Country ham and bourbon make a great pairing for several reasons. Certain commonalities render them extremely compatible on the palate, such as its smokiness. Bourbon attains a smokiness from its barrel’s char layer, while ham derives it from its own ageing process.
Country ham the fresh hindquarter of a pig that has been rubbed with a blend of 80 percent salt, 20 percent sugar, and a handful of black or crushed red pepper. The cure leeches water from the meat, which is then smoked and dry aged.
There are a few basic guidelines to follow when pairing the two.
The higher the fat content of the ham, the better it goes with a high proof bourbon such as Booker’s, for example. The alcohol serves to seep into the fat and soak it with its rich, full-bodied flavor.
The smokier the ham, the spicier the whiskey should be, such as a rye whiskey or bourbon with high content of rye. The two elements will counter each other perfectly, without overpowering the other.
If you prefer lower proof bourbon, make sure to choose a more delicately flavored ham. Try to ensure that a high-proof bourbon does not take away from the meat’s own flavor, so steer clear of these when you have lighter varieties of ham at hand. Basil Hayden’s 80-proof bourbon is a tried and tested option for these.
When choosing your ham, try to buy them sliced extremely thin. The thicker the ham, the higher its salt content. Thick ham also tends to possess a chewy texture that takes away from its succulent taste.
Always serve both bourbon and ham at room temperature. Accompany with a side of good-quality sliced bread (baguettes are excellent) to let your guests cleanse their palate. Nuts and dried fruit are fabulous choices too. When eaten with ham, they especially heighten its meaty flavor and lend it a wonderful complexity.
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