World’s Oldest Ham Turns 112: Would it Be Safe to Eat?

A leg of ham that had been forgotten in a back storage room for decades and then moved to a museum, just turned 112. Experts debate about how safe the piece of extremely-aged meat actually would be to consume
The world's oldest ham looks like it would be tough to chew, to say the least.

Dry-aged meats are in vogue, but this is a little extreme, don’t you think? Meet the world’s oldest ham that just turned 112 this week. The ham was originally stored in the backroom of Gwaltney meat company in 1902, forgotten about, and eventually transferred to a museum upon discovery. The shriveled ham, which is about two feet long and resembles a chunk of tired shoe leather, is now the prized exhibit of the Isle of Wight County Museum in Smithfield, Virginia, which threw the ancient hunk of meat a birthday party this past weekend.

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The question on everyone’s mind is, would this ham be suitable for eating? The ham is kept in a special case that prevents it from getting bugs or mold. In addition, consistently smoking and salting a piece of meat prevents water content from getting in, which deters mold and bacteria.

"You could probably still eat the darn thing," says Henrietta Gwaltney, granddaughter of P.D. Gwaltney, Jr. He was the original owner of the ham, and often referred to the piece of stately old swine as his “pet,” Henrietta told The Wall Street Journal. He would even outfit the ham with a leash and collar as a promotional tool for his meat company.

Even if you could eat it, would you want to? “The oldest edible ham I have heard of is eight years old,” Jose Pizarro, owner of Pizarro, a Spanish restaurant in London, told BBC News. “After that the fat starts to oxidize and the flavor disappears from the meat. A rancid taste develops as the yellow fat diffuses, and as the decades pass it will become as hard as a stone and incredibly ugly.”

Bummer. Now our Christmas dinner plans are ruined.

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Joanna Fantozzi is an Associate Editor with The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter@JoannaFantozzi

 

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