I’ve always preferred one to the other but I never knew why – let us investigate the difference between Black Forest ham and Virginia ham. (Black Forest is my go-to ham.)
- Black Forest ham: a smoked, boneless, German ham with blackened skin and a light, smokey flavor
- Virginia ham: a ham from a hog fed on corn and peanuts, cured in hickory smoke
- Come from the hind legs of the pig
- Go through dry-curing
- Are smoked
Curing, by the way, is a process of preserving and flavoring the ham by adding salt, sugar, and either nitrate or nitrite; it also involves smoking.
Each type of ham gets its name from the region from which it was derived. The Black Forest is a well-known resort area in Southwestern Germany, famous for many different foods and crafts.
Although “true” Black Forest ham still comes from the actual Black Forest, most Black Forest hams today are simply modeled after the original.
Virginia ham, also known as country ham, appropriately comes from Virginia. As the definition indicates, initially the pigs’ diet included peanuts, but today they’re fed primarily grains.
Black Forest ham also has had a characteristic changed about its production: after being smoked, Black Forest ham was traditionally doused with beef’s blood (!), which gave it that blackened color differentiating it clearly from Virginia ham.
However, more often today the darkened exterior results from spices applied prior to the smoking, and from the smoking itself.
Speaking of which, although both hams are smoked, they are done so with different woods – Black Forest ham is smoked over pine or fir, while Virginia ham utilizes wood from oak, walnut, apple, or hickory trees.
The spices rubbed into Black Forest ham are salt, garlic, coriander, juniper, and pepper, among others. Virginia ham is heavily salted, and then aged for as long as a year, or even longer.
Both hams are described as having a salty taste to them. Black Forest ham tends to have more of a moist, intense flavor, acquired from the type of wood used to smoke the ham, in addition to the various spices. Virginia ham has more of a mild flavoring, and a drier feel to it than the Black Forest.
If you are interested in reading more about different kinds of hams, KitchenParade.com has a great breakdown of all types, including bone-in versus boneless, different kinds of cuts, etc.