My friend Andrea emailed me today. Andrea knows a lot about food, so I am always flattered when she assumes I might know more than her and asks me about something. Today she asked me where she could get a good ham.
At first i was stumped, and as I wrote to her: Don’t you hate that we have to fall back on Whole Foods as the best of the lack of options? But then, even though I had not even had my morning coffee, I dug a little deeper. Ham. It comes from pork. Which comes from pigs. Hmnnn… Who raises the best pigs, and where can I get myself some?
Years ago I did a story on Kurobuta Pork for The Los Angeles Times, so in this particular case my obsession is actually backed up with some knowledge–research and taste testing. Kurobuta means “black pig” in Japanese and you also find it listed on menus as Berkshire. I could give you all the info here but I figure if you’re really interested, you can click on the story. The pigs are black, and the meat is meaty and dark (not black, but like the difference between dark and light meat chicken) and succulent. When I taste tested them against grocery store pork, or what’s known in the industry as “commodity pork,” there was no comparison: one was succelent, juicy, and pork-flavored, the grocery store stuff tasted like white meat chicken. (In case you don’t get to the story, I will tell you in brief that pork in America has been bred over the last 20 years to have less fat, and now the same fat content as white meat chicken. Repeat, meat from a pig in America, an animal whose enthusiastic eating habits coined the phrase “pigging out,” has the same fat content as meat from a scrawny feathery fowl that pecks at corn off the ground. In fact, the pigs are so skinny they are not fit to live outdoors. And you wonder why you keep reaching for that applesauce.) All this to say that to find a good ham, just find a good pig.
Here are some I like a lot.
Kuobuta: Snake River Farms.
Although I can’t vouch for the hams themselves, these are the pigs I like the best.
Ham I Am
My friend Sara Foster, who is Southern and therefor knows from ham, swears by these hams. I have always wanted to go to Arkansas (don’t ask because I don’t know why), and visiting this place is going to be my reason.
I used to recommend Niman Ranch but Bill Niman sold in and left the company, and I’ve word is they just aren’t what they used to be—in other words, aren’t raising animals in the humane and healthy way on which Niman built the brand. I heard Bill Niman is raising goats now. His biggest challenge before was to convince consumers that his meats were worth the price. (They were.) His biggest challenge now will be to convince us that we want to eat goat. Why? When we could have ham instead. I’m all (pigs) ears.