Certified Cheese Professional and 21-year veteran of Di Bruno Bros, Hunter Fike has a few things to say about this not-just-any country ham. Get it while it lasts at our Rittenhouse, Ardmore, Franklin and Italian Market locations.
One of the things I love most about the Good Food Mercantile is that it brings producers from all over the country to one central locale. Every state is represented by at least one producer, each of whom is making inspired, conscientious food with a purpose. Canned geoduck from Alaska. Indigenous fruit pastes from Hawaii. Bean-to-bar chocolates from Arkansas. You’ll find it all here, and that says nothing of the total tonnage of exciting products coming out of Brooklyn and California every day.
Whether innovating with never-before-tasted flavor combinations, or painstakingly preserving authentic production methods, Good Food crafters prove that good food can come from anywhere. And it so happens that my favorite bite at the most recent Mercantile came from North Carolina.
If you’re a northerner like me, chances are that your only experience with country ham is the heavily-smoked, industrially-produced options available in supermarkets. Lady Edison’s Extra Fancy Country Ham, on the other hand, more closely resembles Jamon Iberico, the esteemed, acorn-fed holy grail of charcuterie from Spain. It has completely changed our understanding of what real country ham is supposed to be.
What makes Lady Edison’s ham “Extra Special?” It all starts – as it always should – at the farm. They source their hogs exclusively from the North Carolina Natural Hog Growers Association, a co-op of 25 farmers certified Animal Welfare Approved for the exceptional care they give their pigs. The hogs – a cross-breed of Berkshire, Duroc and Chester White – are raised antibiotic and hormone-free with lots of room to flop around in mud and feed their young. And as of January, 2018, the co-op achieved an additional, optional accreditation from A Greener World, having proved that all of their feed comes from non-GMO plants.
Most of what the co-op produces is sold at farmers markets or on the menus of local nose-to-tail restaurants, but a small amount of legs are sent to Lady Edison for curing. Sam Suchoff (pronounced SUE-choff), the owner of Lady Edison, rubs the legs with a blend of salt and sugar and leaves them to hang for 18 months. By comparison, Prosciutto di Parma is only required to be aged for 12 months. During this extended maturation, Sam’s hams lose about a third of their weight and concentrate their flavors.
And what amazing flavors they are! Savory, buttery and rich, with nuances of smoke despite spending no time in the smokehouse whatsoever. Envision more-pronounced Prosciutto. Sam likes to refer to the ham’s “funk” when describing the flavor profile. As a cheese monger, when I hear “funk,” I think “baby diaper” (in the best possible way). With this ham, I instead think of the “James Brown” definition of funk.
So succulent is the texture, that when sliced thin and laid on a cheese board, the fat will start to render from the ambient temperature of the room. Imagine draping a slice or two over a fresh-out-the-oven biscuit, then slathering a little orange marmalade or peach jam on top.
Our mongers have been enjoying it alongside our May Hero Cheese, Comte Marcel Petit, with a side of Basque Cherry Confit. Comte, with its brown butter-on-toast flavor profile, provides the perfect base for rich Country Ham, while the tart Basque Cherry cuts through the lusciousness of the ham’s silky fat.
Availability is extremely limited outside of North Carolina. In fact, so far this year, only 40 hams have been made available to the other 49 states. We were lucky enough to get our hands on 8 of them. But they won’t last long, so hurry to your nearest store to nab a bit for yourself. And don’t forget about mom, whose special day is just around the corner.