The iconic red barn on the corner of Little Creek Road has been a staple of Ward’s Corner for decades. As Norfolk’s supplier of handcrafted hams since 1956, the Old Virginia Ham Shop recently moved its operation to Ghent. While their new location boasts an expanded menu and contemporary aesthetic, customers can expect the same downhome feel and delicious Southern specialties.
The gourmet grocer is now occupying the former home of Coelacanth Brewing Company, a red brick structure off of Colley Ave whose expansive interior exudes industrial elegance – a radical departure from the cozy country store in Ward’s Corner. Its ample seating area includes a mix of high tops, roundtables, and counter bar space, perfect for lunching on some sliders or grazing over a charcuterie board with friends. In-store displays offer a variety of local products, including Country Smoked Sausage Links, Smithfield dry-cured bacon, bourbon hot sauces and jams, and of course, Virginia Jumbo Peanuts.
The MVP of the bunch, however, is their Virginia Country Ham. “Expertly crafted” and “perfectly cooked,” the Old Virginia Ham Shop serves two types of hams: Smithfield Country Hams and Sugar Cured Hams. Each ham is hand-carved, smoked, and salt-cured – no mechanical separation here. As expected, the shop’s busiest months include Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter, though patrons can enjoy their meats – spiral, boneless, or sliced – year-round. Paired with their famous sweet potato biscuits, you’ve got a sweet and salty combo that’s bound to delight.
Virginia Ham is a tradition that began way before 1956, however. Ham became a staple of colonial cuisine after English settlers to Southern Virginia, particularly Isle of Wight County and Jamestowne, introduced razorback pigs from overseas. The colonists raised the pigs on peanuts and peaches and utilized Native American and European techniques to preserve the hams, lending them their distinct flavor. As the cured meats made their way across the colonies, Southern Virginia remained at the heart of the ham industry, part of a region known as the Ham Belt, a strip of climate zones whose moderate latitudes provide the ideal temperature for preserving meat.
If “Smithfield Ham” sounds familiar, it’s likely because you’ve seen the name on grocery store shelves. Smithfield Foods, the commercial meat production company, offers an array of porky products inspired by the industry of its namesake town. However, its 2013 acquisition by a Chinese company has raised concerns over the integrity of the hams – most notably, that they won’t uphold the traditions of Virginia.
Outside its commercial counterpart, genuine Smithfield hams are cured and smoked according to a strict set of criteria and retain a salty, distinct flavor. Virginia Ham Company is committed to maintaining this authenticity, a commitment clear in the droves of satisfied customers who continue to come back for more. Now that they’re on most food delivery apps, locals can now get their goods delivered straight to their door. You can even send your cross-country friends and family a taste of Virginia; they ship!
Some customers swear it is “the only ham I’ll eat,” and with good reason. Whether there’s a holiday on the horizon or you’ve just got a hankering for ham, don’t sleep on this new “classic” spot.
Talbot Park, NFK
Rachel Reiss moved to Norfolk in 2021, and, true to her native Floridian roots, has been enjoying life near the beach. Since her day job as an HR Program Manager has gone remote, it offers her the flexibility to explore the area’s rich history, culture, and diverse food scene in her spare time. She is also a passionate pianist, aspiring yogi, and self-proclaimed health nut who loves to cook. Rachel lives near Talbot Park with her husband, Phil - a CHKD resident - and their Maltese, Minnie.