Ham refers to a piece of pork that comes from the rear leg of a hog. There are fresh hams, but most people buy hams that have been cured, smoked or boiled. It is the curing or smoking process that gives ham a salty taste. City hams are precooked hams that have been completely cooked by baking, curing or smoking. Country hams are dry-cured with salt and left to age for several months.
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City hams are wet-cured so have a watery taste to them. These wet-cured hams get their salty flavor from soaking in brine or being injected with a salt solution. Most people buy and serve city hams because they are less salty than country hams and they are precooked.
Picnic hams are also referred to as city hams, but they are cut from the lower part of a hog's shoulder. They are usually smoked and technically fully cooked. However, they have more fat on them than the leaner hams cut from the rear leg of the hog; therefore, they need extra cooking, not just reheating, to get rid of the excess fat.
The flavor of country hams is more intense than city hams since they are dry-cured in brine. Country hams are also known as a Virginia, Tennessee or Kentucky hams. Country hams are dry-cured (meaning with a rub), smoked and aged for a period from a few months to more than a year. When country hams are cured for longer than six months, the meat becomes velvety and dark red with a flavor similar to prosciutto. Newsom's Country Hams claims that country ham carries a stigma as a Southern food, so many American country-ham producers are beginning to market it as an American-style prosciutto product to boost sales. A thick slice of two-year cured country ham, furry with mold and pungent in taste is not as popular today as it was 70 years ago.
By law, the salt content of country hams must be at least 4 percent. This saltiness, paired with a sweet melon, is as good or better than traditional prosciutto. So restaurateurs are slicing the country hams as thin as possible and promoting the product as American-style prosciutto.