Have you ever been inside a real, old fashion country smoke house? Well, neither had we and what a fun experience it was.
Last month we attended a get-together at Big Dude’s Eclectic Ramblings at Almost Heaven South on Tellico Lake in Tennessee. For breakfast the next day our hosts Larry and Bev prepared one of the best BLT’s we’ve ever eaten on Bev’s homemade bread. Right away we noticed that the hickory smoked bacon was something very special and raved about it. Larry encouraged us to stop by Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams, where he purchased the bacon, on our way home.
Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams is located in an unassuming building on Highway 411 in the sleepy town of Madisonville, Tennessee. If you didn’t happen to catch the sign, you might miss it. We went inside with the intention of buying a couple of pounds of smoked bacon, and came out not only with some bacon but several packages of Tennessee prosciutto as well.
Owner Allan Benton has earned celebrity status among the chef-and-foodie crowd nationwide for his bacon, country hams, and Tennessee prosciutto. In fact his products are served at the prestigious Blackberry Farms, one of America’s most celebrated intimate luxury hotels located in the Smoky Mountains near Knoxville, Tennessee. Travel & Leisure magazine ranked Blackberry Farms as #1 in their “World’s Best Awards” in the continental United States & Canada.
Let’s go inside. Sammy of Benton's Country Hams has offered to show us around. You're in for a real treat. Vegetarians proceed with caution beyond this point. As Chef Emeril Lagasse would say, in this part of the country "pork fat rules."
Here's a close-up of raw, unprocessed hams as they look when they arrive fresh from the slaughterhouse.
Refrigerated aging room with raw, unprocessed hams from the slaughterhouse.
Sides of bacon hanging in the smokehouse. Adjust your eyes. It's smoky in here.
From Benton’s website, “Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams are slow cured using salt, brown sugar, and sodium nitrite and typically aged 9-10 months, though hams are available 1 year and older. This time-honored practice dates back to the era of our forefathers, when the preparation and preservation of meat was a way of life and sustenance. Although the hands of time and technology have sculpted many aspects of our modern world, at Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams we have upheld the traditional dry-curing process and are striving to produce world class country hams and bacon.
Our business was started in 1947 by the late Albert H. Hicks, a dairy farmer who began curing and selling country hams out of a painted block building. Allan Benton and his employees have honed the dry-curing of hams and bacon into a culinary art and have catapulted the products from a simple breakfast mainstay into the world of gourmet cooking, where they have been praised for their characteristic flavor. Benton’s Country Hams and Bacon are available either un-smoked or hickory-smoked. Hickory smoking is performed in a small, wood stove smokehouse behind the business, imparting a distinct smoked flavor that many customers prefer”.
Here are slabs of smoked bacon and ham in Benton’s aging room.
Salt cured country hams hanging in the refrigerated aging room.
Tennessee Prosciutto on aging racks.
To help country hams keep their shape, they are placed in nets while they age.
Country hams in aging room coated with Benton’s “secret rub.”
Here are sides of already smoked bacon, ready to be cut up and packaged for consumers.
Three ladies work in the bacon packing room where they place the bacon into one pound packages for consumers. They turn out 800 to 1,000 packages a day.
We extend our very special thanks to Sammy of Benton’s Country Hams for showing us around their packing house and explaining the whole process. If you would like to order any of the things you've seen here from Benton's, click the link above.
You certainly can’t say I don’t take you to fun places can you? Please join me next time as we sample some of Benton’s fabulous aged Tennessee prosciutto served on an open-faced sandwich with juicy fresh plums, creamy goat cheese, and fig preserves.