Raw hams

Avery Ritchey and Laken White choose the two hams they will cure for the 4-H Country Ham Project.

Young people can now register to participate in Kentucky 4-H’s Country Ham Project. Kentucky ranks second in the United States in country ham production, and some people consider country ham one of the standard symbols of the state.

Kentucky 4-H began offering the Country Ham Project in the 1990s with less than 40 participants the first year. Now, nearly 800 youth from 65 counties exhibit their hams at the annual contest at the Kentucky State Fair.

The Country Ham Project is open to all Kentucky youth ages 9 to 18. Contestants do not need any prior knowledge of country ham production or a background in agriculture to participate.

In the project, youth cure two hams throughout the year. In January or February, they receive their hams and are responsible for washing, trimming and applying a curing mixture to each ham. The cure is made up of salt, sugar and spices. Most cure mixes are pre-made by a local ham producer or the county 4-H youth development extension agent.

4-H members complete a second washing and curing application in March or April, and make final preparations for the state fair in August. Each county has a designated aging location for hams. Caldwell, Crittenden, Livingston, Lyon and Trigg County 4-H’ers prepare their hams under the direction of Ronnie and Beth Drennan at Broadbent’s B & B Food in Kuttawa.

In addition to the curing process, youth must complete six hours of training in the 4-H livestock certification program to be eligible to submit their ham to the state competition. This training provides 4-H’ers with insight about the history of country ham production and the current industry.

During the state fair, judges, who are country ham producers and meat buyers, score hams based on aroma, lean-to-fat ratio and appearance for 40% of the 4-H’er’s score. Hams are divided into two different categories, smoked and non-smoked hams, and by age groups. In addition, 4-H’ers are required to give a three-to-five minute speech on the project, which accounts for 60% of their overall score.

After the contest, youth can keep their hams or give them away.

Over the years, the 4-H Country Ham Project has provided youth with an excellent education about the food industry, especially country ham production. This project gives youth an awareness of where their food comes from and how it is prepared for grocery stores. In addition, 4-H’ers gain a historical perspective about food preservation prior to the use of refrigeration.

The deadline for youth interested in participating in the 2022 4-H Country Ham Project is Dec. 10. An entry fee of $50 per person is required, which includes the purchase of two hams.

There will be an orientation on Thursday, November 18 at 4:00 p.m. for anyone interested in participating in the project for the first time. It is important that a parent attend also.

For more information or to register for the project, contact Rhonda Jewell at the Caldwell County Cooperative Extension Service at 270-365-2787.