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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

That's Not Cooking, That's Shopping!

Manners will get you places money can't.

Nevertheless, it will cost $86 to have an aged country ham sent from East Tennessee to your home in Northern California.

And that's Ground. Figure in $10 to have it sliced by one of the few independent meatcutters around who'll risk the fine the Health Department will impose if caught and you're looking at almost a Benjamin to enjoy some of the finest country ham money and manners can buy.

Oh, I almost forgot.

Look what came in for ME today!

Go Kevin! It's your birthday! But not really! Squeal anyway!

This 14-pound beauty is a smoked country ham aged for 13 months - made with love, care, patience and a whole lot of skill by the fine folks at Benton's Smoky Mountain Country Hams in Madisonville, Tennessee.

Benton's was first recommended to me by Mary Beth Lasseter of Southern Foodways Alliance when I had inquired about non-Smithfield country hams. Then, when Bruce and I were dining at Early Girl Eatery in Asheville, North Carolina (a review is in the works), I couldn't stop ranting and raving about their country ham – which had been the best our whole time in the South. Turns out, they were serving Benton's country ham!

Country ham and biscuits at Early Girl Eatery - early May 2007

Frankly, before our Southern Fried BBQ Road Trip (yes, I can say that with a straight face) it had been a little difficult trying to convince Bruce to go in with me on a whole country ham. Of course wouldn't you know that, while on our trip, Bruce ordered country ham - and seconds, and thirds – at every opportunity he got!

When it came time to place our Benton's order, it was like "Bruce, I was thinking about ordering..."


Two weeks later and BAM – in walks my UPS guy; him and I, we're like this (crosses fingers).

As I mentioned earlier, good luck in finding a meatcutter/butcher who'll run the risk of slicing your whole ham for you. Honestly, I'd love to tell you who cut mine and shamelessly plug their business – they deserve it – but occasionally THE MAN tunes in here...what up, Mang! However, I would recommend inquiring with the smaller, more established meatcutters in your city or town – especially those who normally service a specific ethnic clientele.

I had my ham sliced somewhat thinly (about 1/4") to fry, with the end pieces left in larger chunks for stews, pinto beans, collard greens, and leather britches (dried green beans). I contemplated bringing a biscuit cutter along with me and having the guy cut the ham into slices that would perfectly fit on each biscuit, but I didn't want to seem pesky.

Anyway, they were so nice to take my money – and I mean that in a completely non-snarky, snarkless, asnarkful way.

Getting the ham home was the easy part, despite having to carry 14 pounds of smoked pork on my back down the Walled Corridor of Death By Human Trampling – aka the western sidewalk side of Sansome between Bush and Sutter. Following the advice on the suggestion/recipe sheet that came with the ham, I'm keeping the ham covered in canola oil and stashed in the fridge. Apparently, this will preserve the ham for up to a year – but we'll be lucky to have any left by the end of August!

I love these gallon-size plastic containers! They're actually recycled pretzel containers.

Now, if you will excuse me: I have more important matters to attend to.



Blogger Sam said...

that IS shopping. good work Kevin!

10:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh now you've gone and done it. My Kentucky Fried Husband's birthday is coming up in a couple weeks. He just might get a big hunk of cured pig leg.

2:18 PM  
Blogger Anita (Married... with dinner) said...

What's the skinny on the health department issue? Is it because they're slicing meat they didn't sell? or is there some more nefarious reason?

4:25 PM  
Blogger Dive said...

Sam: Sorry to see you give up your snazzy ride - it was totally hot!

Sean: You sure know the way to a man's heart (and stomach)!

Anita: Apparently it's not just San Francisco but California law regarding health and safety and basically more of the same bullshit that government bureaucrats dream up to pacify the public into believing they're *more* safe - like the mandatory spychip tagging of livestock to (incredulously) reduce the scourge of madcow disease or overemphasizing holding temperatures and so on (I really argue whether most of this makes us any healthier - are we not just weakening our immune system by avoiding contact with bacteria?). What it means is that folks who catch their own salmon or slaughter their own livestock or even buy a cured ham cannot take it to their local meat department and pay them to cut it for them. And when you ask most supermarket meat department employees (most of whom aren't even professional meatcutters anymore) where you're suppose to go, you get a resounding nonresponse.

Hope that answers your question.


4:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kevin - This looks different than what I usually saw....SALT CURED....were so very dry and salty I didn't like them when I was in Tennessee.... are these different? They DO look a little dry in the pic and maybe they aren't? You've got me curious, but not enough to spend $90 to ship one out here. Nice post.

8:22 PM  
Blogger Chubbypanda said...

I'm getting one! Just need to talk the wife into it...

4:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Goodmorning. I just found this site while searching for Benton's Country Hams. I moved to Tennessee about two years ago and live only about 35 miles from Benton's. We visited there yesterday and brought home several items from Allan Benton's store. I just want to say that he is the friendliest guy you'd ever want to meet as well as those who work there. It's like walking into a little community butcher shop.

4:02 AM  
Blogger Dive said...

I found Benton's folks to be really friendly and helpful and would definitely order from them again. But besides all of that, their aged country ham is OUT OF THIS WORLD good. The butcher I took it to to slice was just blown away by it, since he's use to folks bringing in those god awful Gwaltney hams.

I can't wait to try their bacon!


9:30 AM  

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