Is Ham the New Bacon?
"There are a number of seriously delicious artisanal hams being made all over this pig-happy country of ours."
That is the porcine question of the day. It all started with Italian prosciutto di Parma, progressed to Serrano ham from Spain, and then of course moved to the ne plus ultra of European ham, the black-footed (patenegra in Spanish), called Jamon Iberico. But now American artisanal ham makers are getting in on the act. Herb and Kathy Eckhouse started making extraordinary La Quercia prosciutto in Des Moines, Iowa. How extraordinary? Italian chefs in America who worship at the feet of Parma ham like Mario Batali started taking notice.
Now third generation curemaster Sam Edwards working with Heritage Foods USA and Newman Berkshire Farms and has given birth to what can only be described as country ham and prosciutto's love child. It's called Surryano (Edwards is in Surry, Virginia, where "ano" refers to Serrano), and according to Harold McGee's piece in the New York Times, it sounds pretty heavenly:
Have you ever placed a vanishingly thin morsel of rosy meat on your tongue and had it fill your mouth with deepest porkiness, or the aroma of tropical fruits, or caramel, or chocolate? Or all of the above? A really good dry-cured ham can do just that. Not a standard pink, cooked ham, juicy with injected brine, but a raw ham preserved by the application of dry salt, hung up to age for months or years, then sliced paper-thin and eaten as is, uncooked, yet transformed into the intense, silken essence of meat.
"The intense, silken essence of meat." Wow! When Harold McGee waxes rhapsodic, it's definitely time to taste this ham. So I was thinking that I would order some when out of the blue, a messenger showed up at Serious Eats World HQ with a cute plastic-wrapped portion of Surryano ham. Ham-a-lleujah, the Serious Eaters all said.
The Surryano ham is:
- Aged more than 400 days
- From pure-bred Berkshire pork for ideal marbling, richer flavor
- 100% pasture-raised under certified humane conditions
- No antibiotics, no added hormones
But is it seriously delicious?
We took the ham out of the fridge, then out of the plastic. We let the ham breathe (I know it sounds pretentious) and then put it on a Sullivan Street Bakery baguette called a stirrato. No condiments touched this ham, no mustard, no olive oil, no butter, no mayo, no nuthin'.
And it didn't need any of them. The Surryano ham was world-class seriously delicious: porky, nutty, salty, sweet, smoky, fatty, meat-tastic. It might be the best American ham sandwich ever; no check that, it is the best American ham sandwich ever. Actually, I can't make such a definitive statement.
There are a number of seriously delicious artisanal hams being made all over this pig-happy country of ours. I have now decided that we must taste each and every one of them at Serious Eats World HQ in the coming days and weeks. Just this morning I got off the phone with Herb Eckhouse ordering some fairly recent additions to his line of wondrous pig products.
When we have concluded our American artisanal ham tour by mail, we will know for sure if ham has become the new bacon. Until then, as we've said before on Serious Eats, praise the lard, praise the lard.