John called me a few weeks ago and said "Do you want a whole artisanal Tennessee ham?"
"Sure," I said, on account of I'm not a complete idiot. "Why and how?"
The band's publicist, it turns out, during or after Bonnaroo, had been driving around and stopped at some joint in Gallatin for lunch. The ham sandwich–smoky, fatty, and piled high for $6–was one of the best he'd tasted. So he talked to the proprietor, learned the story, and placed the order. The story is that the owner has been on a mission to revive the tradition of dry-cured country hams, feeling as he does (and rightly) that those icky, rehydrated "honey-baked" hams and their ilk are an abomination in the eyes of the Lord. So he's working with a local farmer to raise pigs that are happier and fattier than the awful, industrially produced standard. He's not using any heirloom breeds, because he wants to be able to offer his "prosciutto" sandwich at a price that a truck driver can afford. His hams are cured, aged for a year, and then smoked for a good deal more (making them more like a smoked hillbilly jamón).
Now John has been pretty much off the pig for a while, so he figured I'd be interested in keeping it company. And just this morning I was wondering when it might arrive. Then, after lunch, whilst outside tying our exploding tomatoes to a trellising structure I had just built, who should I see walking up to the house carrying a large white bundle?
It arrived swaddled (from the inside out) in: a recent copy of the Tennessean, a black trash bag, and a complete layer of white duct tape. It weighed close to 25 pounds. I say "weighed" because we accidentally ate some of it after unwrapping it. Just to be sure it was OK. And it's quite a lot more than OK. There's a fair amount of pepper in the cure; after the silky, smoky bite there's a lingering heat not unlike good pastrami. And as you can see, there's plenty of fat. I'll be using the fat for cooking for the forseeable future, even as we slowly whittle this leviathan down to the bone.
I went and found a heavier-duty hook amongst my vast collection of random hardware and installed it in a choice location where it is unlikely to concuss any passing friends or family, and there it hangs. That's it on the right, next to some guanciale, duck breast, and bresaola, all the products of the meat-curing class we had here a couple of weeks ago. The kitchen smells GOOD.
I told John that he can have visitation rights. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go carve off a few more slices. Just, you know, to make sure it's still OK.