It’s been debated for as long as anyone from New Jersey can remember, or at least since the 19th Century when two big brands got their start, and despite the often heated disagreements, it doesn’t really even exist outside New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and maybe Maryland. Whether the proper name for the popular breakfast meat is Taylor Ham or pork roll will always be contentious, but it’s the consumers’ perception and geography of the debate that’s interesting.
Taylor Ham (or pork roll) is a processed pork product, and unofficially, the state meat of New Jersey. And the beginnings of its largest producers–both located in Mercer County–are a lesson in state history. John Taylor started Taylor Provisions Company and created a pork roll product originally sold as “John Taylor’s Prepared Ham” in 1856. John Taylor was also a New Jersey State Senator and founded the Taylor Opera House in Trenton. In fact, Taylor Street in Trenton is named after him.
Nearby farmer and butcher, George Washington Case of Belle Meade, New Jersey, began to sell his own recipe in 1870, packaging the product in corn husks and forming the Case Pork Roll Co.
In 1906, Taylor Provisions was no longer allowed to call their product ham due to the new Pure Food and Drug Act and had to include pork roll in the name and packaging which lumped them in with other competitors. And in a 1910 lawsuit filed by Taylor against Case, the court ultimately ruled that pork roll could not be trademarked.
Records of packed minced ham date back to the Revolutionary War, but the debate over calling it Taylor Ham or pork roll seems to be rooted in a brand name versus the generic kind of thinking. Interestingly, although both major suppliers are located in Trenton, calling it Taylor Ham or pork roll definitely indicates where you’re from and divides the state along pretty hard and fast lines.
New Jersey is split almost evenly. According to an analysis of over 70,000 “Taylor Ham or pork roll” votes, calculated three different ways, North Jersey says Taylor Ham and South Jersey says pork roll. Most surprisingly, Central Jersey (whose borders are always up for debate as well), who usually sides with the North on questions of sports fandom, etc. actually sides with the South on this one.
So the next time you hear someone order a Taylor Ham, egg, and cheese, you can be fairly certain they are from North Jersey, specifically north of Middlesex County and I-78. And a side of pork roll is from all points south!