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What Is a Virginia Ham?

By Rhonda Rivera
Updated May 16, 2024
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Discover the savory tradition of Virginia ham, a delicacy that has graced American tables for generations. According to the Virginia Pork Council, this type of country ham is distinct for its unique curing process, which dates back to the colonial era. 

Virginia hams are typically cured with a blend of salts, sugars, and spices, then aged to perfection—a process that can take from several months to a year. While often sold cured yet uncooked, allowing for extended unrefrigerated storage, they are also available fully cooked, sliced, or smoked. 

True Virginia hams, as opposed to Virginia-style hams, must be produced within the state, ensuring authenticity and quality. A staple for holiday feasts and a beloved breakfast meat, Virginia ham offers a taste of Southern heritage with every bite.

Country hams are traditionally quite salty because they are salt-cured. Salt curing involves simply covering a meat with salt, which draws out moisture and slows the oxidation process. This is an ancient method of curing meat which was primarily used until the 1900s. In modern times, there are different methods of preserving meat, such as using different kinds of preservatives or freezing the meat. After being salt-cured, the ham is wrapped in parchment and bagged, then sold to consumers.

In most cases, a whole Virginia ham is only cured rather than cooked. Sometimes the ham is also smoked or it comes in multiple varieties. Sliced and cooked Virginia ham can also be found in some grocery stores. When sold in pre-cooked slices, Virginia ham is typically cut into ham steaks. Ham steaks are thick, round slices that more closely resemble steaks than a standard slice of sandwich meat.

A Virginia ham is simply a country ham cured in a certain region of the United States. On the other hand, a Virginia-style ham refers to how the ham was cooked rather than where. A ham marked “VA Style” is still a country ham cured in the same way, but it was likely not cured in Virginia. They are sometimes marked this way to be more recognizable to people who know country hams as Virginia hams, even though they are the same thing.

Country hams are usually baked, but they can also be fried. In the United States, a country Virginia ham is most popular around holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. For example, on these holidays a ham may be served alongside a turkey, though some families choose one meat to cook rather than cooking both. Ham is sometimes also served as a breakfast meat along with eggs, fruit, or coffee. This kind of ham is a bit salty to use as sandwich meat and is more suitable to being eaten in small amounts.

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