Chefs across the country mourn loss of Edwards Virginia Smokehouse, hopeful for return

By Matt Leoanrd

Staff writer

Menus and recipes across the country will be changing since the Edwards Virginia Smokehouse burned down last month in Surry.

Jason Ally, chef and partner at Comfort and Pasture, two restaurants in Richmond, said the loss means getting rid of some dishes until Edwards is back in production.

“To be honest, a lot of these dishes will go away until production is back up,” Ally said.

He said that Edwards helps fill a niche in the pork world. With the public growing increasingly aware of where their food comes from, thanks to food trends like eating locally raised and organic food, Ally said Edwards’ focus on the traditional Berkshire breed of pigs brings chefs to their product.

But it’s more than the product, he said.

“Once you meet the people who are involved at Edwards, you fall in love with them that much more,” he said. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

This is important to restaurants, Ally said. Chefs and restaurant owners rely on suppliers to do their business, and while Ally said the Edwards product was some of the best around, the business environment was also top-notch.

“When you can do business with someone you know on a personal level, it creates a whole new level of trust,” Ally said.

This is a sentiment that has been echoed coast to coast since the Edwards Virginia Smokehouse went up in flames.

Scott Youkilis, chef at Hog & Rocks in San Francisco, said that the Edwards ham was one of three brands his restaurant would rotate between. Until they are back up and running it will just be two, he said.

“We really liked their products,” Youkilis said. “I love how they focus on Berkshire pigs and really high quality meats.”

Hog & Rocks was originally going to be just an oyster bar, he said. But after a friend said he didn’t like the oysters, Youkilis decided to expand to ham, too.

Thanks to the Internet, it’s pretty easy to find out who is supplying the best product, and after a little bit of research, they settled on Edwards, Youkilis said.

“Once we got it, we were like, ‘Oh this is a winner,’” he said.

Since Hog & Rocks is in San Francisco, the product obviously has to be shipped from Surry, but Youkilis said that’s no problem for him.

“There is no local guy bringing in county hams,” he said.

The product that truly separated Edwards from other ham suppliers was their Surryano ham, which they started developing in the late ‘90s.

Edwards told the National Pork Board about the process behind making the ham in 2013.

“We use Berkshire pigs raised on peanuts to create the perfectly marbled meat,” Edwards said. “Then the leg is hand-cured, hickory-smoked and aged from 18 months to four years.”

Patrick Martins, founder of Heritage Foods in Brooklyn, N.Y. said the ham was top tier in every way.

“Sam’s Surryano line was considered by chefs to be one of the best cured hams in the world, and some have said his hams were on par with the greats in the world,” Martins said.

Martins said he learned about Edwards thanks to another New York restauraunt, Momofuku, about seven years ago and has been using the product ever since.

“It’s always great when such a high quality product is being made, whether it be a cheese or a wine or a long-aged ham,” he said. “It kind of means that Edwards is a landmark.”

Ally, Youkilis and Martins all said they would start buying Edwards again after they are able to restart production.

“I don’t think they’re going to lose market share over this,” Youkilis said.

As of right now, Sam Edwards said the family plans on getting production back up and running. But he said things are still up in the air with the insurance company as it continually pushes back the date they say the investigation will be over.

After the investigation is over, it won’t be the next day that business returns to normal, either.

“It will take a year to rebuild and 18 months to get the Surryano ready,” Edwards said.

Edwards said they are talking with other ham houses to see if anyone is willing to take on the curing of the lauded Surryano, but the search has turned up nothing thus far. That would allow them to have the product six months after rebuilding, Edwards said.

Right before the fire, Edwards had brought 5,000 Surryano hams back from cold storage to be deboned and sliced.

“It was just bad luck,” Edwards said.

But he is remaining busy trying to get the company back up and running.

“We are definitely going to try,” he said. “The reality is we just don’t know for sure yet.”  {/mprestriction}


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