A well-made drink offers a variety of benefits. It can help you relax, appreciate your surroundings, forget your troubles and on occasion, inspire you to buy $275 of pork.  Well, almost buy.

As I wrote earlier, my boyfriend Lee and I recently took a jaunt to the Great smoky Mountains. We finished our excursion with a weekend in Asheville, NC, a town that knows how to eat and drink.  There were so many places we wanted to try that  in lieu of eating one dinner, we decided to go restaurant/bar hopping each of our two nights there, sipping and nibbling along the way. One of the stops on our first night was Seven Sows, a locale featuring many pleasures offered by the pig. We ordered  their Shaved Country Ham Board, a flight of hams from across the south. Though each had its merits, our favorite was the Johnston’s County selection from North Carolina. It was buttery, not too salty and we might have even fought over who got the last piece.  The rest of our meal was equally delicious, but the ham stuck with me. Or, rather, I wanted to bring it home with me.

I spent my junior year in Italy and later several months in my early twenties working in Spain as an English Language Instructor. While living in both of those countries, I gorged myself on San Daniele Prosciutto and Jamon Iberico, never understanding why the ham of my homeland, specifically the South, couldn’t quite match up with what I sampled abroad. Soon after returning, prosciutto became readily available in the US, and more recently I’ve been able to purchase Spanish Jamon Iberico here in New Orleans, though at extraordinarily high prices.  Still, it has always bothered me that I couldn’t buy domestic versions of these treats. So when I tried the hams at Seven Sows, I was ecstatic. “This is made here? In the US? You can buy it here?”  “Yes, yes” our server assured us. “You can get it sliced or you can even buy a whole leg.” “Ha, ha,”I replied. “I don’t need a whole leg, just a pound or so. But I don’t need to buy it today. We’ll get it before we leave town.” And after that Lee and I ambled down the street to the next stop on our list.

What's left of the Seven Sows Old Fashioned and a great meal

What’s left of the Seven Sows Old Fashioned and a great meal

The next day, we returned to the Seven Sows. “You’re back?” said our server. We had been so impressed by last night’s meal and so intrigued by several other dishes, that we tossed our plan to eat widely and plopped ourselves down in a booth  ready for more southern goodness.  While last night I had savored several local brews, tonight I sampled the Seven Sows Old Fashioned featuring Four Roses and Angostura, and adorned with several brandied cherries, made in house. I have tremendous affection for that bourbon since the first date Lee and I went on was a Four Roses tasting, an evening that ended with lots of Four Roses kisses. Tonight, I sipped on the bourbon, in a good mood, anticipating the pound of perfect pork I’d be going home with.  Then our server gave us the bad news.

“We can’t sell you the ham by the slice. We can only sell you a whole leg.”

“Um, how much is a leg?”

“$275.00”

“Oh.”

Dear Reader, let me tell you where my head was at the moment of that announcement. Lee and I had been drinking earlier in the day, sampling lots of Asheville beer and had taken a cab into town so that we wouldn’t have to worry about driving. Because of this,  I had ordered a second Old Fashioned, the first being so delicious. The second Old Fashioned had reminded me even more of our first date. I was feeling happy, in love, full of optimism. Guests of the Seven Sows were treated to some moderate Four Roses-flavored PDA. We were on vacation, unburdened by budgets, oozing largesse. So, despite my having very recently cried on Lee’s shoulders from worry about my long term professional future, I paused and asked:

“Hope many pounds of meat are in a leg?”

“16-17.”

Lee looked at me in astonishment. “Are you actually considering BUYING a whole pig leg? Do you know how long that would take to eat? Where would we put it?”

“Well, I think it’s a good deal. I bet Allison and Gavin and Brooke and Dale and Tina…they would go in with us. We could store it in the back refrigerator.”

“But how would we slice it? You need a special slicer! Are you going to buy that, too?! Those are expensive!”

“Well…”

I hadn’t thought about that. I hadn’t thought about much except that buying that pig leg seemed like a wonderfully abundant gesture made in defiance of the financial fear I had been feeling. How could life go wrong if you had all that pork around you?

“I could bring it to Rouse’s (our local grocery store). I bet I could pay them to slice it.”

“All sixteen pounds?”

“Well, maybe I could bring it to Keife and Co. Maybe they would go halvsies.” I was beginning to falter.

“Look, do what you want, but even if $275 is a bargain for this wonderful meat, it’s still a lot of money for a lot of pig. Why don’t we see if we can just buy a smaller amount directly from the smokehouse?”

And Lee was right, of course.  Even if all our friends had agreed to “go in” with us, that still would have been an extraordinary amount of ham to make it through. So we got online and soon found out that you could order a pound directly from Johnson’s and even though it cost more per pound, it was still a “good deal” when compared to imported ham prices.

Even though I had to let go of that image of all that pork, I was still happy. It was nice to leave worry aside, even just momentarily. To feel happy and confident enough to even consider the expense, no matter how ridiculous or extravagant. It was nice to believe we were worth it.  We finished our meal and headed out into the Asheville night for more tastes of the town. I did not have a third Old Fashioned that evening. How could any other compare?

PS: When we returned from our trip, I contacted John Keife at Keife and Co about the ham. They are looking into carrying it. Fingers crossed.

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