Dear Mr. Gold:
I'm never one to make a significant culinary move without your counsel. Do you have any recommendations for where I might buy a delicious ham for the holidays? I know I can have one shipped from across the country, but was hoping to find something a bit more local.
--Judy K., Los Angeles
Dear Judy K.:
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The wonderful thing about hams is that even a cheap one is pretty good. If you get a supermarket ham and glaze to a burnished shine, you can feed a huge room full of people for less money than it would take you to buy each guest an order of fries from McDonald's. There's no need to spend the extra money for the spiral slicing and the radio ads. That being said, better ham is, in fact, better.
My favorite tends to be American country ham, which is hand-rubbed with salt, smoked over hickory, and left to hang in a cool, breezy spot for several months, until it develops tiny protein crystals and the round, piggy presence of the best proscuitto. Colonel Nancy Newsom produces astonishing country hams in her Princeton, Kentucky, smokehouse - you can order them at www.newsomscountryham.com - and nobody has ever complained about the country hams from Charles Gatton in Bremen, Kentucky, which regularly win national awards: www.fatherscountryhams.com. (Order some country bacon too - it gets no better than Gatton's.) If you'd rather choose the ham yourself, the various Bristol Farms stores around town carry Edwards country ham from Virginia, which is very, very good.
But it must be admitted: country ham is salty and funky, takes at least a couple of days to prepare, and may not be to everyone's taste. At these times I would suggest picking up a sweet, mild city ham from one of the local smokehouses, of which Schreiner's is undoubtedly the best.
Schreiner's Fine Sausages: 3417 Ocean View Blvd., Glendale; (818) 244-4735.