Cured South

The weather and atmospheric conditions stretching across Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia lend the region its nickname, “the ham belt.” Southern curing traditions took shape from the skills of Native Americans and early European settlers. They echo throughout this region today. As Sally Eason of Sunburst Trout Farms puts it: “With our being so close to the Cherokee [Indians] in this part of the Appalachians, why would we not want to carry that on?”

Curing makes protein “shelf stable,” stretching supply through the year with salt, sometimes smoke, maybe a little brown sugar, perhaps a little pepper. As Allan Benton tells us in his story about growing up in Virginia, “It was just simply bragging rights about who made the best sausage or the best ham or the best bacon. . . they could turn it into cash when cash was so scarce.”

The process cannot be rushed. Curing demands patience and memory. Over the years the process has dramatically shifted. Technology eclipsed most ambient curing methods. Hogs are leaner. Government regulations make old methods trickier to implement. Others weathered these challenges by staying true to the time-old traditions of curing meat. Whether it’s ham, sausage, bacon, fish, caviar, or coppa, the stories documented here carry on what’s been handed down from ancestors.

Curing extends the past into our present, shaping our identity. Here are the stories of folk who carry forward those investments of salt, smoke and time.


Initial funding for this project provided by Fullsteam in Durham, North Carolina.

Interviews

Allan Benton

Allan Benton’s grandparents raised pork worth bragging about.

Gregg Rentfrow

Gregg Rentfrow cut meat to pay his way through junior college.

Jay Denham

Jay Denham says it began when while working as garde manger in restaurants, where he “took other stations’ trash to come up with something really flavorful and tasty.”

Lewis Shuckman

Lewis Shuckman’s grandfather, Isia, told him, “Once you get started with something don’t change it.”

Ron Turner

Ron Turner’s father, Garnett, started by curing 25 hams for his customers. They sold out immediately.

Sally Eason

Sally Eason’s father, Dick Jennings, set out for Cashiers, North Carolina in 1948.

Sam Edwards III

It started on a passenger ferry route running between Jamestown and Surry, Virginia in 1925.

Stefan Neumann

Born and raised in Neunkirchern in Saarland, Germany, curing meat was an inherent part of Stefan Neumann’s culture.

Sydney Meers

As the second youngest of six kids growing up in Senatobia, Mississippi, Sydney Meers’ family raised their own hogs.