When in 1964 Ray Goad opened Rays Kingburger #1 in Mount Airy, NC. His next stop was North Wilkesboro, and then in 1967 Boone. Since then Rays has continued to be identified with the rich Country Ham traditions of Boone. While Rays will always be based in our home of Mount Airy, our Country Ham curing operation are located in Boone with the experienced members of our team that have specialized in the art of dry curing hams for generations.
Dry curing is an ancient form of meat preservation, and Boone County, North Carolina has a long tradition of country cured ham. Boone County’s 4-H clubs are keeping the art of dry curing alive by encouraging youth participation in the fair’s annual ham contest (Photo above).
The National Country Ham Association is also dedicated to the promotion of Country Ham and meets annually in Nashville where our curemasters annually compete with other member processors. Our Country Ham was recognized as the “2018 National Champion Country Ham” and awarded the 1st place in the Unsmoked division.
We believe that the art of dry curing ham is one of the few traditions that technology has not significantly altered but has instead actually improved. Our modern curing and packing facility in the shadows of the Blue Ridge Mountains has become a leader in the small Country Ham industry and we feel we have a keen responsibility for the preservation of the traditions and authentic taste of North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountain cured Country Ham.
We know that the Blue Ridge Mountain cure for Country Hams started with the earliest colonists who brought with them the technique for preserving meat by “salting down’ or curing it. This process always started in the brisk Fall Season when hogs could be safely slaughtered. Without refrigeration, they were dependent on the advancing winter cold to preserve hams and start the curing process. We continue to employ the same traditional seasonal methods of curing to replicate the seasonal process to create the old fashioned Country Ham texture, aroma and taste.
In the Winter
In this stage of the process, the fresh hams are just three days from the farm. Our special cure mix is applied by hand to each ham. The hams will stay in this winter environmental at 40 degrees while the salt and sugar are absorbed into the meat. Once the salt and sugar are absorbed, it stabilizes the meat and begins to equalize.
In the springtime, the cure mix has been absorbed and the warmer temperature and lower humidity allow it to equalize throughout the ham creating consistent color, odor, and flavor.
In the summer rooms, the temperature is a constant 90 degrees and the heat will give the ham is a golden brown color and finish the drying process. Once the hams leave the summer room they are considered to be cured and are moved to the fall.
By the time they leave the fall environment, the hams have an internal salt content of somewhere between 6 and 7 percent, weight loss of 22-23 percent from fresh weight and a water activity of .91 Aw or less. This entire process takes close to 100 days to complete.
Rays Country Ham is proud to be a leader in perpetuating our family tradition of curing Country Ham today, and hopefully for generations to come. You too can help save Country Ham for the next generation by eating more now!