Getting the Story Behind the Food
By Claudia Watson
Special to The Pilot
Late mornings, Elliott's Provision Company, in Pinehurst, feels a bit like an Old World grocery.
Up front, the shop's staff members scurry, restocking artisan cheeses, freshly bottled milk, seasonal produce and warm baked goods from the kitchen.
However, it is a pair of delicate lamb chops from Santa Maria Farm in Foxfire that grabs the attention of one customer. She lingers in front of the meat case, nibbling on the cheese sample while asking questions about the garnet-colored chops.
"It's not uncommon for us to spend considerable time with a customer as they select meat," says Jason Smith, one of the shop's clerks and Elliott's farmer-in-residence. "They are inquisitive consumers, the type that read and understand food labels. They want to know their food."
Both in restaurants and at home, the interest in eating well-raised animals is resurgent for reasons of quality and health.
Serious carnivores are looking for meat that is everything industrial products are not: sustainable, humanely raised and, ideally, local, which also means the animal is not sent to the large commercial feedlots or processing houses that dominate the meat industry.
"People are getting more in tune with their food," says chef Mark Elliott, who is known for creatively showcasing the state's finest beef, pork and lamb in the menus of his three restaurants and the meat case at the retail shop.
He says many customers want to hear the story behind their food.
"We are in the midst of a sea change," Elliott says. "People want to be educated about their food and its origins. They are not just asking about the farm, they want the details - how it's raised, its diet, where it's processed. That's not something you get from the package label of the meat that magically appears in the supermarket."
For Elliott, consumer education is vital, and as a result, he developed the N.C. Farmers Series, which takes the concept of nose-to-tail eating a step further. It draws upon unique knowledge of local sustainable farming practices, butchering and the culinary celebration of preparing, sharing and eating.
"It's a way to show people the full circle of an animal's life," he says. "The farmers raise the animals to nourish us. We celebrate and respect their lives by learning to use the entire animal and enjoying its abundance."
Each program in the series includes a discussion, a butchering demonstration and a four-course tasting dinner. Jason Smith and Sarah Daly, of Fox Squirrel Farm, in Eagle Springs, will moderate the events and discuss sustainable farming practices and meat sourcing.
North Carolina farmers from Santa Maria Farm, Foxfire; Cane Creek Farm, Snow Camp; and Hilltop Angus Farm, Mount Gilead, are featured and will be on hand to discuss their specific farming practices.
Both the discussion and demonstration portions of the event will be held in the restaurant's studio, where the carcass of either a half of a pig, lamb or a large cut of beef will be displayed.
Prior to the event, the animal will be slaughtered, cleaned and inspected at a processing facility and returned to the farm ready for butchering at Elliott's on Linden.
Using the skills he mastered as a young chef in England, Elliott will break down the animal into primal parts and then into well-known individual cuts of meats as he explains recommended cooking techniques for the cuts.
"We get many of those 'ah-ha' moments when someone understands where the Boston butt comes from, or the bacon," says Elliott, who agrees that he is challenging cultural norms. "But once they understand the anatomy of the animal and how carefully the farmer raised it, they become connected to it. The experience influences them. It's nourishment and sustainability - the full circle of life."
The first N.C. Farmers Series event, featuring lamb from Santa Maria Farm, will be held on Thursday, Jan. 26, at 6 p.m. Dinner will follow at 7 p.m. For more information or reservations, call Elliott's on Linden at (910) 215-0775.
Claudia Watson is a freelance writer and may be reached at email@example.com.
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