Visiting Cane Creek Farm

© Courtesy of Tom Colicchio
Visiting Cane Creek Farm

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.

Once we had eaten our fill of BBQ we headed an hour west to Snow Camp, NC to pay a visit to Cane Creek Farm. When I knew we were going to be driving through North Carolina I got in touch with Andrea Reusing, the chef/owner of Lantern restaurant in Chapel Hill. Andrea is highly regarded for both her skills in the kitchen and her commitment to local sourcing, so I knew she would have great ideas about who was worth a visit. She suggested Cane Creek Farm right off the bat, and offered to meet us there.

Eliza Maclean is the proprietor of Cane Creek, and it's an understatement to say that she's a busy woman. The farm is maybe best know for its pigs (Ossabaws, Old Spot Gloucestershires, Farmers Hybrids, and an Ossabaw/Farmers Hybrid mix that Eliza has named a Crossabaw), but Eliza also raises Black Angus and Red Devon cows, goats, sheep, chickens, ducks, and turkeys, as well as two children. The cattle and much of the farm's sprawling 570 acres came as a result of a merger between Cane Creek and Braeburn Farms in 2007.

So what makes Cane Creek exceptional? It's sustainable agriculture at its best. Eliza practices rotational grazing, which any of you who have read a Michael Pollen book know means moving different species of animal through the same parcel of land in succession to mimic a natural ecosystem. The land stays healthy and the animals get what they need from it, which means minimal artificial inputs from we humans. Eliza's sheep, cows, and goats are all entirely grass-fed, and her pigs feast on grain-based food, supplemented by whatever they can root around for in their pasture.

All this means lots of happy animals (you can tell it just by looking at them), but also a lot of work on Eliza's part to bring each food item to market. I wish everyone who complained about the price of organic free-range eggs could see this place in action.

After seeing an operation as thorough and well-run as Cane Creek Farm, as a chef you can't help but feel like you have a responsibility to put as much care into cooking an animal as Eliza put into raising it. "Head to tail" cooking may be trendy right now, but I also think that the best way to truly honor the animal is to leave no part of it unused.