Kentucky Bacon

Kentucky Bacon Oral History Project Intro Photo

In Kentucky, curing bacon and hams has been a necessity of life for generations. In more recent years, this tradition has been in retreat. Some blame onerous government regulations. Others see urbanization as the culprit. Others still ponder our region’s evolving food habits. There remain, however, a select few artisans who cling faithfully to family traditions. By way of generations-old recipes, hands-on expertise, and time-sweet-time, a small number of folks are still doing things the old fashioned way. As a means of survival, these purveyors of bacon, whose families once cured by necessity, are now catering to gourmands and chefs who appreciate both the effort invested and the end result. They are carrying forth the tradition.

The project that follows, documents the lives of these artisans and, hopefully, complicates Peter Kaminsky’s observation, in his book Pig Perfect, that, “Soon the old masters will be gone and, like students of a dead language, we will have to reacquire their knowledge all over again.” Let us read the stories that follow and revel in the marriage of pork and salt and time.

Interviews

Kentucky Bacon - Charles Gatton Jr. - Kentucky Bacon

Charles Gatton Jr. – Gatton Farms

Charles Gatton, Junior, is known to some as the mad scientist of bacon. Growing up on Gatton Farms, Charles learned the business of curing hams and bacon from his father, Charles Gatton, Senior, who founded Father’s Country Hams in 1950. When his father passed away in 2000, Charles Junior decided to take bacon-making to another level. His epiphany occurred at a food show, when chocolate purveyors asked if he could create a chocolate-flavored bacon.

Col. Bill Newsom's Aged Kentucky Country Ham - Nancy Newsom Mahaffy - Kentucky Bacon

Col. Bill Newsom’s Aged Kentucky Country Ham

Today, she carries on her father’s legacy in the same store, curing the same way, in the same ham house, catering to some of the same customers who have frequented Newsom’s Old Mill Store for decades.

Scott Country Ham - Leslie and June Scott - Scott Country Hams

Leslie and June Scott – Scott Country Hams

In 1965, he and his wife, June, cured their first 100 hams. Soon, their business grew, and today they cure thousands of hams annually. The Scotts do so by hand, with just one full-time employee. They keep things simple. They do things the old-fashioned way. Leslie fills a five-dollar bathtub with hickory chips and lights a fire therein to smoke the meat. He is also one of the few producers who make a nitrate-free product. Many of their customers seek them out for that reason alone, but rest assured that the taste and quality of their award-winning bacon will keep you hungry for more.

Lorene Gatton – Gatton Farms

Originally from Owensboro, Kentucky, Lorene Gatton and her late husband, Charles Gatton, Senior, began their married life together in 1939, on his family farm in Bremen, Kentucky. A city girl, Lorene had never spent time on a farm, but she quickly adapted to rural life. She eventually mastered gardening and butter churning, but she never quite got used to the annual hog killings. In 1950, her husband got into the ham and bacon-curing business full swing, and Lorene was by his side. For the next forty-six years she worked in the ham house, packaging meat and shipping orders.

Meacham Country Hams - Rodman Meacham - Kentucky Bacon

Rodman Meacham – Meacham Country Hams

He now shares his knowledge with others, working with the Union Country Fair and the 4-H Country Ham Program, which teaches youngsters the traditional art of curing hams. Rodman is proud of what Meacham Hams has become and is especially proud to be able to pass his meat-curing knowledge on to the next generation. To him, meat curing is a connection to the past that should be celebrated and fostered.

Broadbent Country Hams - Ronny and Beth Drennan - Kentucky Bacon

Ronny and Beth Drennan – Broadbent Country Hams

The Broadbent family started curing hams and bacon commercially in Cadiz, Kentucky, in 1920. In 1999 the Broadbent family sold the business to Ronny and Beth Drennan. The Drennans, who were in the furniture business, had always heard of Broadbent Hams and saw an opportunity. It took some time to learn the ins and outs of the curing business, but Smith Broadbent has been there to help. Today, Ronny and Beth carry on the Broadbent tradition of quality, and they have won enough awards to live up to the founder’s name. In 2011 they won their 15th blue ribbon for Grand Champion Ham at the Kentucky State Fair.

Meacham Country Hams - William Meacham - Kentucky Bacon

William Meacham – Meacham Country Hams

In the late 1950s, the business of Meacham Hams was born. For decades, William has produced a traditional hickory-smoked country bacon but with a little less salt and a lot more flavor to sweeten the family cure. Today, William’s son, Rodman Meacham keeps watch over the ham house and the treasures within.