comment and he told them ‘Well, all we ever talked about was ham.’”

James Beard Foundation awards have become the Emmys and Oscars of the food industry — chefs, restaurants, cookbooks writers, food writers, all treasure the Beard honors.

An article in Connoisseur magazine in 1989 produced a magnificent photo of Bill Newsom (taken by a groundbreaking photographer who worked with National Geographic) and showed the value of that first facility. “Our business and two other farm ham producers (Guier and Freeman) from the Trigg County area, were featured. Neither of them had a federal facility, but one of them mentioned shipping to other states and after the article, he came to dad to see what it would take to be federally inspected. He opted not to and quit shipping his hams.”

At that time, Nancy was a young mother with two children, one in grade school. She had worked part-time in the grocery store and the ham production before taking on the business full time. “I worked the mail order list from home, beginning in 1976, and have done it each year since.

Her children, John and Alisa are now grown with children of their own. John’s roots are firmly established in Princeton with his young family, wife Katie and daughters, Kyndle and Stevie Ray, and he works in the business for his mother. Alisa, while putting in her time at the business as a teenager, is busy with her family, husband Daniel Lopes and children, son, Christian, and daughter, Emma Jane, in Oldham County.

There have been a lot of milestones in the 100-year-old Newsom family business and in Nancy’s life. The one that changed them both forever occurred on the night of Oct. 6, 1987, when a spark became a flame and the flame a blaze that destroyed the family grocery store on East Main Street.

“It was awful. It was just awful. It seemed like we smelled that smoke forever. Well, that was the end of the grocery and my Daddy retired. He was 72 and not ready to start over,” Nancy said.

Nancy was 32 and not one to back down from a challenge. “‘But Daddy we’ve got hams to sell,’ she had said when he showed no sign of reopening the business. He told me, ’Then you do it.’ I did and have been every since. I don’t think he expected that.”

Ironically, the few items saved from the rubble of the fire included H.C. Newsom’s chopping block, a band saw, a painting of a pig playing a flute in a garden and the boxes of mail order files — what you would need to carry on a ham business.

“Just two weeks before the fire, I had moved the file boxes to the back of the store. The floor fell in just in front of those boxes. Some plastic dishwashing liquid bottles melted into a coating that covered the boxes, keeping water from the hoses from washing the ink off of the file cards. We had to dry them out, but they were ok. We rewrote the 3,500 envelopes, which had burned, and sent them out.”

Newsom’s has continued that old-fashioned tradition of mailing out a brochure letting customers know in the fall that it is time to order the hams. “Our customers look for it. Just occasionally, if they feel that we are a little late or they haven’t gotten their brochure, they will call to see that we are on schedule.”

In that era of transition in the late 1980s, the Old Globe Tavern and the Princeton Roller Mills/Purina Feed buildings next door were being rented by Newsom’s Grocery for seed sales and garden supplies. Those buildings became Newsom’s Old Mill Store, just one door away from the 1917 grocery/general store.

“It was a day after the fire. I called Ed Thompson and asked if he was ready to go back to work. It was a quick answer, and we were back at it. We put a couple of chrysanthemums in front of the burned out store, kind of a memorial, and someone came along wanting to buy them. Then two more, and then more and we were back in business. I just added things as I could. We were never going to be a full-scale grocery again, but we could be a gourmet store and sell our hams,” she said. The business had been closed only one day because of the fire.

That year Nancy and Ed were the team that boxed and shipped out the country hams. Today, it is still a small family operation, but in the holiday season the Newsom team produces several weeks worth of loads for the UPS haulers and is a daily stop for the national shipping company.

With the Old Mill Store as a base of operation, Newsom’s cures country hams and produces a pit-smoked ham (Smoky Gourmet BBQ, “Preacher Ham”) — a family product of over 60 years. The “Preacher Ham” is a local favorite and has its own national following.

Still in business despite that 1987 fire, Nancy found ways to continue growing demand for the aged hams. Beard’s recommendation still carries weight — and the hams continued to meet expectations. Chefs continued to call and individuals who had grown up with hams that their families cured would find Newsom’s and stay with their find year after year.

“We have been fortunate that writers have shared our story in newspapers and magazines. Also, we have been included in several cookbooks and many other books about food and ham. Peter Kaminsky, who is greatly respected in the food world, included a chapter about us in his book ‘Pig Perfect.‘”

A highlight for any ham producer, especially one from America, came in 2009 when Nancy was invited to participate in the 5th World Congress of Dry Cured Ham. A Newsom’s ham was placed in the Jamon Museum in Aracena, Spain. “That was a wonderful trip. A truly wonderful honor, just a great honor.” As the only American Aged Ham to be in a European museum, the Newsom family relic still holds its place there in Spain.hh

“Nancy, the Ham Lady,” a nickname that came from a Wall Street Journal article, said that she has been told on more than one occasion by individuals who seek her out after traveling in Spain that they have seen her ham in the museum.

In 2013, the business reached another milestone. “We added a second facility. We were just running out of hams too soon every year,” she said. It is ironic, she noted that when building the second facility for Newsom’s she was the same age that her father had been when he built that first federal plant.

“My father held that ham process close, and I do too. It won’t change,” Nancy said. “He did not encourage me to take on this business, but he didn’t fight it. He just did not make anything real easy. He knew the level of hard work and stress it would bring, and I know that he did not want me to have to go through that. But that is what I chose, it was my choice to own and to make.”

“It was a good choice, and one I have never regretted.”

“I have learned through the years that people make history, but it is history that makes people who they are today. A hundred years, and all those generations before, is a good amount of history that has made me who I am today,” she said.

H.C. Newsom ran the store for 15 years, Bill Newsom for 55 years and now Nancy Newsom Mahaffey has for 30 years.