Boone County Fair kicks off with annual ham judging

Wednesday, July 20, 2011 | 9:22 p.m. CDT; updated 9:32 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Bryon Wiegand and Stan Lynn pierce a ham to check the aroma. Hams are judged by texture, shape, smell and overall appearance.

*CORRECTION: One hundred seventy-eight hams were judged Wednesday morning. An earlier version of this story misstated the number of hams being judged. Also, the number of hams disqualified from the annual ham judging at the Boone County Fair is not disproportionately higher this year, and the disqualifications are not necessarily due to the recent heat wave. An earlier version of this story suggested otherwise.

COLUMBIA — Darrel Zimmerman seemed surprised when he noticed that his daughter's ham was disqualified at the ham-judging competition at the Boone County Fairgrounds on Wednesday.

The annual ham judging is part of the ramp-up to the Boone County Fair, which starts Friday and ends July 30.

Zimmerman, 53, and his family has participated in the ham-judging contest for 10 years, and this marks the first time his family's ham has been disqualified.

At 7 a.m. Wednesday, 178 hams* were set on two large tables in front of two judges, who poked through and evaluated the hams on display. A few hours later, there were three disqualified chunks of meat sitting on a small table next to the two large ones.

Stan Lynn, an employee of Sydenstricker Implement Co. who helps with the ham-judging event, said that's not an unusually high number. The heat usually helps stimulate a better aroma, as long as the hams are in the shade.

Because Zimmerman's ham was a little bigger than others, it probably needed more time in the heat, Lynn said. Zimmerman's ham scored 27 points out of 35 on aroma, the most important category of the contest.

"Every ham can go bad under this high, humid condition," Zimmerman said. His own ham was fine.

Amy Larkin, a day care operator, was told one of her six hams was disqualified because of its "questionable" smell.

“I’m not sure if the heat caused the ham’s bad aroma, but it definitely could have,” Larkin said.

Lynn was explaining the reason for the disqualification of the three hams as he poked Zimmerman's ham, which had a strong, cheesy smell, with a metal stick. He said yeast bacteria can cause tastes and smells reminiscent of cheese if not enough salt is added to the ham.

"As you can smell, it might be an indication of spoilage," Lynn said. "But heat is not the reason. They actually need warm temperature to cure.”

Columbia/Boone County Environmental Health Manager Gerald Worley said there aren't specific criteria for cured ham, but if the hams are cured properly, they should be fine because salt acts as a preservative. He also said cured hams should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees.

Hams were judged on a 100-point scale in eight categories.

  • Aroma, 35 points
  • Meatiness, 25 points
  • Firmness, 10 points
  • Trims, 10 points
  • Smoothness, 5 points
  • External color, 5 points
  • Skin appearance, 5 points
  • Fitting, 5 points

Scores were tabulated on a card attached to each ham. Forty-eight hams were judged juicy enough to sell and are up for auction until July 30.

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