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."