Category: Breeds


Heritage Magical Meat Tour Heads South: In Search of the Great Country Hams Part 1

Heritage Magical Meat Tour Heads South: In Search of the Great Country Hams Part 1

Is southern charm one of the ingredients necessary to make a great country ham? You might think so if you ever met the Don and Doyenne of great country hams, the legendary Al Benton, and the unsinkable Nancy Newsom. 

Al Benton, An Audience with A Godfather of Southern Cured Ham

It was teeming rain on the way from Nashville to Madisonville, Tennessee, the kind of rain that obscures the green, Smoky Mountains of Tennessee behind sheets of steam and fog and sounds like war drums on the roof of a rented car. It didn’t take much imagination to think we were driving through Skull Island, home of King Kong, or had somehow made a detour into the Heart of Darkness, a scene from Apocalypse Now.  The truth, however, was far more comforting: We were on a mission to see a King and Queen of country ham, Al Benton and Nancy Newsom.

Making personal visits to farms, chefs, and providers has always been one of the hallmarks of Heritage Foods USA, and as anyone who has ever been on one of these trips with ringleader Patrick Martins knows, they are magical meat tours indeed, whirlwinds of gastronomic bliss and historical culinary discovery, epicurean epics writ large in regional cuisine. And, a hell of a lot of fun.

Benton’s Country Hams was the first stop on this pilgrimage to the cathedrals of southern ham, and we were greeted by the man himself in his small, roadside storefront.

“Don’t call me Mr. Benton,” he chided with a smile, “I’m Al.”

Al Benton speaks with an unerring southern twang that is like catnip to New Yawkers. And even though he teases at himself for being a hillbilly, he can’t hide his business acumen or old-school good looks — his smile is half Robert Redford and half Jimmy Carter, equal parts star power and earnest American. Speaking to him about his business is a powerful lesson in pride, good taste, modesty, respect for history, and the providence of good timing — both Al and his Kentucky counterpart, Nancy Newsom were lucky enough to catch the rising tide of foodies and enlightened chefs who recognized the soaring quality of their country hams just as cosmopolitan foodie culture was exploding.

While we spoke with Al, a steady stream of customers came in to buy bacon, ham parts, sliced country hams, and more bacon — young men wearing camo pants and trucker hats, soccer moms with their kids, a middle-aged man wearing a Grateful Dead t-shirt… ham does not discriminate. “The Southern Food Alliance,” Al mentions matter-of-factly, “is built on the idea that if you sat down at the table we are all the same. It doesn’t matter where you come from or what your ethnic background is.” Indeed, ham is the great equalizer.

Tommy — Al’s plant manager and right hand man (“Sometimes he’s up to his elbows in bacon grease, sometimes he is solving problems on the phone.”) — accompanies us with Al on a tour through his facility, which from the road looks no bigger than the storefront, but turns out to be a warren of rooms filled with hams hung to dry or curing in salt, a veritable bunker of porky goodness. The smell of hickory smoke kisses you on the face at every turn.

Al tells us about running into a burning smokehouse to literally save his bacon, screaming at the firemen “DO NOT USE YOUR HOSES, THERE IS BACON IN THERE!” and ruminates on his favorite places to eat: “I love Charleston, and New Orleans, but New York City, that’s the place, you can get everything… if I had one place to go there, though, it would be one of David Chang’s restaurants.” And why not? Chang’s Momofuku empire has been one of Benton’s great champions, and in fact, our pilgrimage follows the one made by Momofuku executive chef and prime mover Matt Rudofker just a week before.

There is no secret to the Benton formula for ham, it could not be simpler: “Just salt, sage, black and red pepper… we don’t use anything you can’t pronounce. You look at some of these industrially made hams – you can’t even read the ingredients, they have so many and things you never even heard of.”

They use a wood stove in the smoke room, burning local hickory — “The wood comes in when it does. When people are running out of beer and milk and want to sell some wood, they come see me. That’s always the way it’s been.”  The hams spend three days in the smoke room to get that intense flavor. Bacon takes about five weeks to make, moving from curing (brown sugar and salt) into cooler rooms and then a heated room; hams can age up to two years. “You have to age the hams – it’s like cheese, it starts mild and when you age it the flavor becomes sharper.”

The Best Burger You’ve Ever Had

Great burgers start with great ingredients. We recommend our Akaushi/Angus 8oz burger patties—a perfect combination of robust beefy flavor from the Angus and tender marbling from the Japanese Akaushi. Looking for more ways to up your burger game?  Check out our burger tips below for guaranteed juicy patties every time.

CESARE CASELLA – OLD WORLD MEETS NEW, PART 2: THE LEGEND OF THE NORCINI

News of the Heritage Foods partnership with master curemaster, chef, educator, and guru Cesare Casella has spread like wildfire — Cesare is a leader in the new movement for Heritage American charcuterie, and no one is more excited than, well, Cesare!

“The lardo, the rosemary, the juniper berries, the curing salts, those smells are inside my head,” says Cesare. “They are part of me. It’s like being an alchemist. The norcino salumiere transforms the butchers’ meat into something traditional and beautiful. That is what I want to do. And for me, it’s family. Tending the salumi as they age is like caring for my pets as they grow up and mature. They become my best friends!”

The tradition of the norcini started in the town of Norcia in Umbria, high in the Apennines, a place famous for its cured meats. Farming conditions were poor in the mountains, so Norcians ate what they had plenty of, which was the cinghiale, or wild boar, that roamed the forests. They also raised their own pigs, then cured the meats so it would keep for long periods, an art that evolved over the centuries. In time, the norcini became so expert, their art was recognized both by the state and by the Catholic Church. After the trade group, the Confraternita Norcina was founded in 1615, it received the blessing of Pope Paul V. The norcini were considered so skilled, they were allowed to practice surgery, dentistry and bone setting.

The original norcini typically traveled in pairs. There was the butcher who cut up the meat and broke it down, and the salumiere, who turned that meat into salumi. Together, the norcini made the salumi for every season, from fresh sausage for the next day, to prosciutto for the following year. Each duo had its own routes and loyal farmers that it serviced year again and again, and as the men crisscrossed Italy, they carried with them the secret recipes and processes for creating prosciutto and salumi. There were generations of norcini who passed along their secrets to their apprentices who in turn cared for the same family farms decade after decade.

After World War II, as pig farming became industrialized, the norcini began to fade from the Italian countryside, and the visits made to the Casella family and Vipore grew more and more rare. Eventually Cesare took on some of the butchering and salumi-making and also worked with local butchers to get the flavors he wanted for Vipore. His platters of cacciatorini, finocchiona and sopressata became one of the restaurant’s trademarks.

The tradition of the norcini and the flavors and smells of salumi-making in the Italian countryside are what Cesare is drawing on with Casalla’s Salumi Speciali. He is working with farmers dedicated to raising pork as the Norcians did for centuries. Their pigs, he likes to say, are happy pigs. They roam pastures freely. They run around and they roll in the mud. They loll. They’re not dosed with antibiotics. When Cesare makes prosciutto, he cures it on the bone, just as the Norcians did, for that deep, authentic nutty flavor. Just like the norcini, Cesare has his own special recipe for the spices to make his salami and prosciutti.

CESARE CASELLA – OLD WORLD MEETS NEW, PART 1

One of the most exciting things happening here at Heritage in the New Year is our newly-forged relationship with Cesare Casella, master Michelin-starred chef, the Dean of Italian Studies at the International Culinary Center and celebrated restaurateur….

The Ultimate Certification for Heritage Poultry

Certification by the American Poultry Association (APA) is the ultimate seal of approval for humane poultry production. The APA is America’s oldest agricultural association. Its certifications are endorsed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and it signifies that the animals are raised with balanced genetics, not genetics overbred for fast growth. Heritage chickens take 150 days to grow to market weight as opposed to 48 days on commodity farms. We applaud all producers including Frank Reese who have been endorsed by the APA.

Frank hold a certificate from the APA for each breed he raises. Here are the certificates for each of the 3 breeds we have available this week:

Whole Chickens
Two 3-4lb chicken $69
Two 3-4lb chicken $137
Barred Plymouth Rock or Cornish

Whole Chicken
Breed Tasting Kit $115
One 3-4lb chicken each from:
New Hampshire, Cornish and Barred Plymouth Rock

Ground Chicken
Three 1lb packs $55
Ten 1lb packs $175
Barred Plymouth Rock

Meet our Prosciutto Style Hams

Edwards Prosciutto-Style Ham
This is a dry-cured ham that boasts the signature flavors of Surry, VA, where hams have been produced for 90 years by the Edwards family. Sam Edwards painstakingly salts, smokes and ages Berkshire hams for 400-600 days. As our hams pass through the Spring, Summer and Fall rooms of the Edwards facility, they acquire a depth of flavor that is second to none.
One 3.5-4lb piece $135 

Broadbent Prosciutto-Style Ham
New-World and Old-World collide in this fresh example of Heritage cured ham. After over 100 years, Broadbent boasts a pasture-raised heritage product line and the results are a lighter, sweet and salty American prosciutto. Perfect with summer melon or on home made pizza! One 2.5-3lb piece $99
One 2.5-3lb piece $99

Nduja
Fourth-generation ’nduja artisan Antonio Fiasche crafts his specialty in Chicago, where his family has run Ristorante Agostino for 32 years. Antonio was introduced to us at the 2016 Good Food Awards, honoring America’s great artisans. His ’nduja is sweet up front, followed by a subtle but uninhibited heat. We guarantee you’ll find this traditional Calabrian spread an unexpected and unforgettable, bold delicacy.
Three 6oz packs $36

Felino
This Salame di Felino is made in the Emilia-Romagna-style from the western part of the Province of Parma, most notably known for their prosciutto and Parmigiano Reggiano. It has a mild taste and buttery finish with distinct marbling throughout. This no frills porky salami is soft with creamy sweet fat. Nello’s Specialty Meats, one of Pennsylvania’s great curemasters, is a community fixture that processes and cures for dozens of farms locally.
Three 8oz packs $39

Easy Entertaining Package
Receive all 4 of the heritage cured meats plus a well-rounded Soppressata Salami with notes of black pepper from Underground Meats in Madison, WI.
Easy Entertaining package $175

 

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