1 of 10
Courtesy of Surry County Tourism
Miss Angel's sonker
A cobbler-esque blend of fruit and unshaped dough sweetened with sugar, molasses, or other secret ingredients, the sonker dates to the early 1800s.
2 of 10
Feasting on caviar
Along with Sunburst Trout Farms’ line of trout jerky, dip, sausage, and fillets (from plain red to encrusted with hemp and grits), available caviar varieties include original, smoked, and a specialty variety infused with cold-pressed Sicilian blood orange oil.
3 of 10
Courtesy of Susi Gott Séguret
T is for truffles
The coveted tuber melanosporum—aka black truffle—has started sprouting in the clay soil of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina.
4 of 10
Dying to get a piece
Aunt Cora’s Funeral Pound Cake.
5 of 10
Glenn English photo
At Barkley’s Mill on Southern Cross Farm, about 20 minutes north of Asheville, the Barkley family is hard at work growing, harvesting, drying, and grinding Hickory King White Dent corn.
6 of 10
Courtesy of Sadrah Schadel
Asheville-based No Evil Foods transforms seitan—a wheat-based protein—into vegan, organic, and GMO-free takes on Italian sausage, chicken roast, and Mexican chorizo.
7 of 10
Courtesy of French Broad Chocolates
From the Aztecs
“Drinking chocolates were the first means of consuming chocolate and we seek to honor that tradition,” says French Broad Chocolates co-owner Jael Rattigan.
8 of 10
Courtesy of JQ Dickinson Salt-Works
JQ Dickinson Salt-Works harvests by hand and produces small-batch finishing salt in Malden, West Virginia.
9 of 10
Rick Woodward photo
Co-owners Lisa Hoffman and Matthew Hickman opened Underground Baking Company after working as pastry chefs at top resorts and restaurants across the country.
10 of 10
Courtesy of Harvest Table
Burger with a view
The famous bison shitake burger is one of the menu favorites at Harvest Table restaurant in Meadowview, Virginia.
Chefs, brewers, distillers, bakers, farmers, and country cooks are preserving traditions and redefining the flavor of Southern Appalachia, from A to Z.
A is for agritourism
Few food forces have caught on quite like the farm-to-table renaissance. Similarly, few places are more naturally suited to support the trend than here in farm-studded Southern Appalachia. The Appalachian Regional Commission takes agritourism seriously with its Bon Appetit Appalachia paper map and guide; the debut 2014 iteration featured 283 of the region’s most distinctive farms, farmers markets, farm-to-table restaurants, wineries, craft breweries, and other food destinations. An updated map will be released this summer. Smaller-scale initiatives include the North Georgia Farm Trail along the Highway 515 corridor, where travelers can ride horses, pick fruit, cozy up to alpacas, and explore historic homesteads. And in Jonesborough, Tennessee, an annual farm-to-table dinner in August transforms Main Street into a dining room, complete with an impressively long table that seats 216 food lovers for a five-course meal of local ingredients.
B is for beer school
As the craft beer scene bubbles over to both sides of the mountains, Knoxville schools the region’s tastemakers—literally. A partnership between downtown Knoxville’s South College and Saw Works Brewing Company, among other local breweries, emphasizes the “craft” component of the industry with a Brewing Science curriculum that teaches the science, history, and techniques of beer making. To taste the experimental batches made by students, head to the Raw Cuts tasting room at Saw Works.
C is for caviar
“Don’t stay in these mountains; you’ll starve.” Decades after Dick Jennings Jr. ignored his late father’s advice and started the South’s first commercial trout farm in 1948—now known as Sunburst Trout Farms in Canton, North Carolina—his family is far from underfed. In fact, they’re feasting on caviar. Specifically, we’re talking rainbow trout caviar, sustainably harvested fresh from their hatchery near Shining Rock Wilderness Area in Pisgah National Forest. The tiny, eye-popping orange trout eggs make a flavorful caviar that’s as of the region as it is a rare delicacy. In addition to Sunburst’s line of trout jerky, dip, sausage, and fillets (from plain red to encrusted with hemp and grits), available caviar varieties include original, smoked, and a specialty variety infused with cold-pressed Sicilian blood orange oil. Snack on it straight from the jar, like Sunburst family members do from the time they eat solids, or whip up their simple recipe for caviar and cucumber salad.
Caviar & Cucumber Salad
You WIll Need:
- 1 Large Cucumber
- ¼ tsp Salt
- 2 tbsp Sour Cream or Crème Fraiche
- 1 Lemon
- 1 Jar (2oz) of Sunburst Trout Farms® Original Caviar
Peel the cucumber and slice in half length-wise. Gently scrape out the seeds, then julienne the cucumber. Salt the cucumber lightly, place in a colander, and allow to drain overnight in the refrigerator. Mix cucumber and sour cream together, then mix in lemon juice to taste. Garnish with Sunburst Trout Farms Original Caviar.
D is for the Distillery Trail
New legislation gives North Carolina drinkers one more reason to say “cheers.” Visitors to the 40 stops along the state’s Distillery Trail can now purchase one bottle of spirits each year, straight from the source.
In this state with historically conservative alcohol laws, Blue Ridge Distilling Company is building a reputation for its brash style. “We’re creating a revolution in how you can make mature whiskey,” says Blue Ridge whiskey maker Joel Patrino.
When Patrino and his business partners started the company, they refused to wait for years while whiskey aged. “Barrels are a 500-year-old technology,” he explains. “It works but takes a long time.”
Instead, they looked to innovative wineries and breweries, which had speed up production with footlong wooden spirals. Submerge enough of them into a boozy beverage and oak infuses dramatically faster than it would from barrels.
Blue Ridge’s first product—the aptly-named Defiant Whisky—hit the shelves in December 2012. Having matured just 60 days, Defiant was met with skepticism, but after a sip even whiskey traditionalists had to tip their hats. For two years running, Defiant has taken the silver prize at the Craft Spirit Awards. The 2014 Drammie Awards named it the best new whiskey, and it has racked up other accolades from San Francisco to Berlin.
The company recently purchased a retired Girl Scout camp near the distillery. Complete with 600 mostly wooded acres, a lake, hiking trails, and an old lodge, Patrino says it will be like “an adult style summer camp.” Once he and his crew fix it up, visitors will enjoy their fast-distilled whiskey in a slow-paced environment, which means that Blue Ridge’s Distillery’s next revolution may be one in relaxation.
E is for Elliott Moss
As the head chef of the Admiral in West Asheville, Elliott Moss earned acclaim and a 2013 James Beard Award nomination, in the process transforming a dive bar into one of the region’s top restaurants. After leaving that kitchen, he kept up the buzz with a couple of pop-up restaurants at downtown Asheville’s MG Road. All the while the onetime Chick-fil-A line cook dreamed about—and worked tirelessly to open—Buxton Hall Barbecue. Co-owned with Meherwan Irani (of Asheville’s Chai Pani and MG Road), the long-awaited whole-hog restaurant made its debut last summer in the South Slope neighborhood down the hill from downtown. Ever since, a steady stream of ’cue lovers has packed its 130 seats for wood-smoked hog and pit beef as well as South Carolina hash, catfish stew, buttermilk-fried chicken, and more.
F is for funeral foods
The “old homeplace” was once the center of life for rural families, the gathering spot for special occasions, Sunday dinners, weddings, and funerals. Though isolated by mountains and farm boundaries, neighbors celebrated together and cared for one another in times of crisis. Always there was food. When a family member died, neighbors congregated at the homeplace to help the family, bringing their signature dishes. This was a time for connecting through the ritual of eating, singing, and comforting, mending the gap of loss through the gestures of living.
Cora’s Funeral Pound Cake
My 101-year old Aunt Cora quips that she buried many people with pound cake. When my grandfather (her father) died, our large family stayed several days at the old homeplace. On the funeral day, Aunt Cora passed a cut-glass tray of her sliced pound cake while entertaining children by hand-cranking the ancient ice cream maker. Preparing and sharing food gave her life in the face of loss.
The family had been searching Aunt Cora’s files for her pound cake recipe. When I visited her last summer, I found it taped to the back of a kitchen cabinet.
You WIll Need:
- 2 cups sifted cake flour
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
- 1/4 cup (2 ounces) stick shortening
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 5 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon lemon extract
Preheat oven to 325°F. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan. Combine the cake flour, nutmeg, and salt; sift into a medium bowl. Cream butter and shortening in a large mixing bowl at medium speed of electric mixer until blended. Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating at low speed just until blended. Beat in extracts. Gradually add flour to creamed mixture, beating just until batter is well blended. Scrape into prepared tube pan and smooth top. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 55 minutes.
Let cake cool in pan on wire rack until cool enough to handle. Loosen edges with thin sharp knife; remove pan.
G is for grits
If there were one dish capable of being considered the culinary cornerstone of the South, a strong case could be made for grits. Beloved bowl of southern comfort, grits seem to unite the entire geographic region. At Barkley’s Mill on Southern Cross Farm, about 20 minutes north of Asheville, the Barkley family is hard at work growing, harvesting, drying, and grinding Hickory King White Dent corn, an heirloom varietal long cultivated in the South and known for its delicious flavor, into their Stoned Happy Grits.
In a commitment to the use of time-tested and sustainable methods of growing and producing flavor-rich grits, Barkley’s hand-harvests and shucks the corn in the field before selecting only the best ears to air dry for two months in the crib. The corn is then shelled and transferred to an on-site mill for stone-burr grinding. The hands-on nature throughout the production process, right on down to hand packaging, results in an exceptional artisanal product. Mindful growing practices are employed throughout, including open, natural pollination free of pesticides and herbicides, allowing for Non-GMO Project verification, a rigorous third-party certification process that ensures the product has been made from non-genetically modified corn.
I didn’t grow up in a grit-eating home, so when I have them now, only a rich, flavorful version will do. No watery gruel for me: These are robust enough to be enjoyed on their own, perhaps with a bit of freshly grated cheddar on top, and are downright divine when ladled into a bowl and allowed to cradle juicy, tender shrimp.
Makes about 4 cups
You WIll Need:
- 2 cups cold water
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 cup corn grits
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1) Combine water, milk, salt, and grits in a medium size heavy-bottomed pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
2) Stir to ensure all ingredients are fully combined. Cover the pot with a lid, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook for 25 minutes.
3) Remove the lid, add the butter, and stir until creamy. Serve immediately.
H is for hops
To most of us, chewing on a handful of raw hops would taste like diving into a hay bale. To Van Burnette, owner of the seventh-generation Hop’n Blueberry Farm in Black Mountain, North Carolina, hops taste like opportunity.
A decade ago, after Pisgah Brewing Company opened just down the road, Burnette jumped on the chance to diversify his blueberry and Monarch butterfly farm and began growing the vine-like plant, which adds bitterness and acts as a preservative in beer.
“I talked to the brewery and they suggested that if I could grow hops, they could use them,” explains Burnette, who has since collaborated with other regional craft beer makers including Black Mountain’s Lookout Brewery and Asheville breweries such as Hi-Wire and Highland.
The farm grows Cascade, Nugget, and Chinook hops and harvests hops fresh from the vine for highly coveted seasonal “wet-hopped beer.” Each August, Hop’n Blueberry Farm hosts the Hop Harvest Tour, inviting visitors to tour the hop yard and sample beers made from the fresh hops.
Hops have also cropped up at Weaverville, North Carolina’s Echoview Farm and Townsend, Tennessee’s Hellbender Hops farm.
I is for Imladris Farm
Jams, jellies, and preserves have long supplied mountain residents with fruit through the winter months. Imladris Farm in Fairview builds on those traditions with berry jams and apple butter that have earned a cult-like following at farmers markets, regional restaurants, and grocery stores and co-ops. The seventh-generation, 165-acre farm resists the use of any sprays or chemicals, reviving the old ways of owner Walter Harrill’s great-grandparents, who immigrated to Spring Mountain from Ireland in the early 1800s. Harrill’s family makes its popular preserves using fruit from 50-year-old trees and bushes planted by his grandfather. The Harrills also raise and sell heritage rabbits such as Giant Chinchilla, Silver Fox, French Lopps, and Champaign d’Argents.
J is for JQ Dickinson Salt-Works
Salt has long been a prized mineral, ever since woolly mammoths and mastodons roamed the Appalachian valleys in search of salt licks. When animals gather around these salt sources, tribes of hunters come. The colloquial phrase of “he’s not worth his salt” dates to the 13th century.
Along the Kanawha Valley near Charleston, West Virginia, Native Americans discovered briny water that bubbled up from deep in the earth, which they boiled to extract salt for crucial meat preservation. By 1817, William Dickinson had drilled wells deep into the earth and built coal-fueled furnaces to extract salt from the area known as “Kanawha Salines.” His “Great Kanawha Salt” took the prize of “best salt in the world” at the 1851 World’s Fair in London.
Today, the seventh generation of descendants have reinvented the process, and JQ Dickinson Salt-Works harvests by hand and produces small-batch finishing salt in Malden, West Virginia.
K is for kombucha
To make its Earth flavor of fizzy fermented tea, Asheville-based Buchi kombucha roasts chicory, burdock, and dandelion in cast-iron pans, in total blending 20 different ingredients to create its popular root tonic. Founded in 2008 by two moms, Sarah Schomber and Jeannine Bucher, the business revives the folk tradition of brewing kombucha, a raw probiotic-rich beverage that’s now available at hundreds of Ingles, Earth Fare, and Whole Foods grocery stores across the Southeast. They run the region’s first commercial kombucha brewery in a defunct warehouse on an organic farm in Weaverville. Buchi flavors range from the cayenne-spiked Fire to the Avonlea, made with wild sea buckthorn picked wild in the Himalayas. Look for the Buchi bus—a Mercedes Benz Sprinter won through a business-development contest sponsored by Fast Company magazine—at regional festivals, where you can cool down with a Buchi float (Buchi poured over kombucha sorbet). Or, any day you can unwind over a kombucha-based cocktail (with or without alcohol) at the Buchi Bar, located downstairs at Rosetta’s Kitchen in downtown Asheville.
L is for Lodge skillets
Mark Lynn Ferguson shares his love of camping with cast iron:
“It was hard to convince myself that camping in the rain wasn’t horrible when mud coated both my legs, all my gear, and the better part of my dog. Through one sleepless night, I listened to drops batter the tent and fretted that this weather would ruin breakfast.
“Just feet away, a Lodge cast-iron skillet and logs waited, dry inside my Jeep along with eggs, onions, and potatoes—all the makings for a campfire scramble. What a shame, I thought, sure that this skillet, my best one, would miss out on open flames.
“Yes, I felt bad for a kitchen tool. It’s ridiculous, but this black beauty had cooked up some of the best meals of my life—golden, country-fried steak and fluffy, stewed dumplings. It deserved a break from electric burners, a chance to cook like its cast-iron forbearers. Lodge skillets have been made in the Appalachians for over 100 years, and the lucky ones cooked with fire on their undersides and nothing but sky overhead.
“Come dawn, I was resigned to eating gas station donuts. As I tossed supplies back into the Jeep, the rain slowed. A fluke, I thought, until sunbeams broke and the mud around me began to dry. Hesitant, I took an onion and peeled it. My luck held and within minutes, a happy dog rested at my feet and veggies sizzled. Their pops and snaps sounded like gratitude coming from my skillet, which glistened in firelight and dappled sunshine, the way cast-iron was meant to cook.”
M is for mead
When an author calls himself an “Appalachian Yeti Viking,” it’s hard not to take notice. In his new book, Make Mead Like a Viking, Jereme Zimmerman uses those powers to unlock “traditional techniques for brewing natural, wild-fermented, honey-based wines and beers.” In other words, Zimmerman is right at home among the bee keepers and home brewers of this region. Indeed, the Kentucky homesteader and fermentation enthusiast draws on his rural Appalachian roots in this practical guide to the traditional Nordic quaff, which has recently seen a resurgence. Sweetening the local honey wine scene are Fox Hill Meadery in Marshall and Bee & Bramble in Fairview, both in North Carolina.
N is for “neo-Appalachian”
Best-selling author Barbara Kingsolver’s heralded farm-to-table restaurant in Meadowview, Virginia, calls its upmarket fare “neo-Appalachian.” Ask her husband, Steven Hopp, who runs Harvest Table, exactly what they mean by that term, and he’s quick to acknowledge that the topic can turn into a long-winded conversation. In short, he calls their food “a modern reinvention of Appalachian place-based ingredients and flavors.” That means persimmons, cushaw squash, and Bloody butcher corn take center stage on the table, but so do exotic flavors like Egyptian walking onions and spicy mizuna and mustard greens. “We are always pushing to find or create or grow new things,” Hopp explains. Dishes tend to favor traditional ingredients in modern presentations: Think roasted pear hash and sweet potato chutney over spiced duck breast, and cast-iron grilled burgers with such add-ons as peppered bacon and sorghum-pecan butter.
O is for orange dreamsicle, blueberry basil, and other artisan soda
Think Southern soda begins with Cheerwine and ends with Coca-Cola and Pepsi? A couple of regional soda companies are sweetening the regional craft beverage scene—no high-fructose corn syrup required. Waynesville Soda Jerks offers what it calls “Southern Appalachia in a bottle,” using farm sources for bottled soda flavors such as Apple Rosemary, Blueberry Basil, and Lemon Thyme. Likewise, Asheville’s Blue Blaze Soda Company integrates local ingredients ranging from wildflower honey to wild cherry bark—and half the amount of sugar as standard soda—in its bottled syrup concentrates meant to be mixed with seltzer water. Popular flavors include Honey Ginger Ale and Orange Dreamsicle, made with fresh-squeezed orange juice and Madagascar bourbon vanilla beans. “With the local craft beverage scene dominated by beer, I wanted to provide bars and restaurants with a local all-natural non-alcoholic option for their customers,” says Blue Blaze founder Jackson Anderson.
P is for paw paws
Paw paws can be an elusive bunch. Tasting like a banana-mango hybrid—with a custard-like texture—the largest edible fruit native to the U.S. grows wild near some old homesteads in the Smokies and has inspired town names in West Virginia and Kentucky, but it has largely stayed on the fringes of Southern Appalachian traditions. Andrew Moore hopes to illuminate that mystery with Pawpaw: In Search of America’s Forgotten Fruit. In the new book, he quotes ethnobotanist Steven Bond, who describes the pawpaw as a “charismatic fruit that people have heard about, they’ve read about, they’re in songs, they’re in stories, but very few people have ever had one.” Harkening back to pawpaw recipes in the old Foxfire book series—which included the likes of pawpaw pie and a dessert called “pawpaw flump”—Moore offers his simple recipe for pawpaw ice cream.
Pawpaw Ice Cream
You Will Need:
- 2 cups pawpaw pulp (or more, if you have it)
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 cups cream
- 2 cups milk
Combine the pawpaw and sugar. Stir in the cream and milk. Pour mixture into an ice cream maker and freeze according the manufacturer’s directions.
Note: Vanilla, walnuts, and other flavors and ingredients work well with pawpaw. But if this is your first batch, I would encourage you to try it plain and to let the pawpaw stand on its own.
—This recipe is adapted from Andrew Moore’s Pawpaw (August 2015) and is printed with permission from Chelsea Green Publishing.
Q is for quail
When George Vanderbilt established Asheville’s Biltmore Estate in 1895, he envisioned a self-sustaining estate like the working farms he had experienced in Europe. Modern-day Biltmore lives out that mission by raising everything from Black Angus cattle and guard donkeys to White Dorper sheep, goats, and pigs. To help provide the estate’s restaurants with eggs, the Brooder House is home to more than 500 chickens, many of the same heritage breeds that roosted here during Vanderbilt’s time. Last winter, around 40 coturnix quails joined the flock. But Biltmore is far from the only local farm diversifying its egg supply: up in Burnsville, North Carolina, at the base of Mount Mitchell, Duck Dance Farm specializes in rare and endangered duck breeds.
R is for the Rainbow & Ramps Festival
Long before ramps became a coveted menu item among trendy urban chefs—some 12,000 years and counting—the Cherokee people gathered ramps in these mountains for their medicinal qualities. The Qualla Boundary celebrates the pungent wild leek’s early spring peak at the annual Rainbow and Ramps Festival, held this year on March 26 at the Cherokee Indian Fairgrounds. The event also symbolically kicks off the season’s trout fishing season here in Cherokee, where 30 miles of pristine mountain streams flow with some 400,000 rainbow, brook, and brown trout stocked by the Cherokee Fisheries and Wildlife Management. In addition to the main attractions, ramps and rainbow trouts, the festival honors Cherokee elders and offers entertainment including a horseshoe tournament.
S is for sonkers
Cobbler, crisp, crumble, buckle—there are as many names as there are recipe variations for the simple, old-fashioned fruit dessert. Yet perhaps none are more distinctive than Surry County’s “sonker,” the sweet inspiration behind one of North Carolina’s newest culinary trails. A cobbler-esque blend of fruit and unshaped dough sweetened with sugar, molasses, or other secret ingredients, the sonker dates to the early 1800s and likely came about as a way to stretch fruit during lean times. The trail connects seven places with the deep-dish treat on their regular menus in the rural foothills towns of Elkin, Pilot Mountain, Dobson, Mount Airy, and the Village of Rockford, including two bakeries, a winery, coffee shop, historic general store, barbecue restaurant, and a steakhouse. Flavors range from sweet potato to mountain berries and are cooked on the stove or in the oven. On the first Saturday in October, the Edwards-Franklin House hosts an annual Sonker Festival that celebrates family recipes. Now that you know what a sonker is, any guesses on what a “zonker” could be? Head to Miss Angel’s Heavenly Pies in Mount Airy, where the crust’s glaze gets spiked with a classic mountain ingredient—moonshine.
T is for truffles
Truffle mania is not just for European gourmands. The coveted tuber melanosporum—aka black truffle—has started sprouting in the clay soil of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina. The pungent, richly flavored fungus gets the red carpet treatment at the annual Asheville Truffle Experience, held February 19 to 21 this year. Co-hosted by the Seasonal School of Culinary Arts—run by North Carolina native and 20-year French resident Susi Gott Séguret—the event features tastings and wine-paired dinners, a truffle hunt with a trained dog, an orchard visit, and a hands-on food demonstration. Proceeds benefit the North American Truffle Growers’ Association, which seeks to propagate tuber growth in Southern Appalachia.
U is for Underground Baking and the artisan bread boom
Forget the soft, bland, preservative-laden sandwich bread of the grocery store aisle. At a rising number of artisan bakeries across the region, making bread is nothing short of an art form, with each crusty loaf an authentic expression of the local terroir, thanks to locally milled grains and bakers dedicated to old-world traditions. At Underground Baking Company, co-owners and husband-and-wife team Matthew Hickman and Lisa Hoffman serve downtown Hendersonville with 100 percent organic baguettes, soft pretzels, brioche, Italian semolina bread, and more breads and pastries, drawing on more than four decades of combined experience as pastry chefs as well as a commitment to environmental stewardship. “One of the most rewarding things for us is that when people walk in, they can talk to the baker and know exactly what went into the process of making their bread,” Hickman says. Of course, Underground Baking is but one of the bakeries that convene for the annual Asheville Artisan Bread Bakers’ Festival, set for the weekend of April 16 this year.
V is for vinegar pie
It’s no revelation that Appalachian cooks have always made do with the ingredients in their larders and gardens. When times were particularly trying, pie makers substituted lemon for a more common, cheaper source of acidic bite—vinegar. Overlooking the East Tennessee Crossing Scenic Byway in Thorn Hill, the roadside Clinch Mountain Lookout Restaurant carries on that tradition with its signature sweet-and-tart vinegar pie.
X is for xocolatl and other drinking chocolates
Chocolate lovers can get their cacao kicks from regional makers—Knoxville Chocolate Company, Chattanooga’s Hot Chocolatier, and Black Mountain Chocolate, to name a few. But perhaps none have earned a more ravenous following than French Broad Chocolates, with its always-packed Chocolate Lounge on Pack Square in downtown Asheville.
In addition to a wide selection of creative desserts ranging from mocha stout cake to sorghum caramel truffles, French Broad offers a truly decadent way to go cocoa—an extensive menu of drinking chocolates, including liquid truffles and hot chocolate made with melted ganache. For a more intense experience, there’s also the Chocolate Sip—a serving of pure, single-origin chocolate, steamed with just enough water to make it sippable—as well as the spicy, Mexican-inspired Oaxaca.
“Drinking chocolates were the first means of consuming chocolate and we seek to honor that tradition,” says co-owner Jael Rattigan. Customers in the know can even order an unsweetened mug of cacao called the Xocolatl off the “secret” menu. Based on an ancient Aztec preparation, the bitter drink is spiced with chiles and locally grown and ground corn.
Y is for Yadkin Valley wine
Tobacco fields once dotted this fertile area of northwest North Carolina, providing a stable income for small farm families. In 1964, the outlook changed for them with the announced link between tobacco and cancer. If farmers were to keep their land—and their agricultural livelihood—they would have to rethink the crops they grew.
“My husband Frank was determined to remain in agriculture, keeping the farm intact and in the family,” says Lenna Dobson, of RagApple Lassie Vineyards and Winery in Boonville. “This area has the soil, elevations, and elements needed to plant quality grapes, so we risked our largest commodity—the land—in order to pay for establishing a vineyard and winery.”
In attempts to aid small farmers, North Carolina allotted the state’s lawsuit settlement funds to an acreage quota-based payment plan to compensate for their losses, and to establish Golden LEAF, whose mission is to increase economic opportunity in tobacco-dependent communities. Starting in Surry County at Surry Community College, the agency taught viticulture in order to keep the land in agriculture. Though many farmers could not afford the high cost of crop turnover and labor that establishing and maintaining a vineyard requires, the former tobacco lands have been purchased by others who can. Indeed, today the Yadkin Valley is home to about a third of the state’s 100-plus wineries.
Z is for el Zapatista and other meat alternatives
In a land better known for country ham, fresh trout, and even possum and squirrel meat, area vegan and vegetarian entrepreneurs are bringing new protein sources to the table. Asheville-based No Evil Foods transforms seitan—a wheat-based protein—into vegan, organic, and GMO-free takes on Italian sausage (the Stallion), chicken roast (the Prepper), and Mexican chorizo (El Zapatista). Using simple ingredients such as chickpea flour and herbs and spices, founders Sadrah Schadel and Mike Woliansky are quick to clarify that they don’t make fake meat, they make real food.
Likewise, Asheville’s family-owned Smiling Hara Tempeh offers locally made tempeh, a “live” cultured plant protein traditionally made from soy. In addition to its classic soy variety, Smiling Hara produces black-eyed pea and black bean tempeh, plus peanut “hempeh” (made from hemp seeds).
Find Smiling Hara and No Evil Foods on the menus of area restaurants as well as for sale at farmers markets and grocery stores.