In January of this year we traveled through Madisonville, Tennessee, home of one of the iconic cured meat purveyors in the United States; Alan Benton’s Country Hams.
We get by there at least once a year to lay in provisions for our life in Austin, Texas. A life that does not include artisanal, country-style pork meats of this caliber very often.
Alan Benton has been lionized in the media for the last few years as he quietly tends to his craft of salting down raw hog meat, building fires and turning the animals into delicious food for a select group of in-the-know pork hounds. We love this man.
His bacon, his prosciutto and especially his hams are all world class, on the level of something you might purchase in the Salamanca region of Spain.
We treat our hams from Benton’s with due diligence. Storing them properly and making sure the people that we share them with are worthy of such a meaty honor.
Which leads us to the here and now. This morning we arose at dawn and removed the wrapper from our ham that was purchased in January of 2011. It was 14 months old back then. The counter lady announced that she’d dug deep into the old stock to get as antique a one as they had in reserve. We’re southerners so she then received a family pack of kolaches that we’d driven in from LaGrange, Texas for her hard work.
We’ve enjoyed some quiet moments in the company of this glorious hunk of pork over the last few months. Reflecting on what the circumstances might be that could coax us into engaging in the three day process it takes to breathe life into the ol gal.
As the scissors slipped through the paper wrapper, the most glorious, deep, funky aroma arose out of the packaging. A meat lovers dream of musk, salt and smoke. We quietly gathered ourselves for a moment as it will be lord knows how long before we experience anything like this again.
If you’re interested, here’s the narrative for the process of turning a brick- hard, aged country ham into one of the most delicious things a human will ever experience.