The New York Times brings the glad tidings that the first Spanish Iberico hams go on sale today in the United States. These hams–jamon in Spanish–have been cured for two years and sell for $900 apiece or a mere $50 per pound. You can buy them here.
On hearing this, I called up Alan Benton, proprietor of Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams, the best country ham I have ever had in Tennessee. Speaking from his store in Madisonville, where whole and sliced hams are flying out the door during his busiest time of year, Benton took some time to expound on his favorite subject.
“Right now,” he began, “we are aging our hams about 13 months. I want to get them up to 15 months.”
I asked him why he doesn’t age his hams to the two years favored by Spanish producers.
“You used to hear about people in the country aging hams for two years, but back then they would start with a ham that weighed 50 pounds and had a fat layer that was two inches thick. You can’t get hams like that anymore. The hams I sell finish out at 14-16 pounds and they just won’t age that long.”
Benton, whose products are featured in restaurants in New York City, says he buys now buys hams from New York state-based Heritage Foods USA, a broker that obtains its products from small farms. “They sell me hams from certified Berkshires,” Alan explains, “they are pasture-raised hogs raised with no antibiotics. I like that, and try to buy as many as they will sell me.”
Benton has benefited from the Slow Food movement, and it’s wonderful to see the top supplier of Tennessee’s most traditional dishes leading the way by supporting humanely-raised animals, curing hams the old fashioned way, yet embracing new uses such as his prosciutto.
“I’ve spent my entire life in the pursuit of the very best country ham and bacon,” he states, adding that once the Christmas rush is over he is expanding his operation to meet increased demand. If you want to order country ham–whole or by the slice, call (423) 442-5003. Chances are, Alan will answer the phone himself.
Tell him that Tennessee Guy said to call.