Using an on-line catalog or even print to pick a ham can be confusing. It's simple if you're looking at what Harrington's, the famous Vermont company, is offering, but why bother with Harrington's if you live in the city or suburbs - you can get an acceptable standard ham at just about any decent market. What Harrington's sells is a spiral-cut party ham and you know it will please the crowd. But what if you're looking for more? Maybe ham from small-farm pigs, or from special breeds, or ham smoked in a Virginia smokehouse, or a North Carolina country ham.
My first mail-order ham purchase was not a success; in fact, it hovered on the edge of disaster. What I intended to purchase was a smoked Virginia ham, a ham with a firm texture, a strong flavor, and enough salt to require that you slice very thin pieces. It was a ham I recollected. What I bought was a country ham, the kind you must soak, and soak again, and then again. My feeble attempts to cope produced a ham so salty guests had to drink gallons of water in order to speak. Not to mention that country ham is an acquired taste.
My ordering skills have improved and what's available to buy has also improved. Should I ever want to order a country ham again I know where to buy it - pre-soaked even. Small-farm pig-raising is increasingly popular and you can locate smokehouse operations all over the Northeast. After reading a New York Times article on the subject a few years ago I tried one of the lauded hams and it was good, but not great, and very expensive. Mostly, I return to Edwards, in Surry, Virginia, for my December order.
EDWARDS (1-800-222-4267) http://www.virginiatraditions.com/ offers many different hams, including their own version of dry-cured ham in the Spanish/Italian style which is likely worth a try. My order, however, is for the Petite Boneless Ham. On their site, and in the catalog, Edwards describes this as a country ham. Don't worry, it really isn't. It's a small, strong-flavored hickory smoked ham, between two and three pounds, which comes to you ready to go: slice in thin pieces, arrange on a platter and serve with mustard at a party. If you're ambitious, make ham biscuits for hors d'oeuvres. Use leftovers to create insanely delicious ham salad (mayo and some chopped pickles).