Madisonville, Tenn. “It’s not the dollar that motivates me so much as the compliment.”
It’s a long haul from Austin, Texas to Madisonville, Tennessee (2000 mile round trip) but when you’ve got a charcuterie pop up restaurant planned, it’s a pilgrimage that must be made.
And one I happily took as the new year began a few months back. In the world of USA cured meats, Allan Benton is king. His ham and bacon is served at high dollar eateries like French Laundry, Commander’s Palace and Momofuku. Chefs who generally take a 100% hands-on approach to cooking their own food, hand the ball off to Benton when it’s time to put country ham on the menu.
Benton’s little smokehouse in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains is the epicenter of cured heritage pork in USA.
“I don’t sell to greasy spoons or big chains–I just sell to high-quality establishments. I have zero marketing skills. Word spread from chef to chef, and I count my blessings every day that these chefs like what I do”
Since Madisonville is just two hours from my family’s farm in Kentucky, I was fortunate to grow up on Benton’s aged ham. There is none finer.
“Allan Benton is the rock star of American bacon,” says writer John T. Edge.
And Benton’s bacon is fine, but the 18 month process (including 84 hours bathed in hickory smoke) it takes to get a country ham out the door of the old roadside meat house is where the man demonstrates his real mastery.
“I call it country ham, but I’m lying through my teeth. It’s just a curing process they’ve been doing for a thousand years in Europe. The way I see it, just because they live in Parma, or in Germany, or anywhere else, doesn’t mean that they can produce a better ham than a bunch of farm boys from Tennessee can.”
Of course premium ham producers in Spain or France would have a hard time getting a hold of East Tennessee Hickory and Apple wood, and that’s where Benton has the drop on them.
Those are the only woods he uses in the lengthy smoking process.
It doesn’t matter what kind of wood you’re burning in your smokehouse if you’re using commercial feedlot meat, and Benton doesn’t waver in his determination to only use heritage pork; breeds like Berkshire, Duroc, Tamworth and Large Black are the only types that the man has any truck with.
That’s why he’s been called “the Mother Teresa of meat”
We’re proud of all of the purveyors we’ve used since we started our Scrumptious Chef pop up restaurant series almost two years ago, but at the end of the day we’re only in it for the meat.
Come on out on Saturday April 5th 2014 and get a big plate of Benton’s Country Ham and see for yourself why this man’s smoked pork has turned into a religion in USA.