Sunday, February 15, 2009

For the Love of Country Ham.....

Yes, I know this is the second post about country ham in two weeks. Get over it.

You see, I love country ham. Ok, I'll say it: I have a 'ham-mance' with country ham. I still have vivid memories of my mom and dad eating country ham steaks and then eating the marrow from the bone. Who knew how good we had it in the 80's? I grew up hearing stories about Polly Noel's amazing hams on the Westminster Road or going down to the basement and cutting off a slab, washing the mold away and frying it up. When we had breakfast at a restaurant my dad almost always had country ham and two eggs. In college, country ham and eggs was my preferred hangover food.(Perhaps the high amount of salt made me drink more water, who knows?) Later in my life, I spent some time working for Patrick O'Connell at The Inn at Little Washington and got to fall in love with country ham all over again.(Thanks, Tom Calhoun) Now that I'm settled back in beautiful South Central PA, my love of country ham hasn't expired. It has grown. I'm sorta like Bubba Gump. Country ham ravioli, country ham in mac and cheese, country ham pizza, country ham over asparagus with hollandaise, etc.

Italy, Spain and France all have their 'shots' at ham supremacy with the Iberico, Proscuitto(please, please, please don't say Pro-Shoot. You just sound like an idiot) and Jambon de Bayonne. Honestly, I think a lot of it is just hype. Sure it's good. But is the THAT good? I'll take a thinly sliced, perfectly aged piece of country ham any day of the week over those guys. You see, I'm a flag waving, Carhartt wearing, Bruce Springsteen listening York County boy and I think it's time the world starts to notice that we've got it as good if not better than them in some food areas.(Hello, Judgment of Paris, just not the Bocuse d'Or)

So, where to start? I mentioned Tom Calhoun. He makes great hams and is out of Culpeper, Virginia. I've also posted about these crazy guys who are putting up their own hams at an amazing little restaurant in Hanover, PA.(Who could that be?)

Right now my ham of choice comes from Allan Benton of Smoky Mountain Country Hams in Madisonville, TN. I had the opportunity to visit with Allan a couple of years ago and got a great tour of his facility. So, through the power of UPS, I can get Benton's ham in Hanover. Amazing. Although, you might be getting a run for your money Allan....I'm gonna crack open some hams in a couple of months. I'll let you know how they turned out!

It's difficult to describe the feeling of opening a box from Benton's. The first thing you are hit with is that distinctive ham smell. Yes, it's better than Drakkar Noir. As soon as you've scraped yourself off the floor(I'm assuming that you'll pass out from the joy of the smell like I do) the obvious next step is to get your hands on it. Massage it. Rub it all over your body. Put on Barry White and whisper to it. Go wherever your mind takes you....Sorry. I lost track of what I was doing. Like I's a ham-mance.

Here's a quick video showing the making of ham mayo. We decided to warm the mayo and serve it with a plate of fried oysters designed to be passed around the table. It's not designed to be sexy; it hasn't been plated with tweezers and paint brushes; it doesn't look more at home in an art museum than a restaurant. It is simply a plate of interesting, satisfying, great eating food. At the end of the day, isn't that the goal?

Go out and get yourself some country ham. Start a 'ham-mance' of your own.

1 comment:

matthew said...

I am considering ordering a whole ham from Benton's. For an adventurous home cook without a meat slicer, would you recommend the deboned and sliced version? I'm definitely looking forward to ordering one. Also looking forward to a trip to your restaurant in April. Have any special things planned for April?