by David Cecelski
My daughter and I stopped at White’s Meat Market in CoveCity today. It’s an old fashioned sort of place, where they do all their own butchering, sausage making, and smoking. Owned and operated by my Cousin Ida’s first cousin and her husband, the little shop sells fresh cuts of meat, local vegetables, hoop cheese, and pork cracklings, but its glory is its country hams.
When we were there, a dozen or so hams hung from the shop’s ceiling. I have never seen prettier. They were a beautiful, dark reddish-brown. They reminded me of finely-crafted 18th century American furniture. I thought of antique cherry wood burnished with a natural stain that has aged gracefully and grown more complex and interesting with the passage of time. I breathed in the hams’ rich, smoky aroma.
Mr. White led us back to his smokehouse. He still cures hams the way that old men did when he was a child. He soaks them in salt brine and hangs them from the rafters in the old wooden smokehouse. It is a small, perhaps 8 x 8, 10-foot tall building. A little iron fire pit sits in the middle of the floor. The boards hold the smell of decades of cured hams and hickory smoke.
For several days, Mr. White smokes his hams over hickory coals. When the curing is done, he leaves them hanging in the smokehouse. They age in the open air, without any mechanical ventilation or temperature control. He cures only a hundred or so hams a year and ages them for months. His oldest hams, he said, are two and three years old. “The longer you age them,” he told us, “the tenderer they get.”
Whites Meat Market is located at 9350 Old U.S. Highway 70, east of Cove City. The phone number is (252) 636-8300.