Arizona – Off the Beaten Path

I just returned from a week in Arizona, an annual trip that includes a visit with my dad and stepmother, a business trip, and a hiking/photography/foodie weekend somewhere in Arizona or Utah.  I love the desert – the beautiful scenery, the unspoiled wilderness, the quiet chill of a desert sunrise.

Sunrise, Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park, Moab, UT

Arizona is a wonderful state to explore, particularly if you love the outdoors.  You can feed your soul by meditating on the desert’s beauty.  You can rejuvenate your mind by working off any anxieties in a day-long mountain hike.

And you can feed your body at any number of great eating spots.

When I’m prepping for my Arizona trip, I scour the web looking for some off-the-beaten-path spots to explore new tastes.  A few years ago, I was looking for a food adventure somewhere between Phoenix and Tucson.  That search led me to the town of Queen Creek, Arizona.

I stopped at the best known site in Queen Creek, to eat the sandwich made famous by a certain spiky-haired food celebrity.  Frankly, I was a bit underwhelmed by both.

The location seemed a tourist trap, a spot in the middle of nowhere designed to siphon dollars out of wallets as quickly as possible (I’m not naming it, in case that hasn’t become clear yet.  But as an aside, I have nothing but admiration for that spiky-haired celebrity.  Larger than life persona aside, his show highlights family-owned and -run businesses, never chains, the kind of businesses we should all support.  Featuring these places on his shows has undoubtedly enriched many families’ lives and wallets, and he is to be commended for that.).

The sandwich had potential, but was under-stuffed and over-priced.  Not sure if that happened only after that celebrity visited, or if it was always that way.  Regardless, neither seemed worth the trip.

However, the menu mentioned the sandwich’s meat was produced by The Pork Shop.  A quick Google search, and I was on my way to The Pork Shop.

Where I met Jason Corman, the magnificently-mustachioed gentleman pictured here:

Jason Corman, General Manager and Mustachio Maintainer, The Pork Shop, Queen Creek, Arizona

Jason is the General Manager of The Pork Shop (theporkshopaz.com), and might be the only man that loves bacon more than me.  While I have a deep love for the salty goodness of cured pork belly, Jason’s love runs deeper.

Much deeper.

Like nine (!!!!) different kinds of bacon deeper:  Hickory Smoked, Kansas City Style, Pepper Cured, Canadian, Tuscan, Jalapeño, BBQ, Pancetta, and Nitrate Free.

(Overachiever . . .)

Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to try their bacon.  I’m always on my way somewhere else, with neither refrigeration nor cooking facilities at hand.

But Jason has me covered, as The Pork Shop sells a veritable cornucopia of other pork products, including their famous burritos, a bargain at $4 each, and available in Green Chile or BBQ pork, as well as numerous lunch meats, sausages, and salamis.

Most of the meats are pork, although there is dried beef available.  I always take a few minutes to try some of the latest offerings.  Jason, like all food purveyors worth their salt, believes the customer should taste the food before buying.  So, while he’ll sell you pig in many forms, it’ll never be in a poke.

On this visit, I tried the jalapeño bologna.

OK, stop right there.

As soon as you read “bologna”, you got a picture in your mind.  That picture is a round slice of pink processed food, with a completely uniform surface, coloration, and mildly unimpressive taste.

Right?

Banish that thought.

The Pork Shop’s bologna is kin to their salami, a sausage with easily identifiable bits of lean, fat, and flavorings, in this case, jalapeños that have been gently blanched, enough to lose the raw crunch, while still retaining the bright, vegetal green flavor of the pepper.  It’s about as far from that lunchbox slice as you can get.

If you go to their Web site, you can see the prices on their menu.  Their quality products are actually cheaper than most of the overly-processed cheaper meat by-products sold under various brand names.

And it tastes better than any of ’em!

I bought some of four different meats:  the jalapeño bologna, the Italian salami, redolent with fennel, the dried beef, and the capicola.  Later, with a couple additions from a local market, they made an excellent antipasti platter for my dinner.

Dried beef, jalapeño bologna, capicola, and Italian salami from The Pork Shop. Also marcona almonds, cheese, heirloom tomatoes, bufala mozzarella, and basil. Because I could.

Another interesting thing about The Pork Shop is that there’s usually someone down by the intersection, selling something out of their trunk, or the back of a truck.  On a previous trip, I met The Salsa Lady, who made some of the best salsa I’ve tasted.  She must have sold a lot, as there’s now a freestanding shop nearby with her name on it.

On this trip, I met Ben McKim, from The Hive:

Ben McKim, apiculturist extraordinaire, and owner of The Hive

Ben was selling honey from his hives, in pints and quarts.  He had both raw and filtered honey.  You can just see the yellow of the raw honey in that row of jars.

Because I had just finished the “Honey” episode of the Netflix documentary series, “Rotten,”  I had a lot of honey facts at my fingertips.  I was able to talk to Ben about the number of his hives, and the fact most of his bees were currently in California, helping to pollinate the almond groves.  I spoke to Ben about the Rotten episode, the gist of which was that Chinese honey being dumped into the US (re-labeled with different countries of origin, to avoid duties and tariffs) spelled trouble for small apiculturists like him.

He agreed, said if the price of honey was where it should be, he wouldn’t have to sell by the side of the road.

Ben’s bees feed on sage and mesquite.  As a result, the honey seems a bit darker, and has a definite spicy taste.

A pint of bee milk from The Hive, Ben McKim’s beekeeping operation in Coolidge, AZ

It’s very different from what we get here, and I was glad I bought a pint.  It went really well with the marcona almonds and sourdough bread and butter on my antipasti tray.

It also drove home a point I’ve been learning since starting this blog:  what you buy matters.  This honey was $11 for the pint/pound, about the same as what you would pay for the same amount in a plastic bear at Sam’s Club.  However, that bear purchase supports a corporation, and the honey could be from China, and re-labeled to avoid paying tariffs.  It could be adulterated with corn syrup, to make more “honey” from the same amount of bee output (again, can’t recommend the Netflix series “Rotten” enough.).

Or you can buy your food from people like Ben and Jason, men who work to support their families, put in an honest day’s work, and take pride in their products.

You can buy from stores like Hashem’s, and support that family.  Or you can buy from WalMart, and further enrich the Walton family.

The choice really is up to you, but more and more I’m finding that your choice MATTERS.  And who you support with your dollars MATTERS.  Because if these small suppliers don’t make enough to survive — well, they won’t survive. And you won’t have that choice any longer.

As I continue to write this blog, I’ll be leaning more into that viewpoint.

Educated consumers make better choices, and I want my readers to know more about the food the eat, where they buy it, who they buy it from, and who makes it.

I hope you enjoy the journey, and will continue to read along.

 

 

I’m interested in finding out if readers are interested in learning more about their food, and their food choices.  Please leave a comment, or use the “Contact Us” form to let me know what you think of that viewpoint.  Thanks for reading!

Comments

  1. Dolores Hamrick

    I love the diversity of places you write about. But then I like the common thread of supporting those who live and work around us. Taking care of the community as opposed to the big corporate world.
    Thanks, Tim, for another great article.
    Wouldn’t it be nice to have a “pork shop” in Canton? 😊

  2. A2Veeness

    Yes, definitely! I shop local as much as possible (Sparrow Market, Argus Farms, Farmer’s Market, etc.) and love to cook.

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