Local Dairy, Restaurateur Take Top Honors in State Competitions
By Deborah Salomon
First-time entries proved a charm for local chef Rhett Morris and cheesemaker Sue Stovall.
Cheese Louise, a new fresh goat milk chevre from Paradox Farm in West End, took the Gold Medal at the N.C. State Fair Cheese and Butter Competition in the Fresh Unflavored Goat Cheese category. And a Rhett's menu won Best Dish in North Carolina, Eastern Region, Fine Dining category in the annual competition sponsored by the N.C. Agriculture Department and Our State magazine.
Coincidentally, chef Rhett Morris uses Paradox Farm cheeses in his dishes.
Paradox Farm, a paradox in itself, is operated in off-hours by physical therapist Sue Stovall and attorney husband Hunter Stovall. Sue Stovall milks 11 does by hand for plain and flavored chevre, feta and an aged blooming-rind cheese similar to Camembert. The Saturday Southern Pines farmers market, Southern Whey and Nature's Own sell her products.
Only entries from state-certified dairies were eligible. Paradox Farm is Moore County's sole certification.
Sue Stovall had not been notified officially when, on Oct. 4, a neighbor texted the news.
"It's wonderful - we sell out at the farmers market - but it's cool to hear it from a judge," Stovall says.
Stovall will milk until November, but then not again until does are bred and ready in March. "We chose to go with (the goats') natural flow." Cheese will be available at retail outlets, and move to the Thursday farmers market on Morganton Road in November until the prize-winning vintage is gone. Expect an increased supply next year; the Stovalls have added six nanny goats to their herd.
Moore County's other winner, Rhett Morris of Rhett's in Southern Pines, is coming off a newsworthy summer. In September the gourmet Southern bistro moved across West Pennsylvania Avenue into Ten-Ya's former location in Belvedere Plaza. Interior space and staff have been doubled, with outdoor seating - which Morris will continue, weather permitting, through the winter.
And now, the coveted Fine Dining prize won previously by Ashten's in Southern Pines and Elliott's on Linden in Pinehurst. The criteria: overall use of N.C. products and ingredients; depth of farm-to-table connections; creativity, originality, uniqueness and appeal.
Three years ago, Ashley Van Camp, of Ashten's, encouraged Morris to enter.
"We just weren't there yet," he answered.
Now he has expanded his N.C.-grown ingredients to include baby okra, lettuces, peaches, dairy products and meats. He uses Paradox Farm goat cheese for herbed ravioli. In a bold move, Morris decided to serve only N.C.-brewed beer.
The winning menu included collard green spring rolls with pork belly and homemade mustard; gazpacho (with local garlic); spring vegetable ribbon salad with strawberry balsamic sorbet; gluten-free Southern Chicken Cordon Blue (misspelled on purpose); sweet potatoes; and cornmeal strawberry short cake.
Morris entered the casual dining competition, but judges upped his entry to fine dining where it beat out Bald Head Island Club.
The judges arrived anonymously at a most inauspicious time - after 9 p.m. on a weeknight in May. Nevertheless, the meal was perfect.
"Judges get the same as everyone else," Morris says. "I guess I'm on the right track."
Contact Deborah Salomon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story