Sports venues often bring national attention to regional foods. Chicago’s Soldiers’ Field is known for “brats” (bratwurst, not difficult children) and AT&T Park in San Francisco brought us garlic fries. And what would an Eagles or Phillies broadcast be without a shot of a tailgater grilling cheese steaks? The New Meadowlands Stadium, recently completed home of the NFL’s Jets and Giants, now serves a food product unknown beyond the borders of the Garden State – the Taylor Pork Roll sandwich. Taylor Ham, as it’s called in North Jersey, or just “pork roll” in South Jersey, is nearly impossible to find across the Hudson in Manhattan and draws blank stares when ordered west of the Delaware River.
Taylor Pork Roll is not scrapple, Spam, Canadian bacon, nor is it similar in taste to any other product. Taylor Ham is a sausage-like, uniquely smoked and spiced, 4″ diameter roll of savory pork, pre-cooked and traditionally bound in a cotton, canvas-like casing (although it is now available sliced and boxed). To cook it, one slices the roll (Thick or thin is a fiercely defended matter of personal taste.), makes 3 or 4 – ¾” “ticks” at the outside edge of each slice to prevent it from “cupping” in the center, and slaps the slices on a griddle or barbeque grill. On a sandwich, it is most often topped with a slice of American cheese. (Any other type of cheese constitutes a culinary foul.) Pork roll has long been a staple at the ubiquitous New Jersey diners where “Taylor Ham and eggs” (also known as the “Jersey Breakfast”) or “Taylor Ham, eggs, and cheese (also known as the “triple by-pass”) are the diner patron’s breakfasts of choice. The food is so popular in New Jersey that my little local bagel shop, Bagel Supreme in Rutherford, goes through 120 pounds of the stuff each week. (My favorite is Taylor Ham on a Black Russian Bagel – yum!)
Historically, pork roll is said to trace its roots to a similar product, packed minced ham, which supposedly was produced during the Revolutionary War. Pork roll, as we know it, was first commercially produced by John Taylor of Trenton in 1856. Taylor kept the recipe a secret, but other locals attempted to duplicate his “Trenton ham,” as the product was originally named until the Federal Food & Drug Administration deemed that it was not, in fact, a ham, but a pork product. George Washington Case, a local butcher and farmer, created his own recipe in 1870. The firms founded by both men survive today and continue to produce pork roll. Loeffler’s Gourmet is the third major producer of Jersey pork roll.
At a recent trade show, I asked the sales manager of a firm that manufactures stadium food kiosks whether his Rochester, New York firm had made the Taylor Ham stands for the New Meadowlands stadium. He proudly responded, “Yes we did.” I then asked if they knew what Taylor Ham is, and he responded, “No we don’t.” I told him that I’d ship him some.
So when you visit the New Meadowlands Stadium, visit one of the Taylor Ham stands and treat yourself to a sandwich composed of two medium thick slices of pork roll and cheese on a hard roll (Jersey-speak for Kaiser roll). At $5.50 it is the bargain of the concourse. Dab a little mustard on your new found prize.
You’ll no doubt become an instant Taylor Ham aficionado. When you get home, spread the word of your newly discovered taste treat. Perhaps we Jersey natives can overcome talk of Hoffa’s burial place and MTV reality shows and become known for a wholesome All-American gourmet treat. Better yet – keep your discovery to yourself. We’re kind of fond of Taylor Ham or pork roll being a Jersey secret.
(For those who are part of the great New Jersey Diaspora, Taylor Ham and Jersey pork roll can be ordered on-line and shipped anywhere in the U.S. from the following websites: www.jerseyporkroll.com, www.houseofporkroll.com, or www.caseporkrollstore.com. You’re on your own to find a decent Black Russian bagel.