Page 80 - Cityview May-June 2017
P. 80

KN: How do you like your
product best?
AB: As I’ve gotten older, I can’t eat this stuff every day, so I try to, as we say in East Tennessee, save up for certain times of the year. Right now, it’s time to go to the mountains and get ramps. I’m going to take some unsmoked bacon, some country ham, and fry all that and
cook the ramps in the
mountains. That’s one
of my favorite ways to
use the product. I just
had my little 5-year-old granddaughter come
down yesterday and
help grandpa sow a
lettuce bed. I love to
have the killed lettuce:
the wilted lettuce
and onions with the
hot grease and a little
vinegar and sugar in
the spring of the year.
For me, that’s as much
of a delicacy as foie
gras or caviar. It’s an
incredible treat.
KN: We’ve talked
about the process,
but what about
the pig itself and
how you choose
what pork to use.
AB: On a trip to New
York, I got to serve on a panel with some other culinary heavyweights, one of whom wrote about an exploit of his across Europe to find the perfect ham. That was an epiphany moment for me. I had always known that my pork was not as good as what my grandparents in Virginia had made. I came back from that trip bent on finding better pork. It’s been a passion ever since.
KN: And you’ve pursued it?
AB: We got into the game very early;
we started buying all of the heritage pork we could get, pasture-raised. We try to find antibiotic-free pork. Old breeds of pigs, primarily. They have a little bit more intermuscular fat and marble than the regular pork. You know, you can’t make something good if you don’t start out with something good.
out there now who are trying to raise the kind of pigs we’re looking for, and finding this pork is always a challenge. Now, it’s become a greater challenge because great chefs all over the country are competing with us for that same pork we’re chasing.
[At this point, Benton allows us to sample some 24-month,
thin-sliced Benton’s prosciutto.]
KN: Do you see yourself continuing to expand?
AB: You know, we’ve expanded continually ever since we’ve been in business, so I’m not sure what the answer to that is. We’ve never had a goal of making
a lot of ham; we really just want to make a world-class product. I’ll tell you something that I’m proud of. I was selling to places
in Chicago and New Orleans, and other places, the West Coast. But I didn’t dream there was a market
in my home state. I just thought all of us hillbillies grew up
eating this stuff, and honestly, when I figured out that there was a market in state, I’ve never been prouder of anything. If these folks like it, it must be good.
[He pauses.]
But you like that 24-month stuff? KN: I LOVE that 24-month stuff. Keith Norris is editor of Cityview.
KN: Do you try to source from Tennessee, or do you have to go outside the region?
AB: Unfortunately, with the demise of the meat packing houses here in the south, there are very few hogs raised in Tennessee, now. One of my best sources is a broker in, of all places, Brooklyn, NY. He put together about 500 or more small farmers scattered over two or three states in the Midwest that raise these old breeds of hogs on pasture,
no antibiotics. There’s lots of farmers
around town
AlAn Benton
78 MAY  JUNE 2017

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