Page 78 - Cityview May-June 2017
P. 78

KN: One of the things I’ve heard praised is the consistency of your product. Is that because you maintain the same process, employ the same people, use the same pigs?
AB: As you suspect, the answer is a combination of those. You have to
start out with good pork. That’s key. But then every stage of the process
has to be consistent. We have to hire employees that are committed to helping us make a world-class product. Our business works only if you hire good people. It can’t be done almost right; it has to be done exactly right, every step of the process.
KN: How does that process work for your country hams?
AB: We bring the fresh hams in and rub a mixture of salt, brown sugar, and black and red pepper on them. We salt them in curing bins, leave them about a week to ten days, and come back and work more cure into them. Then we stack them up in the curing bins and they’ll stay there close to two months. It’s part science, and it’s part art. We won’t touch them again until we take them out of cure and hang them shank down. The old timers used to say that helps them to drain well. In reality it makes no difference—except it does help shape the ham up prettier.
KN: And that’s as much a part of it as anything else?
AB: Our philosophy, in this business, is anything that can make our hams
or our bacon better, no matter how expensive the process, is worth doing because quality is everything for us. We’re trying our best to make hams that are equal in quality to what our European cousins are doing.
KN: Where do we head after curing? AB: When they come out of cure,
they go into another cooler, trying
to emulate mother nature. When we killed our hogs in November, it was still
cold and they had until spring to get used to that temperature change and dry out. It’s a drying process, a little bit akin to how they dry tobacco after you cut it from the field. We’re letting these hams lose moisture so that when they come out of that cooler into that heated space, they’ll keep without refrigeration.
KN: At what point do we introduce the smoking process?
AB: Typically, the hams can be smoked at any point along the way after they come out of equalization. For the bacon, it’s usually the very last process. Once we have the bacon dried out, we’re going to stick it in the smoker for three days of intense smoke. You can’t even see the meat, it’s so smoky in there. If you don’t like smoke, you’re not going to like our smoked bacon.
KN: Can you outline the Benton’s Bacon process for us?
AB: We put the bacon bellies in cure for ten days stacked in a rack. We
take them out, wash them, and hang them on a rack and keep them under refrigeration for ten more days. Then we age it at room temperature for ten days to dry it out good, then three days of intense smoke in the smokehouse.
KN: Have you changed this aging process as you’ve learned more over the years?
AB: When I first started, I didn’t age that many hams to 24 months, but now I have more and more chefs who like the 18 to 24-month stuff. We’re so lucky that they use it; they use it in ingenious ways.
KN: What’s the most interesting way that you’ve seen Benton’s ham or Benton’s bacon used?
AB: We’ve seen all kinds of things, like the Benton’s Old Fashioned at the little bar in New York, PDT. It’s their signature drink.
KN: And what’s your favorite way of using Benton’s bacon?
AB: After all the exotic ways I’ve
seen the product used, I think most east Tennesseans can relate what I’m getting ready to tell you. One of my favorites ways to use this bacon is to get a ripe tomato in summertime and a jar of JFG Mayonnaise (lots of those Duke’s fans out there will hang me for saying that). Give me a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich made with smoked bacon and a ripe tomato
from the garden and that’s about as good as it gets.
around town
AlAn Benton
76 MAY  JUNE 2017

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