My Daddy was from the South and I grew up fishing maraschino cherries out of his evening bourbon with my fingers for a treat as child. No doubt this has contributed to my love of its smoky-sweet flavor. So when a friend asked us if we would host Katherine Purvis, author of “Bourbon: a Savor the South Cookbook”, at our Asheville Bed & Breakfast, in exchange for two tickets to the Farmer & Chef Bourbon Event we were quick to say yes. Kathleen is also the food editor for the Charlotte Observer and is the cookbook awards chair for the James Beard Award, so I’m pretty sure we would have said yes without the added inducement of the dinner. For a foodie like me, it is like having a movie star come to stay.
Kathleen is a lovely person and we quickly found things in common beyond food. She likes history and literature and she also collects salt and pepper shakers! That evening we all left the Carolina Bed & Breakfast and went up to Posana where the Farmer & Chef event was being held. I had never heard of Farmer & Chef but knew as soon as we walked in the door that this was cutting edge for the Asheville Food Scene. Chefs from many of Asheville’s finest restaurants were there along with the editor of WNC Food and Wine Magazine as well as writers for local papers, regional magazines, and bloggers. It was pretty cool!
The concept behind Farmer & Chef is to link together chefs, farmers, producers and purveyors in the South who advocate sustainable food production and eating. This event centered around Kathleen and her cookbook, Spirit Savvy Cocktails (a purveyor of Bourbon), Casey McKissick of Foothills Pasture Raised Meats, and Chef Peter Pollay of Posana Cafe, taking us from the creation of a recipe through to its delivery to the diner (us!). While we enjoyed a three course tasting menu (including Bourbon), we were educated by Kathleen and the others on how our meal progressed from farm to table.
Some things I learned:
Bourbon is essentially charred oak barrel-aged moonshine. It has to be aged at least two years but it’s not just the time involved that makes older Bourbons cost more: it’s the taxman. Bourbon is taxed by the amount of liquid that goes into the barrel. As time goes by there is some evaporation which means the older the Bourbon the less that comes out of a barrel and therefore the higher the taxes!
A single drop or two of water will make the flavour of your Bourbon pop. Try it! Compare sips straight up and after water has been added. Everyone at my table agreed there was a discernible difference.
According to Katherine, Bourbon as a spirit fell out of favor during the 1970’s and 80’s when vodka and tequila were popular but continued to be produced in the South and is now experiencing a resurgence. I would like to say that I missed this trend entirely remaining faithful to Bourbon from college on!
And lastly, unlike wine and some other spirits, heat makes Bourbon loses its flavour. It needs to be added to the end of the cooking process to be tasted in the end product. I don’t know if I fully agree with this. I have used Bourbon in meat marinades and in desserts and have not noticed anything.
One of my favorite dishes from the tasting was a beef slider on a cornbread biscuit topped with Bourbon Pimento Cheese. Pimento Cheese is a very “hot” item just now so here is the recipe from Kathleen’s Cookbook: Bourbon by Kathleen Purvis
Bourbon Pimento Cheese
2 cups shredded extra-sharp Cheddar
4 tblsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 tblsp bourbon
1 (2-oz) jar diced pimentos, drained
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp Tabasco sauce
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp salt
Combine the cheese, butter and bourbon in a mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until it forms a paste. Beat in the pimentos, garlic, Tabasco, cayenne pepper and salt. Pack into a crock, cover and chill until ready to use.