In 1607 a few fearless settlers crossed the dizzying ocean and arrived in their promised land: Surry County, VA.
When the settlers landed they were incredibly hungry. There were more deer and fish than one could shake a stick at… but the palates of those first few were craving something specific: pork, bacon, ham! The pioneers knew what they had to do. A message was sent back to England, telling the Brits to send some piggies posthaste.
When the pigs arrived they were taken to their own private island (seriously) a few miles from Jamestown. In a stroke of creative genius, they named it Hog Island.
What they did with the pork was real genius, however. They rubbed it with salt to preserve it, smoked it over an oak fire to give it flavor, and then let it mature with age, like fine Burgundy. They had that technique pretty spot on, as it has changed little in over 300 years.
The quickly multiplying pigs were a great boost for the fledging economy, and the number of farms grew and grew. As a result, ham is engrained in Virginia's history and tradition.
THE ARRIVAL OF S. WALLACE EDWARDS
As the generations passed, recipes were handed down from father to son. In 1926, S. Wallace Edwards, the captain of the Jamestown-Surry ferry, began selling his ham sandwiches during the crossing, sending his customers overboard with gastronomical delight. His cured pork proved so wonderful he was able to quit the ferry business and start hamming it up full time!
The Edwards family menu has grown significantly over the decades. Their Heritage-breed Berkshire bacon is one of many specialties. Pure bred for over 200 years, the Berkshire pigs produce darker, more flavorful meat which they use for their "Surryano" ham. It is a perennial favorite of top restaurateurs in the U.S. Notice the play on name with its European counterpart the famed Serrano ham of Spain. It’s a nod to Spain and their great style. While the Spanish feed their pigs acorns, the Berkshire pigs are fed peanuts, then smoked with hickory and aged for 18 months. The delicate, flavorful result is mesmerizing.
Another nod to Europe, this time Italy, is "Jowciale", the Surry Farm take on Guanciale. Traditionally an unsmoked Italian bacon made from hog jowl, our friends at Edwards’ hand coat their heritage breed Six-Spotted Berkshire with black peppercorns before being smoked over hickory for a few days. The result? An historic European delicacy brought to life in Virginia, with somewhat of a richer flavor than bacon, which is thick and marbled beautifully.
Jowciale can be used as a substitute in almost any dish calling for thick pancetta or lardons. Slice it thin and it will irresistibly melt into any dish you prepare. A favorite use of ours is in a spaghetti alla carbonara, you’ll notice the difference over using bacon or pancetta for sure. Bacon enthusiasts may take a little convincing, but once you try it we think you’ll agree.
Generations may have passed, but the passion and attention to detail of those first settlers remains on the farm today. When true artisanal practices create products this fantastic, one gets the feeling that Edwards of Surry County will be around for centuries to come.