From their store, you can see the hams drying (picture at top). In the front, there's the hams from a gigantic pig (over 1000 pounds). They've been drying out since the 1970s and have lost a tremendous amount of moisture. Fat is still dripping out of them.
Johnston County Hams is one of America's last boutique processors of country hams. Country hams are a traditional American food, very similar to Italy's prosciutto, Spain's jamon or Portugal's Presunto. Johnston County Hams has been profiled by the New York Times.
In addition to making country hams, Johnston County Hams makes prosciutto (more dry and aged than the country hams), bacon and other products. One of their hams is sold as a Portuguese-style "Presunto", popular in New Jersey.
I've been eating a lot of their prosciutto today. My pack will certainly be gone before the sun goes down.
As the pictures show, you start by salting a ham (which cures it), then letting it equalize, then dry out. In the salting phase, water comes out of the ham and salt moves in. In the equalization phase, the salt moves into the interior of the ham, curing it. In the drying phase, the product dries out and ripens. Enzymes in the meat break it down during the drying phase.
Johnston County Ham is located in Smithfield, North Carolina. Smithfield is a big name in pork - but the Smithfield people normally hear about is Smithfield Virginia, where Smithfield (the world's biggest pork company) is based. I'm guessing there are close to as many Smithfields in the USA as their are Oaklands.
Rufus explained that Johnston County Hams has benefited a lot from tourists driving down the interstate, who see "Smithfield" and think, "let's buy a country ham, now!"
Johnston County has a very nice rail system for moving around the hams, as seen in the photographs. We were very impressed with the plant and its smooth flow (approximately 80,000 hams per year). They've got a system that's been working for decades.
Our hosts were very hospitable. I'm looking forward to going back to Smithfield. Rufus Brown will be visiting Mosefund's Mangalitsa event in January.