TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — It's one of the most divisive issues in New Jersey, one that inflames regional rivalries and spurs fierce debate among residents and lawmakers.
Is the meat in the state's favorite breakfast sandwich called Taylor ham or pork roll?
The debate has raged for years in homes, diners and restaurants, and recently found its way to the Legislature, where one member has introduced legislation that would designate the meat, egg and cheese combination as the official state sandwich. But he concedes a final decision on which meat name will be used in the measure will have to be "negotiated."
The decision on whether it's pork roll or Taylor ham mostly depends on where you are geographically. North Jersey is mostly Taylor ham country, while south Jerseyans are pork roll folk and central Jersey residents use both names.
A strong sign of the meat's popularity is that two — yes, two — pork roll festivals are being staged Saturday in Trenton. Thousands of people are expected at both events, where the menus will feature specialty dishes featuring the beloved meat in a variety of culinary disciplines and creations.
WHAT IS PORK ROLL/TAYLOR HAM?
The salted pork-based processed meat was developed in the capital, Trenton, by John Taylor in 1856. It's often consumed as a breakfast meat paired with egg and cheese in a sandwich usually served on a bagel, bun or hard roll.
The meat is generally sliced and pan-fried or grilled. Besides New Jersey, it's commonly available in Delaware and parts of Pennsylvania and Maryland.
Changes in food regulations in the early 1900s meant Taylor ham could not be called ham because, technically, ham is a specific cut from a pig. So Taylor and his company began calling their product pork roll.
Butcher George Washington Case created his own recipe in 1870. The crosstown rivalry between the Trenton-based firms has remained strong ever since.
TWO FESTIVALS, TWICE THE FUN
The organizers of the two festivals, T.C. Nelson and Scott Miller, worked together on the first event in 2014. But they went their separate ways the following year due to disagreements over logistics and other issues.
When asked why pork roll is so beloved, Nelson says it's a matter of pride. He's holding the Trenton Pork Roll Festival at his restaurant Trenton Social.
"Not many things are still made here in Trenton," he said, "so we're going to celebrate it, were going to have fun with it. Pork roll is a versatile protein that you can have for breakfast, lunch, dinner. You can have it as highbrow as you want or enjoy it as a decadent meat."
Miller is staging the "Official 3rd Annual Pork Roll Festival" at Mill Hill Park in Trenton. He hopes the event will present a positive image of the city and its residents.
"I want to use pork roll to help make Trenton strong again," Miller said with a laugh. "The best pork roll is made in this city, and the city has a lot to offer. I want people to know that."
Miller admits that he's only been a pork roll fan for a few years, as he never was a big meat eater. But now he loves the stuff.
"It tastes really good," he said. "It's not a lame lunch meat; it's not bland. It's an underappreciated product."
Assemblyman Tim Eustace has introduced legislation that would designate the meat, egg and cheese combination as the official state sandwich.
But what to actually call it is still under debate. He has introduced separate measures — one that designates the meat as Taylor ham, one that calls it pork roll.
"We're going to do a little negotiating, and it's going to be Taylor ham/pork roll, because above the Driscoll Bridge, it's Taylor ham," Eustace has said, referring to a span in the central part of the state. The Bergen County Democrat has also created an online survey to solicit constituents' opinions.
Gov. Chris Christie, a northern New Jersey native and resident, declared this week that Taylor ham is the correct answer and joked he may issue an executive order.
OBAMA WON'T WADE IN
The Taylor ham or pork roll debate drew national attention this month when President Barack Obama gave the commencement address at Rutgers University.
Obama jokingly told the crowd that he had come to New Jersey to settle the dispute.
But he eventually decided the best position was to stay neutral.
"There's not much that I'm afraid to take on in my final year in office, but I know better than to get in the middle of that debate," the president said, drawing laughter from the crowd.