Monday, March 16, 2009
The haunting scent from frying Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams’ artisanal bacon lingers in your house for days, sticks to your clothing like a moth to a flame and infiltrates every fiber of your hair with a hickory smoked aroma. And that’s not a bad thing! In fact, it is really, really remarkable.
Mr. Allan Benton, talented and dedicated owner of Benton’s, told me that one of his customers recently asked him how to remove some of the salty, smoky goodness from his bacon. “Remove flavor from my product? I consider that quite the compliment,” he says.
Benton’s hams are slow cured using salt, brown sugar, and sodium nitrite and aged to perfection, typically 9-10 months. This is a time-honored practice, dating back to the days before refrigeration, when meat preservation was a necessity. Benton insists he isn’t doing anything remarkable by upholding the traditional dry-curing process. “What I’m doing is what my grandparents and most of their neighbors did in their backyard,” says Mr. Benton. “We cure bacon and ham in a 180 year-old smoke house. We do everything exactly the same way.”
Benton has been curing hams since 1973, elevating the process to a magical culinary art form. He makes mouthwatering pork products such as prosciutto, smoked country bacon, aged whole country hams, unsmoked country hams and hickory smoked country hams, all of which have garnered him a reputation as a national treasure, and a favorite among professional chefs across America.
Benton’s bacon is seriously and extremely intense. The meaty, marbled slabs are addictive, with a smoky aroma that is no less intoxicating. The individual strips are thick, with a heavy ratio of fat to meat. Benton suggests undercooking, rather than overcooking the meat, in order to maintain the hickory smoked flavor and for an unctuous mouth-feel, closer to pork belly, rather than the crunchy, lifeless strips of bacon to which we’ve grown accustomed. That ethereal hickory flavor lingers in the back of the throat, a powerful confluence of salt and smoke.
Benton's Smoky Mountain Country Hams
2603 Hwy. 411
Madisonville, TN 37354