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.