It’s Genuine!

Published 7:10 pm Tuesday, January 22, 2019

New facility will ensure supply of legacy hams

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Genuine Smithfield hams are once again being salted, smoked and cured in their namesake town. 

Smithfield Foods recently completed construction of a new climate-controlled smokehouse and plans to continue producing its historic Genuine Smithfield ham — the product that originally put the company on the map.

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Smithfield Foods President and CEO Ken Sullivan said the company invested $1.8 million in the new facility, which replaces the older smokehouse that went offline last year. 

There was never any intention to permanently stop making the hams, said Sullivan in an interview last week at the company’s corporate headquarters. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

“It’s part of our culture, our heritage,” said Sullivan of the Genuine Smithfield ham, and added that enough hams would be produced to meet a declining demand for the historic product. 

The Genuine Smithfield ham gained its foothold in culinary history in 1926, when company officials convinced the Virginia General Assembly to pass a law stipulating how and where the hams could be made. It was a move thought to edge out the competition, as there were several ham makers in the state trying to capitalize on the emerging reputation of the Smithfield product. 

The law, which remains on the books today, states that a Genuine Smithfield ham must be processed, treated, smoked, aged and salt-cured for last least six months within the town limits of Smithfield. 

The original law also required the pigs to be peanut-fed and raised in the “peanut belt of Virginia and North Carolina, but that portion was repealed in 1966. 

A Genuine Smithfield ham differs from a “country ham,” also produced by Smithfield Foods, in that it’s full cut, with its hock intact and is aged longer than the latter variety. 

Both Genuine Smithfield and country hams are cured in the manner handed down for centuries. They are packed in salt until cured, then hung to be smoked and aged. Both products were produced in Smithfield’s large smokehouse located at its packing plant north of the Pagan River. The company announced last year that it was closing the smokehouse because of obsolescence. 

Modern tastes have changed and the market for salt-cured meat has declined sharply. Sullivan said the number of hams needed to fill orders now numbers in the “low thousands,” which will be produced in the new facility located inside the packing plant. The facility is fully climate controlled and closed to the outside environment, and was built specifically to produce the legacy hams.

A larger number of dry cured “country” hams are still marketed, but that number has also declined as Americans have turned to more modern processed meat products. Country hams are being “co-packed” by other companies that specialize in such products.

Connoisseurs of Smithfield Ham will be pleased to know that the company will continue cooking the “genuine” hams for sale and that the company’s unique “Charles Henry Gray Ham” will continue to be produced.

Sullivan said he is a personal fan of the Charles Henry Gray ham and specifically asked that its production continue. The Charles Henry Gray is a Genuine Smithfield ham that’s been cooked, sliced and specially treated with a sugar mix developed by the late Charles Henry Gray, who was a Smithfield Foods executive. Gray’s recipe for the ham is a closely guarded secret.  {/mprestriction}