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Culture & Religion

Hamming it Up

Bacon has been relegated to old-hat status, despite being the “apple of food nerds’ eye for so long.” Meanwhile, America’s old-time cured country ham tantalizes taste buds and is beating bacon.

“Bacon has been the apple of food nerds’ eye for so long that the backlash to it already had a backlash, its fans an impenetrable phalanx of fatty warriors. So what is it about bacon? Is it the salty goodness? The smoke? Or the way lard delivers these flavors in wallops? Either way, bacon is the cook’s sledgehammer. But it’s time to make way for country ham, the cook’s … er, well, whatever counts as the more elegant version of a sledgehammer. Like prosciutto — or the currently more ballyhooed Spanish jamón serrano — American country ham is the uncooked, salt-cured leg of pig, hung to mature for months and sometimes years. The long curing was originally meant to let the salt work into the meat and preserve it from rot, but for eaters in the age of refrigeration, time-consuming chemistry is where the action’s really at. Slowly, enzymes naturally in the meat will break proteins down into our coterie of tasty friends, the amino acids, which give us the satisfying, blooming taste of umami. The fats in the meat slowly change, too, creating beautiful compounds that Harold McGee describes as ‘characteristic of the aromas of melon, apple, citrus, flowers, freshly cut grass, and butter.’ Wait, did you catch that? Pork fat that tastes like butter.”


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