Tag: pork


Secreto for Lunch

Secreto is a term used for a butcher’s secret cut. Crafted by master artisan Thomas Odermatt, our Secreto, cut from the short loin, brings 200 years of butchering tradition to your table.

When you’re on the run and need some quick ideas for lunch, our Secreto can come in handy.  Use some slices in a sandwich, beef up a healthy salad, or use it as your main ingredient in a pasta.  Here is a quick and delicious tomato based pasta recipe:

Ingredients
1 box Baia pasta, Casarecce
2 14.5oz. can of whole tomatoes
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 cup water
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 garlic clove, grated on a microplane
2 basil springs
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper

Procedure
1. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan or heavy-bottomed pot. Bloom the grated garlic and tomato paste in the olive oil. When the tomato paste turns into a dark brick red, add the canned tomatoes, breaking them up as they cook. Once all of the tomatoes are crushed to the desired amount, add 1 cup of water and continue to cook. Add the bay leaf, basil sprigs, salt and pepper and allow the tomato sauce to simmer.
2. As the sauce is simmering, fill a 6 quart pot halfway up with hot water and bring it to a boil. When the water is at a rolling boil, add two handfuls of kosher salt and allow it to dissolve. Add 1 box of dry pasta to the boiling water and cook for about twelve minutes (or longer, depending on the desired doneness), stirring occasionally to avoid sticking.
3. For the Secreto: Bring the Secreto to room temperature before you begin. Drizzle cooking oil into a hot pan. Once the pan is smoking hot, sear the fattier side of the Secreto for about four minutes. Carefully flip the Secreto and sear it on the other side for another four minutes. Remove it from the pan and allow it to rest for about five minutes. Although the USDA recommends pork be cooked to an internal temperature of 145ºF, our chefs suggest cooking until a thermometer reads 135ºF as the temp will continue to rise while resting. Slice thin.
4. Strain the pasta when it is cooked to the desired doneness, reserving two cups of the starchy pasta water. Add the strained pasta and Secreto to the tomato sauce, adding pasta water as needed to loosen up the final product.

Secreto in Your Favorite Party Snacks

Secreto is a term used for a butcher’s secret cut. Crafted exclusively for Heritage Foods by master artisan Thomas Odermatt, our Secreto is cut from the short loin and brings 200 years of butchering tradition to your table.

Use the Secreto in your favorite party snacks to impress your guests. When cooked medium rare and sliced thin, the Secreto is the perfect way to top off your spread of finger foods.  Add some to a cheesy nacho platter, throw some on a plain pizza, put them in fun yet elegant lettuce wraps, or use the thin slices of Secreto to top off a bruschetta platter. One pack will go a long way!

Here is a simple recipe to make a quick plate of Bruschetta:

Ingredients
2 baguettes or sourdough bread
2 tomato, diced
1 shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Basil
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper

Procedure
1. Slice baguettes on a slight bias. Dust the slices of bread with olive oil and lightly toast.
2. In a bowl, mix the diced tomatoes, minced shallots, and garlic with salt, pepper, and olive oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let the mix marinate in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve.
3. For the Secreto: Bring the Secreto to room temperature before you begin. Drizzle cooking oil into a hot pan. Once the pan is smoking hot, sear the fattier side of the Secreto for about four minutes. Carefully flip the Secreto and sear it on the other side for another four minutes. Remove it from the pan and allow it to rest for about five minutes. Although the USDA recommends pork be cooked to an internal temperature of 145ºF, our chefs suggest cooking until a thermometer reads 135ºF as the temp will continue to rise while resting. Slice thin.
4. Construct your bruschetta appetizer plate – starting with the tomato mix, top each bite off with a slice of Secreto and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

Heritage Magical Meat Tour Heads South: In Search of the Great Country Hams Part 3

Nancy Newsom, The Ham Maid’s Tale

Rolling into Princeton, Kentucky, is like being thrown back in time.

Newsom’s Old Mill Store was opened in 1917, and although it burned down and was rebuilt next door to the original locale, it doesn’t feel like much has changed. The poplar floor creeks like an ancient symphony, even the door whistles like a bluegrass concerto when it swings shut. Outside on the sidewalk, there are a dozen varieties of tomato plants for sale, and pretty much everything you might want for your garden. Inside, are every manner of beans and corn, and jars of country condiments, from Hot Chow Chow to Appalachian Piccallili. In the back corner, past the buckets of penny candy, is where they slice the ham.

But perhaps nothing more important to the topic at hand —  the raison d’être for a Heritage Pilgrimage that has flown all the way from New York and driven across two states in a torrential downpour —is Princeton’s fortuitous location on top of a watershed, where springs often pop up like wild weeds. Out behind the store, just behind the Newsom curing facility, is a running creek, which comes down from Big Spring as part of the Eddy Creek system, and eventually runs into Lake Barclay.

If the mold is the fairy dust that makes for the world’s best hams, the water and the moisture in the air plays as big a part in curing these hams as any human hand.

Unlike Benton’s, Nancy uses no climate control – her process is driven by the weather and the water in the air. She describes her hams as “ambient cured” — it is a seasonal experience, managed by God as much by man, and not an exact science.  How long will the hams cure? How long will they smoke for? The answer is always changing.

“Well,” says Nancy, “It depends on the weather, and Kentucky weather can change every day.” More than that, the global climate has become unpredictable at best. “I have to rethink what I do every year.”

Heritage Magical Meat Tour Heads South: In Search of the Great Country Hams Part 2

Benton’s began in 1947, when dairy farmer Al Hicks cured hams for local farmers. “Ham was sustenance food for hillbillies,” Al Benton says of the very thing that has become a culinary legend.

In 1973, Al was a High School guidance counselor struggling to make ends meet when he decided he was going to give a go to what he knew best.  “I quit my job and then it really sunk in – it wasn’t going to be easy to make a living curing hams…. so I wrote to everyone I could think of, anyone who could help, university professors, cooks, I wanted to hear everyone’s ideas, and I studied everything I could, but I could never improve on the recipe from the old smoke house behind the house I was born in — people really seemed to like it. At the beginning I was thinking about curing quickly, maybe one hour for a twelve-lb. ham – I thought if I was going to make it in this business I had to work very fast and quick-cure, which is what the business was. But my daddy told me ‘If you play the other guy’s game, you are always going to lose. Make it the best you can. Quality is what is going to sustain you.

“Blackberry Farms changed things, this was in about 1991. We had just two employees then. John Fleer was the chef at Blackberry and he was already something of a star – he had been Mary Tyler Moore’s personal chef! John is such a good man, I never even heard him raise his voice, which is very rare among chefs… and he cared so much about sourcing. He called on day, he had bought some stuff from us, and I thought he was going to complain, but he wanted to see if it was okay to put our name on his menu at Blackberry. I thought there had to be a reason why not, but I couldn’t think of one. And then the phone started ringing, he had so many great chefs coming to visit him — Tom Colicchio, Thomas Keller — I guess that’s when I saw the Promised Land. There was a market for fine dining with the aged country hams and bacon.”

Later that night, dinner talk turned to moonshine, music, and professional wrestling — Tennessee, and Memphis, especially, being mecca’s of the great sport, led by it’s own King, Jerry Lawler, who’s greatest rivalry was a Jewish comedian from New York named Andy Kaufman. But mostly we talked about food, and mostly about ham. Al spoke with great admiration for his colleagues Sam Edwards and Nancy Newsom, to whom he gives great credit for bringing traditional Southern ham north.

“People are really starting to care where their food comes from — Look, when McDonald’s is talking about cage-free eggs, they’re reading the tea leaves. It gives me pride that small folks have been able to make such a ripple in food culture.”

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.”

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.

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