Talk to chefs around the country, and they’ll tell you they’ve seen the photos of the massive fire that ripped through Edwards Virginia Smokehouse on Tuesday in Surry, Va. They’ll also tell you they have no idea when they can expect their next shipment of cured meats from the prized smokehouse.
“We’re taking it off the menu because we don’t know what’s going on,” says Jeremiah Langhorne, chef and owner behind the the Dabney in Shaw, which had been serving Edwards’s Surryano ham with johnnycakes and pickled mustard seeds.
“I want to make sure we have some around for special occasions,” adds Langhorne, whose restaurant works through four hams a week. “The pictures [of the fire] look godawful . . . . From what I saw, it’s a total loss.”
The Edwards family has released a statement on its website, saying the smokehouse “will be closed for an undetermined amount of time.” How long remains an open question. No one was injured in the blaze, so some chefs have turned their attention to the cured meats produced at the smokehouse: Did all the hams go up in flames?
The answer to that might not come for a week or more, when the family is expected to issue another update, according to a spokeswoman for the smokehouse, which has been producing Virginia country hams since 1926.
A break in the Edwards supply could alter menus at restaurants from the District to Manhattan. Derek Brown, owner of several themed watering holes in Shaw, serves a few Edwards products at Mockingbird Hill, his ham and sherry bar. Among them are the company’s beloved Surryano, a Berkshire hog-based ham, which is cured, smoked over hickory wood and aged. Its flavor gets compared favorably to that of the finest Spanish hams, including the granddaddy of them all, jamón Ibérico de bellota.
In fact, the late meat connoisseur Josh Ozersky once favored the Virginia product over the Spanish one. As Ozersky wrote in the Wall Street Journal in 2014, “This ham produced in Surry, Va., is, to my mind, superior to any Spanish rival in the clarity and force of its pork taste, which neither salt nor smoke can obscure.”
Such ham will not be easy to replace on menus, which is why chefs like Langhorne are hoarding legs for now. But Brown at Mockingbird Hill plans to do just the opposite: He’s going to keep slicing and selling his Edwards hams, which the bar has served since it opened in June 2013.
“We’ll continue to serve it as long as we can,” Brown says, “and hopefully they’ll make a speedy recovery.” Mockingbird Hill has already exhausted its supply of “peanut-fed Surryano” ham, Brown adds, but has at least one leg of the regular Surryano, which lasts “a long time.”
“They will be no shortage of hams,” Brown says. “It’ll just be a shortage of the ones we love most.”
In New York, celebrity chef David Chang has a fair number of Edwards products on the menu at Momofuku Ssam Bar, and even some at his Washington restaurant, Momofuku CCDC. Matthew Rudofker, executive chef at the Ssam Bar, has been texting with Sam Edwards III, the third-generation operator of Edwards Virginia Smokehouse. “They’re still trying to figure things out,” Rudofker says of the family.
In the meantime, the Ssam Bar plans to keep the status quo on its extensive ham program. “We’re going to sell the product,” the chef says. “As long as we can keep featuring it and talking about it, we’re going to keep doing it.”
Of the many chefs who serve Edwards ham, few have visited the production facility in Surry, about 50 miles southeast of Richmond. But Langhorne has. He has toured the rooms where hundreds of hams hang in various stages of curing. He fears the fire has taken a toll.
“It’s such a damaging blow to Virginia foodways,” Langhorne says. “It’s terrible for them.”
But if any company can make a comeback, the chef believes it’s Edwards Virginia Smokehouse, which he says has maintained high standards despite a significant spike in demand for its products over the years.
“Making wonderful country ham is in their blood,” Langhorne says. “So no matter what, I think they’ll be able to figure it out.”