In Colonial North Carolina, hogs furnished “the principal food” throughout the year, but without modern day refrigeration, primitive methods were used in order to preserve the meat. Thus, hogs were typically slaughtered in the cold temperatures of the winter season, and were immediately covered and buried in salt in order to prevent spoiling. When the arid winds of springtime arrived, the hams would be dug up, cleaned, and hung to dry. Finally, the warm air of summer would “age” the hams, providing the rich, southern, familiar flavor of a properly cured Country Ham. In 1946, Waitus Worrell, first generation of WayCo Ham Company and our first Cure Master, was so intrigued by this traditional technique, he began salt-curing and dry-aging country hams using these methods, but with the help of modern day temperature-controlled equipment, enabling him to precisely and consistently replicate this colonial technique. And today, 3rd generation Cure Master George Worrell continues his grandfather’s tradition by using his exact methods which have been producing the finest country hams for over 50 years.
WINTER: We begin the curing process by hand rubbing fresh hams with our own blend of salt, brown sugar, and seasonings. A week later they are hand rubbed again to ensure the cure mix is evenly distributed. Just like winter, the hams will cure around 40 degrees for approximately 50 days.
SPRING: Once the curing period has ended, we hand wash each ham, removing the excess cure mix, then meticulously hang the hams in nets in a drying room where the temperature is kept between 50-60 degrees in low humidity. Some in the industry refer to this stage as “equalization”, as it gives the ham the opportunity to “rest” after the curing period. This ensures the salt is equally distributed throughout the ham, allowing the enzymatic activity to fully develop throughout the entire
ham. Mass producers known for “quick-curing” country hams skip this step, but we don’t. It’s this drying stage that’s one of the most important steps in the curing process, guaranteeing our hams consistency and mellow, not overly-salty flavor.
SUMMER: After a 3-week drying period, our hams are moved to the aging room. It’s there we age our hams a lot slower than others, and at much lower temperatures. Mass producers have found they can get the USDA weight loss by raising the temperatures in the aging room to over 100 degrees F and age them out in as little as 10 days. But we take our time and allow the proteins to develop flavor naturally by aging them at 80 degrees F for over a month. This is the crucial stage where nature does its thing, and it’s best not to hurry it, as the proteins and marbling in the ham “age” and develop the natural, succulent flavors so familiar of a properly Southern-Cured Country Ham.
SMOKE: As a finishing touch, every WayCo Country Ham is moved into our smokehouse, where they’re slowly and gently smoked over a bed of smoldering hickory chips, giving them a color and aroma that’s simply irresistible.
The total cycle of curing, drying, aging, and then smoking the WayCo Country Ham is over 100 days. Loyal customers have come to expect and appreciate the well balanced flavor our un-hurried process creates. You will too. It’s our best product!