Ep. 120: Allan Benton, Benton's Smoky Mountain Country Hams, Madisonville, TN (Live from Music to Your Mouth)
I’ve picked up and put down a lot of things in my life from jobs and ideas, to locales and loves and whatever I thought was the next big thing. This is a story of the opposite, of the power of doing one thing as best as you can for as long as you can. For most of his career, master craftsman Allan Benton of Benton’s Country Hams and Bacon worked in obscurity in an unassuming building in the Blue Ridge Mountains. He raised a family, he used his hands to spread salt, brown sugar, curing salt, and pepper on meat to cure it, and then watched and tasted as it transformed. And then he tried to make a living selling it. In my last episode with BJ Dennis, I flippantly mentioned that I had had enough country ham for the rest of my life, but I realized that I don’t put Benton’s work in the same category with the ham I was referencing, ham sold in packets or on fast food biscuits, over processed and meant to get to market fast. What he creates is like a beautiful Italian prosciutto or the cured meats from Spain -- altogether different and heavenly in texture and depth of flavor. It honors the meat and celebrates it, and just a little Benton’s Bacon or Smoky Mountain Country Ham can go a long way in elevating your dish. Just ask David Chang, Sean Brock, John Fleer, or countless other chefs who make sure his name appears on their menus. But Allan Benton, as a person, elevates those around him too: his kindness is literally infectious, his calm demeanor needed in this world, and through his gentle words, he asks us to look for something to commit to as well, to pour our passion into. Warning: My southern granddaughter side comes out in this episode. Double warning: prepare for bacon cravings.