If you've eaten at a trendy restaurant in a major city in America in the past few years, there's a good chance you've encountered Benton's bacon or country ham. Their ubiquity on hip menus from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine gives you the impression that it's run by some kind of tattooed social media marketing genius. But in fact, Benton's is the real deal: an authentic product of a country pork savant who just happened to gain a cult-like following in coastal restaurants.
The story of Benton's Smoky Mountain Country Hams has been told in print before. But it's never come alive as vividly as it does in "Cured," a brief documentary produced by the University of Mississippi and the Southern Foodways Alliance. In the video, Allan Benton, the owner of Benton's, explains that he'd never heard of the refined European ham products (like prosciutto and serrano) to which his product is often compared, before he started selling his pork. But now that he has, he justifiably thinks his ham tastes better than theirs. Still, he does think there's something funny about his product, which he says started as "just sustenance for poor Appalachian hillbillies," being judged against (and sometimes beating) refined, heavily regulated products like prosciutto di Parma.
Benton's explains his ham-making process lucidly enough all to make us want to try making our own at home. "What I'm doing, any hillbilly can do in their backyard. It just takes a tiny bit of knowledge, a little bit of salt and sugar and a lot of time," Benton explains. But having tasted both the ham and bacon in the past, it's hard for us to believe that we could make anything nearly as good -- so we'll leave the curing up to Allan.
Watch "Cured" in its entirety: