The 118-year-old ham, which is reportedly the oldest in the world, was originally cured in 1902 by the Gwaltney Foods meat company before it was lost in storage. On its rediscovery two decades later, the elated Pembroke D. Gwaltney Jr. made the piece of pork his “pet ham.” He put a brass collar on it and paraded it around various expositions to prove to customers his meat could be kept without being refrigerated.
The dry curing process used to create the ham involved salting the meat and draining the blood, which allows for a longer shelf life and a richer flavor. Supposedly, microbiologists say the ham is technically still edible. However, it isn’t a delicacy anyone would enjoy pigging out on, as the taste and sensory experience of the cured ham may not appeal to modern palates. The appearance of the ham itself has garnered comparisons to dried leather and an expired human arm.
The ham is housed in the Isle of Wight County Museum, which is also home to the world’s oldest peanut. It occupies a climate-controlled display case with two other hams, one of which is purportedly the largest ham in the world. A nonstop, live-streamed “ham cam” allows anyone to keep up to date with the preserved pork, as does the ham’s Twitter account.
The town of Smithfield, Virginia is well-known across the United States for its cured hams. Smithfield Foods, a large pork producer, is headquartered in the town, and is the company of which Gwaltney Foods is an antecedent.