Artisanal Taylor ham? (Not the Onion.)

Anyone who grew up around where I did knows about Taylor ham. It's a loaf of ground miscellaneous pork parts, salted and spiced. The first rule of Taylor ham is you don't talk about what's in it. You slice it and fry it, usually for breakfast. Eggs and cheese are often involved. It's cheap and greasy and salty and decadent and delicious. But it's a very Jersey thing. When I first introduced it my law school classmates in California, they were aghast. None of them would even look at it, much less eat it.

Part of what scares people away is the fact that Taylor pork roll comes wrapped in a kind of canvas. It's wrapped so tight that you have to cut the sack with scissors and rip it off the fat, sausage-like loaf. Sometimes it feels like you're in an episode of M*A*S*H.

It's named after its inventor, John Taylor of Trenton, N.J. When he came up with it, in 1856, he originally sold it as ham, but apparently there were truth-in-advertising police even then. They got to him, and he had to change the name to "pork roll." To this day, people in different parts of New Jersey argue about what the product should be called, and you don't want to get caught in the middle of an intra-Jersey argument, I'll tell you. From Turnpike Exit 10 on up north, it's "Taylor ham." South of about Exit 74 on the Parkway, it's "pork roll." Philly vs. New York City. In between, you can probably get away with calling it either one. I wonder what Bruce Springsteen calls it; he's right on the line, always has been.

You can get Taylor ham in Portland. Fred Meyer sells it, maybe some other places. But I still find it hard to find anyone to eat the stuff with me. And a whole Taylor ham is too much for one guy to tackle, even over the week or two that it stays edible once it gets air on it. So it's not a regular thing for me, which is probably good for my triglyceride numbers. Now, there would be a paper for the New England Journal of Medicine: "Effects on Blood Triglyceride Levels of Uncontrolled Consumption of Taylor Pork Roll."

Anyway, you can imagine my surprise when I read a social media post earlier this month from one of the best local foodies, Jim Dixon, to the effect that there was an artisanal Taylor ham floating around Portland, produced by none other than the fantastic Olympia Provisions. Those people know their salamis. And so suddenly I was on a mission.

Oh, these guys were good. The canvas sack gave it away, how serious this was. A homage. Hosannah in the highest.

My sister still lives in Taylor ham territory, and when I sent her the picture, she got very quiet. "It seems... a little sacrilegious," she said, hesitantly. She was right. The only way this would not be a crime against humanity is if the Portland imitation Taylor ham was actually good. We must taste it, I thought. There's no time to lose.

Now, the right way to do this is to eat it on a North Jersey hard roll. Nobody around here makes what I'm talking about. If a native Oregonian saw a hard roll, they'd call it a kaiser bun. But if you buy a West Coast kaiser bun, it ain't nothing like a hard roll. It's sort of like what passes for bagels around here. These people put pineapple on pizza.

But I settled for a grocery store roll that was kind of hard, and I stuck it in the oven to get it a little crispy. While it was warming up, I sliced the Portland Taylor ham nice and thin, and cut the little notches around the edges, so that the slice doesn't curl up on the griddle. Gosh, the Olympia version sure looked like the real thing. Onto the griddle it went.

It doesn't take long for Taylor ham to get done. The kitchen filled with that familiar smell, from 60 years ago, a quick breakfast before walking to grammar school on a cold day. The aroma that grossed out my law school dorm mates so badly, they speculated that Taylor ham was made from donkey genitalia.

Okay, so it looked like Taylor ham, smelled like it too, but how would it taste? Off the spatula, onto the roll, a little mustard, that first bite, it tasted like...

Taylor ham!

Pretty much exactly the same. If Olympia (and their partner outfit on this, Leone & Sons) set out to replicate Taylor ham precisely, they scored 99 out of 100. Dixon suggested that it might be a little less salty and a little less greasy than Taylor, but not by me. The differences, if any, are infinitesmally small.

Now, why would you pay a premium price for Olympia's pork roll when the original is available at a lower price and tastes the same? I don't know. But I feel like I participated in a historical re-enactment. I've had $5 craft beers, $6 coffees, $4 oranges, $12 chocolate bars, and now, artisanal Taylor ham. Will wonders never cease?


Post a Comment

The platform used for this blog is awfully wonky when it comes to comments. It may work for you, it may not. It's a Google thing, and beyond my control. Apologies if you can't get through. You can email me a comment at, and if it's appropriate, I can post it here for you.