Going Ham on Tennessee Prosciutto
American-made prosciutto is ready for its closeup.
La Quercia and Benton's are two of the most popular brands—and the ones you probably recognize if you live in a big-ticket food city New York or Los Angeles. But if you go to Nashville, an up-and-coming dining destination with a penchant for pork, you'll see another name on the menu: Bob Woods.
Just about every Nashville restaurant gunning for a James Beard nomination is serving Woods's hams: places like Husk, Rolf & Daughters, Mason's and The Catbird Seat. Woods's ubiquitousness is a testament to both the rising popularity of American cured meats and the refinement of his product, which is a cross between a Southern country ham and an Italian prosciutto.
Its flavor profile, which Sean Brock calls "well-balanced and incredible," is a combination of sweet and smoky, like a particularly clean speck. And texturally, the ham melts in your mouth, even though it's typically cut on the thicker side (1.5 mm versus 1 mm or less for prosciutto). Brandon Frohne of Mason's says it's like "eating ham butter."
But still, when there are so many ham options to choose from—prosciutto from Italy, jamón serrano from Spain and a bunch of good American-made hams—why is everyone in Nashville serving Bob Woods's product?
The short answer is: These are hometown hams.
And being local is important, as far as prosciutto is concerned. Not only is Woods able to take last-minute orders from restaurants, he can collaborate with chefs in a way that faraway ham-curers simply can't.
As I toured his facility, located about forty minutes south of Nashville in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, he showed me some hams that he'd been working on with local chefs. They were leaner-looking than your average ham and tagged with chefs' names: Sean Brock, Brandon Frohne and Philip Krajeck (Rolf & Daughters).
Woods explained that some chefs treat him like a mercenary curing master, customizing their hams by sourcing their own pigs (mostly heritage breeds from nearby farms) and tweaking what goes into the curing mix (Frohne added some dried espelette peppers to his mix, like they do in French Basque country). For his regular product, cheekily dubbed "Tennshoo-toe," Woods uses crossbred pork and a simple salt-and-sugar curing mix, which yields a slightly sweet, mild flavor. Many restaurants serve the Tennshoo-toe straight, but the opportunity to cure bespoke legs is irresistible for some chefs.
If making it down Nashville to try one of these custom-cured prosciuttos isn't in the cards, fear not: you can still go ham on some homemade buttermilk biscuits with a few slices of Tennshoo-toe, available online now.
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