Every so often, as a food enthusiast, if you look long and hard, you’ll run across someone in the food world you’re quite confident has “Got the news”. This is someone that when you’re in their world, you feel very fortunate because you know in no uncertain terms that artisans like this aren’t often found anywhere.
They’re people that are bursting with excitement from within because they can see the immense joy they’re bringing you as a customer; you and most likely many, many others.
Symbiotic smiles tell each other during your conversation that something special is awhirl.
This was my recent experience with “Colonel” Nancy Newsom Mahaffey, owner of the famous Newsom’s country store in Princeton, Kentucky.
After reading Peter Kaminsky’s wonderful book called “Pig Perfect”, I was certain that our next road trip down to Kentucky would most certainly include a stop in the country town of Princeton.
The accolades bestowed upon this amazing 87 year old family run operation have been numerous, being first recognized nationally by none other than James Beard. Twenty years ago, Beard claimed that Newsom’s produced the best aged hams in America.
Newsom’s country hams are produced with no nitrates or by any other artificial means; just salt, sugar, and hickory smoke. The number, nationally, of operations making aged country hams in this pure and simple way are few. Even the famous Smithfield hams are barely aged for more than 6 months, the legal minimum if they are to be called aged. They are hardly produced today in anywhere near the traditional fashion that made them famous such as fattening the pigs on peanuts and aging them a minimum of 1 year.
Hams made by Newsom are usually aged for 12 to 14 months and sometimes up to 22 months.
As Trix and I milled around the general store buying up everything in sight, Nancy filled us in about her hams and the basics involving the history of their business. For most of their operational years, the business wasn’t centered primarily around hams but of being a general store. For most his life, Nancy’s father and the business’ former patriarch, Colonel Bill, would make traditional aged hams in limited quantities for mostly the local population. Although the Colonel has passed on, his curing process has remained unchanged under the guidance of his daughter Nancy.
We ordered some basic ham sandwiches as we waited for her to prepare and wrap our ham. Usually, I’m not a ham sandwich sorta guy, but the quality of even their basic smoked ham was beyond belief. No doubt the best sandwich-on-the-run I’ve ever had. Even the fact that they served it with some poor, generic bread made no difference. This ham was spectacular!!
Meeting people like Nancy Newsom in a setting like Princeton, Kentucky is, for me, what the love of food and road trips are all about.
Colonel Bill sitting in the ham house or "treasury"with his beloved hams
Trix with Colonel Bill's daughter, Nancy, the present owner
Newsom's country store in Princeton, KentuckyNewsom'sNewsom's
208 East Main Street