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Mouthing Off

By the Editors of Food & Wine Magazine

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Farms

Day 1: Our Afternoon at Anson Mills

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With Emile DeFelice and his country ham

© Courtesy of Tom Colicchio
With Emile DeFelice (and his
country ham)

Editor's note: Tom Colicchio, the head judge on Bravo's Top Chef (and a Food & Wine Best New Chef 1991), will be blogging every day this week about his road trip from Atlanta.

In true eco-friendly fashion, Anson Mills' headquarters is located in a reclaimed warehouse behind a carwash, and our only real indication that we had found the right place was the small pile of discarded grain composting near the building. Once inside we found waiting for us not only Glenn Roberts, but his business partner Catherine Horton-Schopfer, southern food historian Dr. David Shields, and farmers Ben Dubard and Emile DeFelice.

What we learned that afternoon about traditional Southern foodways, native grains, and the short history of Anson Mills could easily fill its own feature article, but I'll do my best to hit the high points here.

Glenn opened Anson Mills about a decade ago to solve a problem: many of the grains that were staples of the southern pantry before the Civil War were no longer being grown, and would go extinct (and part of the regional cuisine along with them) unless someone resuscitated them. So, Glenn took it upon himself to grow, harvest and mill rare varieties of heirloom corn, rice, and wheat organically.

Take, for example, Carolina Gold Rice. David Shields, a man who has forgotten more about Southern food history than most other people know, gave us an impromptu seminar on the "Carolina rice kitchen," an antebellum cuisine in the Charleston region that was based entirely around a breed of rice called Carolina Gold. It was the most valuable (and possibly tastiest) rice in the world in the first half of the 19th Century, but had all but disappeared by the time of the Depression.

It's one of the grains that Glenn now grows and sells. He works with thirty organic farmers in six states, and grows a wide variety of native heirloom grains plus French oats, Italian farro, and Japanese buckwheat.

In fact, as we discovered later that day, they were all sitting in big white chest freezers in the next room waiting to be milled-to-order. Glenn walked us through a dozen different grains, telling their stories and encouraging us to run our fingers through them, taste them, and smell them.

Glenn's newest project is another near extinct breed of corn called Perla Bianca, an ear of which Ben Dubbard managed to wrangle from an old farmer during a trip to Italy last fall. Now, using that ear for seed stock, Glenn is working tirelessly to cultivate it in South Carolina. Some of the first locally grown Perla Bianca kernels made it back to the Anson Mills office just a few days before our visit, and Glenn milled some into polenta — one whiff of the freshly milled corn and it's obvious why Glenn's fighting for it. Its floral, milky scent and sweet taste are unlike anything I've known.

As for Emile — I knew I was going to like Emile when he burst into the Anson Mills sales office with a case of PBR under one arm and a country ham under the other. Emile owns Caw Caw Creek Farm, where he raises heirloom pastured pigs using traditional agricultural methods, free from hormones and antibiotics and fed on a nutritious mix of organic Anson Mills grain byproducts and wild grasses, peas, and peanuts. When it comes time for the pigs to be harvested, they are slaughtered humanely. As with Glenn, what Emile is doing is a remarkable contrast to how most of our food is being produced across America. The hard work and hard thought that they put into their farming is all in the name of doing the right thing, ethically and environmentally.

Leaving Anson Mills with a country ham from Emile and a bag of Perla Bianca polenta from Glenn, the wheels were already spinning about how I could use them in a Tom: Tuesday Dinner menu...

Farms

Day 1: Pit Stop at Big T Bar-B-Q

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© Courtesy of Tom Colicchio
Pit Stop at Big T Bar-B-Que

Editor's note: Tom Colicchio, the head judge on Bravo's Top Chef (and a Food & Wine Best New Chef 1991), will be blogging every day this week about his road trip from Atlanta.

The first destination on our trip was a no-brainer: Anson Mills, a three-hour drive from Atlanta in Columbia, South Carolina. Damon and I have been buying their products for years and we were both eager to meet the company's founder, Glenn Roberts, and to see his operation at work.

Heading towards Columbia we got hungry, and called Glenn for lunch suggestions. He recommended a local favorite called Big T Bar-B-Que. In my experience you usually find the real barbeque gems where you least expect them, and Big T was no exception, operating out of a modest storefront in the middle of a strip mall. The brisket and pulled pork sandwich we ordered were prime examples of the mustard-based barbecue that is typical in South Carolina (and Big T also serves a mean fried chicken).

Farms

From America to Zanzibar with Island Creek Oysters

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I just met with Skip Bennett and Shore Gregory from Island Creek Oysters—a co-op of sorts that farms oysters in Massachusetts’ Duxbury Bay. With them was Erin Byers Murray, a former Boston magazine and Daily Candy editor and occasional F&W contributor, who has spent the last eight months farming oysters and chronicling all the dirty details on her blog, Shucked.

She’ll be done with her yearlong apprenticeship in March, but she admitted she's tempted to stay longer—it's a really exciting time at the company. Skip and Shore have just returned from Zanzibar, Tanzania, where they’re working to set up sustainable shellfish farms for protein-starved villages. If it works, they want to try similar models in other countries.

The work they’re doing in Africa, they explain, is a way to give back to a community that’s entirely different from their clientele: “Our oysters are sold at every three-star Michelin restaurant in the U.S.,” Skip says.

Today, Erin will be hanging out at one restaurant Island Creek supplies: a little NYC spot known as Per Se. To get the full “farm-to-plate” experience, Erin will watch the cooks there use Island Creek's oysters to make chef Thomas Keller’s signature Oysters & Pearls dish. Then after a chat with the staff about oysters, Skip, Shore and Erin will have Per Se's full tasting menu. Sometimes, it’s good to be a farmer.

Farms

Vertical Farms of the Future

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Gardeners and beekeepers are taking over urban rooftops. In his New York Times op-ed, Columbia University professor Dickson D. Despommier offers another ingenious way to bring local ingredients to the cityscape: vertical farms. "Move most farming into cities, and grow crops in tall, specially constructed buildings," he writes. His vision would include multiple floors of produce grown using hydroponic and aeroponic technologies that would use less water than conventional farms. And because these farms would be within city limits, the new definition of local might be reined in from say, 100 miles, to just around the corner.

Farms

A Pacific Northwest Foodie Island

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Last week I was sailing through the Pacific Northwest and fell in love with Lopez Island and its food. The island, located north of Seattle, is relatively remote and can be reached by ferry or sea plane. After docking, we waited in line with the locals outside of Holly B’s Bakery to fill up on their almond-studded cinnamon rolls, warm baguettes and crumbly cheddar-herb biscuits. Next door, lattes made with Graffeo beans beckoned us to recaffeinate at Caffe la Boheme. We headed out of town on bikes and stumbled upon Lopez Island Farm’s store, where the cash box was (trustingly) left out for us to ring up our purchase. I scooped up some marionberry syrup, which was perfect with our pancakes the next morning, and a goat cheese spread with apricots and pistachios that became our preferred snack for refueling after hikes. I only wish I had put ice in my day pack, so I could have brought back some of their beautiful lamb sausage to grill as well.

Farms

Heirloom Tomato Crisis

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F&W Best New Chef 2002 Dan Barber, the chef and co-owner of New York City's Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, New York, strikes again with another insightful op-ed in the New York Times. This time, the subject is late blight, the pesky, fast-spreading plant disease that's made finding flavorful organic tomatoes across much of the Northeast harder this summer than in seasons past. While Barber names several culprits for the disease's severity, he also turns the tables and blames...himself. "It’s a nostalgia I’m guilty of promoting as a chef when I celebrate only heirloom tomatoes on my menus," he writes. (It turns out that 70 percent of heirloom tomatoes have fallen victim to late blight.) Barber's vision of the more resilient farm of the future? One that grows multiple crops, with multiple varieties of the same vegetables—a few heirlooms, yes, but also new varieties bred to resist diseases. Perhaps that vision might cause a ripple of shock across the Slow Food movement, but it may be what's necessary to ensure flavorful produce for the future.

For those lucky enough to get their hands on a ripe, juicy tomato, we offer tomato recipes here. We also offer recipes for other seasonal produce, like corn, eggplant and watermelon.

Farms

Vermont Cheese Field Trip

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Yesterday my colleague Emily McKenna gave an enticing preview of the first ever Vermont Cheesemakers Festival on August 23. Murray’s Cheese has organized a 24-hour field trip to get transportation-challenged, cheese-loving New Yorkers to Vermont. A red-eye bus departs Manhattan at midnight, stops for breakfast at Vermont's excellent Farmers Diner and drops passengers at the festival when the doors open at 10 a.m. The field trip tickets include round-trip transportation, breakfast, festival entry, and special access to some of Vermont’s top producers.

cheese

© Murray's Cheese
Murray's will be leading a field trip from NYC to the festival.

 

Farms

Eat Like a Local in Kauai

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I’ve been vacationing in Kauai since before I could walk, so when I visited the Hawaiian island last week, I knew where I would be eating before I even collected my luggage:

Hamura Saimin This James Beard "America’s Classics" winner is always my first meal off of the plane. Saimin is a dish that's unique to Hawaii and is a hodgepodge of Japanese, Chinese and other Asian influences; the soup of egg noodles, dashi, scallion and fish cakes is done amazingly well here. I also love their marinated beef skewers, towering lillikoi (passion fruit) pie and malasadas (Portuguese doughnuts). 2956 Kress St., Lihue; 808-245-3271.

Kilauea Bakery & Pau Hana Pizza On the north shore, this bakery turns out piping-hot thin-crust pizzas with a variety of toppings, from Maui onions to smoked ono, a local fish similar to mackerel. I adore their island-style pie with pineapple, ham and chipotle peppers, which I like to follow with one of their chocolate-drizzled coconut macaroons. Kilauea Lighthouse Rd., Kilauea; 808-828-2020.

Koloa Fish Market
Off of Koloa's tourist strip is this small market which has excellent poke, the Hawaiian dish of raw fish, traditionally marinated with sesame oil and shoyu (Japanese soy sauce) and served with sweet onions and seaweed. This market has many variations, and my favorite is the Korean poke, which has a bit of kimchi and sesame seeds mixed in with the ultrafresh ahi. 5482 Koloa Rd, Koloa; 808-742-6199.

Koloa Farmer’s Market
Island life moves slowly, except during Koloa’s Monday farmers' market off of Maluhia Road. Shoppers are kept behind bright orange cones until exactly noon, when they trample in to buy lychees, pineapples and papayas. I always get a fresh coconut for sipping, and purveyors are great about explaining what each exotic fruit is and what it tastes like. Adorable orchid bouquets can be had for just a dollar.

Farms

Burlington, Vermont Peaks

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This past weekend, while my cohorts were riding gondolas above Aspen at the Food & Wine Classic, I was off climbing mountains around Burlington, Vermont. To make sure I was at my athletic peak, I fueled up on the best local food I could find. Here’s how to follow my culinary regimen:

Climbing Mt. Mansfield  

Pre-Hike Boost: American Flatbread's blisteringly hot pizza with house-made sausage, sun-dried tomatoes and caramelized onions.  
Post-Hike Recovery: Crispy-skinned duck breast and hanger steak swirled in horseradish aioli from F&W Best New Chef 2008 Eric Warnstedt at Hen of the Wood in Waterbury.

Climbing Mt. Abraham
 
Pre-Hike Boost: Heavenly honey-glazed doughnuts from Dinky Donuts at the Burlington farmer’s market, followed by softly poached eggs over crisp potato rösti at Waitsfield's The Green Cup.
Post-Hike Recovery: The Alchemist's superjuicy blue-cheese burger and a Lightweight, the perfect pale lager for rehydration, in Waterbury.

Hiking to Lake Champlain at Shelburne Farms

Pre-Hike Boost: Soft, sugary blueberry scones from Burlington's City Market.
Post-Hike Recovery: A farmhouse grilled cheese from the Shelburne Farms cart with a salad of just-picked local greens.  

Farms

Mondavi's Garden Campaign

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© Photo Courtesy of Alyssa Faden
Giving Through Growing

A confession: I often peek through the fences of New York City's community gardens and fantasize about walking among the vines. Last week, I finally got to live out my fantasy at the kickoff event for Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi’s "Giving Through Growing" campaign, which launched yesterday. Held at La Plaza Cultural’s garden on Manhattan's Lower East Side and catered by Outstanding in the Field, the event announced a partnership between the winery and the American Community Gardening Association (ACGA). Woodbridge is helping ACGA by donating a dollar for every e-seed sent from their website this summer (the campaign ends on September 20). The funds will be used to help community gardens around the country expand, and the website will follow their progress and share garden-to-table meals. Now to fulfill my replacement fantasy: another chance to eat Outstanding in the Field's scallop salad with potatoes, green beans and baby fennel. 

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