As a resident of New Jersey, it is a right of passage to be asked the quintessential question: Is it pork roll or Taylor Ham? A debate that has raged on almost as fiercely as the age-old question of whether or not Central Jersey is authentic, this issue has divided residents of the Garden State for generations. Today, let’s take a trip through Trenton’s history and explore the origins of this great debate.
If you have friends or family from North Jersey, chances are they claim that this iconic breakfast meat is rightfully dubbed Taylor Ham. And as it turns out, they might be onto something. This beloved breakfast staple was first created by John Taylor in 1856, marking the creation of what is perhaps to this day Trenton’s most famous export. Shortly after, George Washington Case, a competitor, made his version of the cured snack in 1870. To this day, Taylor and Case’s are still the most recognized producers of pork roll, with their products still proudly manufactured in the Capital City.
Taylor Ham started as a means to distinguish his product from the Case’s creation, but just a couple of decades later, this moniker would become a legal liability. In 1906, the US Congress passed the Pure Food and Drug Act, which provided new guidelines regarding how food had to be labeled. As Taylor Ham did not meet the legal requirements to be categorized as ham, Taylor had to pivot and start referring to the product as pork roll. Despite his best efforts, Taylor was unable to copyright the term “pork roll” as the name was too general, and in 1910, other competitors quickly took to store shelves.
As more and more competition arose, these dialectal differences became less about technicalities and more about regional preference. While our neighbors in North Jersey remain loyal to the Taylor Ham crowd, those in Central and South Jersey know that pork roll is the way to go. Whether you call it pork roll or Taylor Ham, we can all agree that this delectable item is one of Jersey’s signature dishes. It is so ubiquitous to the Garden State that in 2015, Assemblyman Tim Eustace introduced a measure in the New Jersey State Legislature, which officially declared that pork roll be named the official state sandwich of New Jersey.
Who would’ve thought that the invention of cured breakfast meat would be the origin of a debate that has endured for decades? Although we’re sure this isn’t what John Taylor had in mind when he first crafted this creation, it has undoubtedly been the driving factor in keeping the legacy of John Taylor and Trenton’s pork roll alive. Regardless of what you call it, every Garden State resident knows one thing: There’s nothing better than a breakfast with a side of Jersey pride.