America's Best Food Artisans

Tara Jensen
Photo: Photo © Rich Orris

20 expert bakers, cheesemakers, bacon stars and farmers share their ultimate recipes for Thanksgiving weekend.—Kate Heddings and Yaran Noti

01 of 20

Dram Apothecary

Shae Whitney
Photo © Brady Becker

"Bitters are old-fashioned medicine," says Shae Whitney. "They were designed to preserve the summer harvest of medicinal plants." Whitney forages Colorado's White River National Forest for wild sage, rose hips, pine needles and juniper berries, and takes them back to her lab and small shop in Silver Plume (population: 170) to transform them into her Dram Apothecary line of cocktail bitters, teas and herbal syrups in flavors like pine. A self-described reference-guide nerd, Whitney studied herbalism in college. While working as a bartender, she taught herself about Colorado's flora from books and began gathering herbs on her own. "I used to think Colorado was dry, arid and not very fruitful," she says. "That's not true. There are lush and beautiful pockets all over the state." —Chelsea Morse

02 of 20

Salty Tart Bakery

Focaccia with Roasted Squash
Con Poulos

"I dreamed about opening a bakery for years," says Michelle Gayer, a longtime pastry chef. "When an opportunity came up, I said, 'Girl, you better do this.' " At Salty Tart Bakery in Minneapolis, Gayer bakes desserts—like her "crack-a-roons"—and rustic breads like whole-wheat beer and focaccia. "I always knew which cookies, cupcakes, pastries and breads I would make," she says. "It's the unfun stuff that's hard: hiring people, managing schedules, paying payroll taxes—I just want to make chocolate tarts."—Yaran Noti

03 of 20

Namu Gaji

Dennis Lee, Daniel Lee & David Lee
Photo © Eva Kolenko

"Success takes tenacity or stupidity, however you want to look at it," says Dennis Lee, who runs San Francisco's Namu Gaji restaurant with his brothers Daniel and David. Interested in trying to locate hard-to-find Asian ingredients, the brothers plunged into farming in 2011, despite knowing little about it. They partnered with grower Kristyn Leach to raise specialty items like Korean chiles and Japanese watercress. The brothers have been learn-as-they-go from the start: In 2005, they bid for a contract to provide concessions at Golden Gate Park. "I lied on the application," Dennis says. "You had to have a food cart and a commissary kitchen. When we were chosen, we had to go buy everything." Today at Namu Gaji, they're bona fide restaurateurs: Daniel runs the administrative side, David ("The Mayor") takes care of hospitality and Dennis makes inventive Korean dishes like beef-lamb burgers with kimchi relish. But at home, Dennis cooks simple dishes like this Burmese-Thai slaw for his family's holiday barbecue.—Yaran Noti

Recipe: Red Cabbage Slaw

04 of 20

Bunches & Bunches

Tamalpais Star Roth-McCormick & Mark Slawson
Photo © James Fitzgerald III

Chefs Tamalpais Star Roth-McCormick (who goes by Pai) and Mark Slawson make an astounding variety of things, ranging from upcycled flour-sack kitchen towels to chewy, crispy meringue-macaroon hybrids called Cloud Cookies. Their Portland, Oregon, business, Bunches & Bunches, took off after Roth-McCormick sent samples of those cookies to Dean & DeLuca, and the retailer immediately asked for more; today, she and Slawson also make phenomenal gingersnap cookies, which they ingeniously use to sweeten creamy carrot and apple soup. The couple's friends nudged them to branch out from cookies after tasting Slawson's moles (like the Puebla-style, smoky-sweet Red with pumpkin seeds, almonds, chocolate, chilaca chiles and raisins). "The research process for developing our moles was really fun," Roth-McCormick says. "It was: Buy mole, make mole, go to Mexico to research mole, and eat mole." —M. Elizabeth Sheldon

Recipe: Curried Carrot and Apple Soup

05 of 20

Sitka Salmon Shares

Maple-Dijon Salmon Skewers
Photo © Con Poulos

Former history professor Nic Mink followed his girlfriend to Sitka, Alaska, and got a job teaching tourists about salmon. That led to Sitka Salmon Shares, a CSA for fish that he cofounded with commercial fisherman Marsh Skeele. The taste of the salmon is superlative, due mainly to their meticulous methods: Their fishermen bleed their catch and lower its temperature to 30 degrees soon after hauling it out of the ocean, submerging it in slush ice instead of merely throwing it into cold seawater. "Every single one of our salmon is babied from the moment it's caught," Mink says. —Gina Hamadey

06 of 20

The White Moustache

Homa Dashtaki
Photo © Nicole Franzen

When Homa Dashtaki and her family left Iran for California, she was only 8 years old; her memories of home were inextricably linked to the yogurt she ate every day. It was thick, custardy, tart and always smooth, she says. "My father made it all the time; it was a good way to save money." Homa went on to pursue a career in law, but eventually decided to start a yogurt business with her father, Goshtasb, naming it The White Moustache after his luxurious facial hair. His method, passed down through generations, is ultra-simple: Heat whole cow milk and add culture. Sometimes they strain it through special, superfine cheesecloth for thick-style yogurt. Father and daughter produce up to 100 gallons of yogurt per week—layered on seasonal preserves like date and quince, or (as the Dashtakis prefer it) plain, to be used as a dip with cucumbers or tomatoes. Now relocated from California to Brooklyn, Goshtasb has become a celebrity: "In Brooklyn, home of the trendy moustache, people take photos with my dad," Homa says. —Yaran Noti

07 of 20

Big Spoon Roasters

Big Spoon Roasters
Photo © Mark Overbay

"I have not eaten an industrially processed nut butter in 15 years," says Mark Overbay of Durham, North Carolina's Big Spoon Roasters. "I'll drink bad coffee in a pinch, but I'll always wait until I can get good nut butter." To create his more-nutty-than-sweet coarse butters, Overbay grinds nuts after roasting them and adds honey, salt and sometimes a touch of coconut oil for spreadability—the result is superior to the Skippy he loved as a kid. Overbay learned how to make nut butter while he was a Peace Corps volunteer in a rural village in Zimbabwe: "A lot of families had peanuts," he says. "They roasted them over an open fire and, using two stones, made a paste. It was one of the best foods I ever tasted." Now, more than a decade later, Overbay uses a similar technique to produce peanut butter—the base for his fiery dipping sauce—as well as other butters like peanut-pecan, peanut-cashew and peanut-almond, plus a Nutella-like peanut-cocoa. —Yaran Noti

Recipe: Peanut Dipping Sauce

08 of 20

Portland Meat Collective

Camas Davis
Photo © James Fitzgerald III

The Portland Meat Collective in Oregon is an institution of learning: It offers four to six classes per month on sausage making, pig butchery, charcuterie, rabbit slaughter and more, all of which sell out to a crowd of curious omnivores, prospective and current farmers, and politically minded foodies. The collective buys animals directly from farms, and students break them down themselves to take home. "I want our students to learn that meat comes from live animals," says Camas Davis, the collective's founder. "It sounds obvious, but it's not something we confront very often. Butchering a whole animal is a transformative experience." Davis hopes her work will help eliminate what she calls "the gross factor" by adding clarity about the reality of butchery and celebrating the culinary potential of all animal parts, like the liver in the fantastic mousse below. "If students come wanting to learn about meat, we're not gonna beat around the bush," she says. "It's not just about cooking burgers." —Chelsea Morse

Recipe: Chicken-Liver Mousse with Mascarpone

09 of 20

Porter Road Butcher

Chris Carter & James Peisker
Photo © Con Poulos

When former line cooks Chris Carter and James Peisker decided to open a Nashville butcher shop, they went slightly overboard: "My wife got mad at me because I was reading Kari Underly's The Art of Beef Cutting during our honeymoon," Peisker says. At Porter Road Butcher, they break down whole beef sides, supply barbecue enthusiasts with fresh Boston butts and pork spareribs, and smoke their own bacon—an excellent topping for favorite Southern snacks like deviled eggs.—M. Elizabeth Sheldon

10 of 20

Kurtwood Farms

Kurt Timmermeister
Photo © Tariq Dixon

Kurt Timmermeister starts making cheese minutes after he milks his Jersey cows. "The milk is superfresh, bright and sweet," he says, adding that it's also higher in butterfat. Before he was one of America's premier cheesemakers, Timmermeister was a Seattle restaurateur who purchased a property on nearby Vashon Island, where he now runs a dairy farm and makes his three highly prized cheeses, sold in Northwest cheese stores and at Seattle restaurants. One of them, LogHouse, is an intensely flavorful and creamy take on tomme, the small, round cheeses from the Alps. He claims the LogHouse is so good because it's made on the farm, "25 feet from the cows"; he likes to shred it into a cheese sauce that he pours on pasta and bakes. Timmermeister is opening his own tiny store, Kurt Farm Shop, in Seattle's new food hall Chophouse Row, and soon he'll debut two new cheeses: the Grana Padano–like Francesca's and a simple Brie. "I have a very short attention span," he admits.—Gina Hamadey

11 of 20

Bodhitree Farm

Nevia No
Photo © Francesco Tonelli

When Nevia No has dinner at restaurants like Manhattan's Eleven Madison Park, she often eats vegetables that she picked herself. A former modern dancer who never set foot on a farm until she was 40 years old, No runs Bodhitree Farm, a 65-acre, chemical-free property in New Jersey that supplies New York City's best chefs and greenmarkets. In addition to crowd-pleasers like tomatoes, and roots like turnips, beets and carrots, No plants a handful of experimental crops every season. This year, after four years of trying, she succeeded in growing the supersweet French Charentais melon, which smells like Concord grapes. No's diligent, hands-on technique keeps her customers loyal. "Every plant receives plenty of love, and that makes a difference in the flavor," she says. "People return to me again and again, and they don't know why. I do! They can feel that energy in the plant."—M. Elizabeth Sheldon

Recipe: Roasted Root Vegetables with Tamari

12 of 20

Smoking Goose

Cranberry Mostarda

While working at a high-end Chicago restaurant, chef Chris Eley says he "realized that taking a whole piece of meat, butchering it and dry-curing it for a few days was more intriguing than putting a 15-component dish together with tweezers." So he returned to his hometown, Indianapolis, and opened Goose the Market, a butcher shop and market (supplied by his own wholesale charcuterie business, Smoking Goose). He sells duck, port-and-pear sausage, black truffle–studded bologna and pink peppercorn–and–fennel pollen salami, all of which are delicious with versions of a favorite condiment, mostarda.—Yaran Noti

Recipe: Cranberry Mostarda

13 of 20

Grist & Toll

Wheat Berries with Roasted Vegetables
Photo © Con Poulos

Nan Kohler can tell good flour by how it smells. "I get this waft of aroma from freshly milled flour," the owner of Pasadena, California's Grist & Toll flour mill says. "The Sonora white wheat smells like sweet hay and corn. The rye smells malty and rich." Kohler was a baker when a question occurred to her: Why don't Americans have better access to freshly ground flour? In Europe, bakers have had close relationships with millers for centuries. Kohler wasn't sure what she was missing, but she wanted to find out. It wasn't easy: Some areas have old laws prohibiting flour mills. But in 2013, she and her business partner, Marti Noxon, opened Grist & Toll. Kohler buys heirloom grains from local farmers, like hard red spring wheat, and grinds them into extraordinary flours; each has a distinct flavor, aroma and texture (at home, she sometimes uses the berries whole in salads). Now that she knows what a difference these flours can make to her cooking, she says, "I feel a little cheated! For something so old, this is really new."—Sarah DiGregorio

14 of 20

Pernicious Pickling Co.

Pernicious Pickling Co.
Photo © Con Poulos

From a powerfully spicy habanero pickle to a bread-and-butter pickle that gets a kick from sweet mustard in the brine, Kendra Coggin and Baron Conway's five types of cucumber pickles are delicious in sandwiches and salads. But the Costa Mesa, California, couple behind Pernicious Pickling Co. likes to experiment, and found that they could roast their curry-pickled cauliflower to delicious effect. Pernicious Pickling Co. started when the two were dating and discovered a mutual love of all things pickled, but their local supplies were disappointing. "There were great East Coast brands, but no California ones," says Conway. After 15 months of conquering legal hurdles, they started selling 10 different pickles. "Everyone said we were crazy to launch with all 10," says Coggin. "But each one has done really well."—M. Elizabeth Sheldon

15 of 20

Charlito's Cocina

Charles Wekselbaum
Photo © Michael Harlan Turkell

When he left culinary school, Charles Wekselbaum started calling salumi manufacturers to see if they'd let him make his own small batches in their factories. "I got hung up on a lot," he says. After six months, he found a tiny operation where he could experiment with charcuterie-making—he calls the factory manager his "salami angel." In 2011, New York City–based Wekselbaum began selling his Charlito's Cocina Spanish-style cured meats at local food fairs, where he provides his customers with pairing tips and suggests using salami as an unexpected swap for bacon or pancetta in recipes like his inventive carbonara. He often adds his own flourishes to traditional salami, like the Cerveza Seca: He cures it with hand-harvested fleur de sel and adds bottle-fermented brown ale. "I got my first big order from Central Market in Texas, and they told me, 'You know you need packaging, right?' " he says. "I had just been hanging the salamis old-school-style, wrapping them up as people bought them."—M. Elizabeth Sheldon

16 of 20

Liber & Co.

Citrus, Brandy, and Pineapple Punch

"It was amateur hour," says Liber & Co. cofounder Chris Harrison of his cocktail-syrup company's start. "We didn't have licenses or a business plan. There we were, just stirring our witches' brew." Harrison got the idea for Liber & Co. from a Google query. After tasting an intriguingly delicious gin and tonic at a craft cocktail bar, he went home and searched "history of tonic water" and came away determined to make some of his own. He collected the ingredients he needed, like citric acid and bark, and went to work, along with two University of Texas classmates, brothers Adam and Robert Higginbotham, as partners. Now, the twentysomethings live in Austin and make tonic syrup and other small-batch cocktail syrups, like the pineapple gum one they use with brandy for punch (pineapple juice and simple syrup work as a substitute). "A lot of syrup companies outsource production," Harrison says. "But the three of us make our entire line." —Yaran Noti

Recipe: Citrus, Brandy & Pineapple Punch

17 of 20

The Local Pig

Thanksgiving Turkey
Con Poulos

At his Kansas City, Missouri, store, The Local Pig, chef and butcher Alex Pope offers full-service butchery along with 14 different inventive sausages like Thai-peanut and porcini-thyme. Around Thanksgiving, he makes turkey sausages and popular ready-to-cook bread-and-sausage stuffing kits, and sells standard and heritage turkeys—his favorite way to cook one is with pepperoni under the skin. Now his shop is a dining destination with a sister sandwich truck permanently parked outside, but it all started with a post on the Internet: "I needed an investor, so I put an ad on Craigslist," he says. "I met some real weirdos, but I found my business partner."—Yaran Noti

18 of 20

Our Town Bakery

Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

Before Our Town Bakery opened in Hillsboro, North Dakota (population: 1,600), eating out usually meant Subway or Burger King. "There was a clear need for a bakery," says co-owner Amanda Johnson. Johnson came to Hillsboro with her husband, a Lutheran minister, who was assigned to a congregation there; when the locals learned she'd studied baking in culinary school, they encouraged her to open her own business. She and her husband renovated a vacant department store into a bakery/coffee shop/general store ("In a small town, you can't do just one thing," she says) late last year. Even when it's 20 below and snowing, people leave their houses for her exceptional bread, cake doughnuts and tarts filled with homemade raspberry jam. They also come for lunch—Johnson's rotating menu includes a meat pie of the week anda superlative chicken and wild rice soup; the rice comes from Johnson's husband's best friend's farm. —Yaran Noti

Recipe: Chicken & Wild Rice Soup

19 of 20

Quince & Apple

Crumb Cake with Pear Preserves
© Con Poulos

It can take Clare and Matt Stoner Fehsenfeld somewhere between 50 and 100 tries to get one of their Quince & Apple jams right. Their tart cherry and white tea preserve took two years to develop, and Clare considers it their masterpiece. "We tried tart cherry and vanilla, but it tasted too much like pie filling," she says. "Tart cherry and lemon was blah. Tart cherry and anise tasted like cough syrup. Finally, we hit on this tea idea." Pear preserves with honey and ginger are popular, although more unusual kinds like shallot confit with red wine have a devoted audience. Soon, Quince & Apple will graduate from its rented kitchen in Madison, Wisconsin, to a custom-built space. "We make 2,500 jars and syrups per week," Clare says. "People see our 650-square-foot kitchen and are like, 'Are you kidding me?' "—Yaran Noti

20 of 20

Smoke Signals

Tara Jensen
Photo © Rich Orris

There are two reasons Smoke Signals in Marshall, North Carolina, is only open on Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons. One, Tara Jensen's baked goods are enormously labor-intensive to produce. The former installation artist puts incredible effort into each loaf, spending days feeding her yeast and prepping the wood she'll need to fire off the weekly batch. Two, she grows some of her own ingredients. Along with her boyfriend, Joe Evans, whom she met while swapping bread for vegetables at the local farmers' market, Jensen runs the nearby Paper Crane Farm. Some of the fruits and vegetables from Paper Crane find their way into the limited number of pastries and pies that Jensen bakes and sells on Sundays. For instance, "We grow the sweet potatoes for our sweet-potato pie," Jensen says. "People love it, but I keep the baking at a small scale so I can still spend time growing food."—Yaran Noti

Recipe: Sweet-Potato Pie with Cornmeal Crust

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