Friday, November 13, 2009
Special Feature: Rice Country Hams
12217 Lebanon Rd., Mt. Juliet, TN www.ricecountryhams.com
I love bacon.
I love sausage too - one brand of sausage in particular - but my love for bacon is only equal to my love of chocolate. I love bacon so much that I have actually licked strips of raw bacon before put putting them into the pan to fry them. (Thank God Kyle has never witnessed me doing this, or I might be single right now.) You don’t have to warn me about trichinosis. I know about it, but it’s hard to think of negative, unlikely possibilities like contracting a disease caused by parasites from raw pork when I’m hungry and can smell the unrivaled meat that is called bacon.
The best sausage and bacon I’ve ever eaten comes from Rice Country Farms in tiny Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. The only reason I know of Rice’s existence is that I once dated a man who grew up there. Rice Farms cures their pork all year until October, when they begin selling it to the public at their Mt. Juliet location, via telephone and the internet. After the holidays, they close up again to tend to the meat. This is very serious business.
Mt. Juliet is a very small country town, and for a long time Rice Country Farms and its hams were only famous in the general vicinity. However, several years ago Martha Stewart featured it on her show and claimed that Rice makes the best country ham she’s ever eaten. You can imagine the pandemonium that this created. Poor Mt. Juliet was inundated with city folks from all over the east coast that holiday season, and the phones nearly rang off the hook at Rice Country Farms. They only have a limited supply of meat each year, so the story goes that many of Mt. Juliet’s natives were left empty handed after the big crush of Martha inspired orders from outsiders.
The first time I tasted the sausage I discovered that it's unbelievable. Simply a complete joy to taste, to chew and to swallow. An earthly, clearly pork flavor coated my mouth in a heavenly wave. Even though I wasn’t extremely impressed with the famous ham, this sausage completely converted me to Rice Country Farms as a customer for life. I’ve almost never ordered sausage patties at a restaurant since that morning, and I’ve never once purchased any other brand from the grocery store, because I knew it couldn’t live up to the true Tennessee sausages lovingly smoked throughout the year and sold during the holidays by Rice.
Next I tried the bacon. Happy, happy day! The bacon was very thickly sliced, and turned a beautiful, marbled brown in the frying pan. This is no bacon for dieters, it’s fatty and full of sodium and nitrates. I’m not sorry or disappointed about that. It’s simple, proud and true country bacon, it’s not pretending to be anything else. Rice also makes a peppered bacon that is heavily coated with coarsely ground black pepper. While I encourage utilizing the smoked bacon for recipes, I advise anyone to eat the peppered bacon alone. As my friend Eric (a Rice Country Farms convert through my recommendation) says, “That bacon’s not playing around.” It’s for serious bacon fans only.
Verdict: The best bacon and sausage I've ever eaten. Don't miss out - place a large order and freeze what you can't eat right away.