It has been a long while since going all out in a meat festival. Over two years since hosting a bacon-tasting, a few of us have entered into a sacred ham sharing arrangement. It only makes sense. Country ham is the king of cured meats. Bacon is delicious, prosciutto and serrano are delicious, but country ham is like the best of both worlds. The only issue with country ham is how in the hell do you choose where to get yours – if you even have room to store an entire ham. The solution is easy. Find other ham lovers and diversify your ham portfolio. Make a Franken-ham.
Mentioning country ham to Dan a few weeks back, he quickly responded saying that he and Matt were going to buy a few country hams and split them. Hoping like hell that he would say yes, I asked if I could join the fun. Being the gentlemen that they both are, I was allowed in. Methodically, we picked our hams. One from Virginia, one from Tennessee, and one from Kentucky.
Dan, hailing from Virginia, was clearly the right person to select the ham from Virginia and selected a nice ham from Kite’s. Kite’s hams are unsmoked and aged just under a year. This version was lean and funky. Really funky. The flavors of barnyard is how the professional had described it and it was true. The lack of smoke allowed for the pork funk to come through clear as a bell.
Matt selected a 22 month aged Berkshire from Allan Benton, a ham celebrity these days who took a liking to Matt. This was a beast of a ham. It looks like it had smoked for a long time and indeed, it was a smoky and salty beast – in all sorts of good ways. It is clear why these hams are well loved. Mr. Benton is not messing around. He hits it with salt, then smoke, then salt and then smoke. The age does nothing to dissipate these flavors, but gives it a firm texture.
I had selected a ham from Scott’s, a small mom and pop operation that I had read about a few years ago while touring bourbon distilleries near Lexington with good friends. This was the least known of the hams and I was worried that I picked a clunker. This 2 year aged ham was very well balanced and featured the texture that I liked best. For a relatively long aged ham, the texture was remarkably soft and the flesh vividly red. Not even remotely a clunker.
As we opted to split them, we traveled to the best place we could think of to do so, The Butcher and Larder, where a band saw would do most of the heavy lifting. There we tasted our hams in their raw state. With the same reverence as oenophiles swirl and gargle their prized wines, we smelled, prodded and tasted each ham commenting on each of them, but mostly groaning.
With no real system in place to divide the hams, we put one into place. The buyer of each ham would keep the hock and the center cut. Then each hamophile would take the sirloin and the hock-end from each other ham to ensure a taste of each ham. I ended up with the sirloin from the Benton’s and the Hock-end from the Kite’s.
Groaning because we had chosen three hams, all different in taste, aroma, and texture, but three hams that were incredibly delicious. And good thing too because with fifteen pounds of ham sitting in each of our possession, we will be eating ham for the foreseeable future and I, for one, cannot complain about that.