Dry cured hams have been produced throughout southern Europe for centuries. Spain, Portugal, Germany, France and Italy have highly valued hams employing a variety of breeds and curing methods.
The tradition of dry cured hams began in the south of the United States in the 17th Century, especially in Virginia and the Carolinas. The well known smoked hams from peanut fed pigs were produced in the Surry and Smithfield areas. The resulting hams from the several countries vary widely in flavor, aroma, texture and quality.
Country-style ham in America is a salt-cured and smoked ham that is traditionally prepared in rural sections of Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Vermont and other states. "Country ham" refers to a style, rather than a location.
Traditionally hogs for these hams were fed peanuts, beech nuts, hickory nuts, acorns and fruit to produce more flavorful and tender meat. This is seldom the case today when most pigs are raised in factory conditions. The hams are packed in salt, smoked over fragrant hardwoods, and aged at least six months. These hams are meant to be cooked before eating, and require of 24-48 hour soaking in water to leech out the excess salt.
Compared to other European hams, Spanish jamón has a more uniform texture, more intense flavor and is usually less moist because of the long curing stage. This is especially true of hams from acorn-fed Ibérico Bellota pigs.