Terra Vita Food & Wine Festival takes place each year in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to celebrate our region’s food culture. This year, NC MADE participated as a sponsor and provided gift boxes chock full of handcrafted North Carolina goodies to festival VIPs and press. We were lucky enough to attend many of the festival’s events. Here are some highlights.
Southern Hospitality Cocktail at ONE Restaurant
Hosted at ONE Restaurant and featuring hors d’ouevres and cocktails from Scott Crawford (Standard Foods), Vivian Howard (Chef & The Farmer), and Daniel Ryan and Kim Floresca (ONE Restaurant), this event was for press and VIP ticket holders. It was fun to see the chefs at work in ONE's open kitchen and even better to taste their delicious bites of food.
Everyone in attendance received a NC MADE gift box featuring Slingshot Coffee Co’s Cascara Tea, Sweeten Creek Hand-Poured Toffee, Cottage Lane Kitchen pepper relish, Outer Banks Sea Salt, Big Spoon Roasters Chai Spice nut butter, Copper Pot & Wooden Spoon preserves, and Videri Classic Dark Chocolate.
Southern Harvest Dinner at The Weathervane at Southern Season
It was a beautiful night for a meal on The Weathervane’s gorgeous patio. Each tasting station featured a dish from a regional chef and a wine pairing. We were greeted by flutes of French champagne from BFR Wine paired with North Carolina-made caviar from Atlantic Caviar and Sturgeon Company of Lenior. Other highlights included lamb cooked over coals by Craig Roberts of Border Springs Farm in Virginia, a selection of cheeses from Chapel Hill Creamery, and fruit soda made on the spot by Craig of Raleigh’s Crude Bitters. Our favorite finish to the night was a turnover filled with Big Spoon Roaster’s cocoa nib butter.
Sustainable Classroom: A Sustainable Catch -- Trash or Treasure, From Ocean to Platter
Sustainable Classroom is a series of classes offered by the festival at locations around Chapel Hill. We started the morning at TOPO Distillery with Chefs Ricky Moore of Saltbox Seafood and Teddy Diggs of Il Palio, Amanda Miller of NC Catch, and Anna Child of Core Sound Seafood.
The group discussed how sustainable fishing practices help maintain North Carolina’s fishing heritage by preserving it for the future. Consumers can help by opening our minds to under-utilized species such as blue fish and dogfish. The challenge is that these fishes may be more oily and full-flavored than we might be used to. Good thing Chefs Ricky and Teddy were on-hand to teach us how to prepare them.
Chef Ricky prepared speckled trout that he smoked himself in the way he learned growing up in New Bern. Speckled trout is often considered a “gateway fish” because it’s not quite as full-flavored as mackerel and blue fish. He transformed it into the Irish dish colcannon with potatoes and green onions cooked in butter. It was truly the best couple of bites we ate at the festival.
Before showing us how to filet a whole fish, Chef Teddy Diggs explained that blue fish is pole-caught close to shore and must be served close to where it’s caught as oily fish's flavor strengthens as it sits. He added the filets to BLT sandwiches and told us how he became familiar with blue fish while working in New England. His blue fish chowder won a Martha’s Vineyward chowder competition; you can find the recipe here.
Want to try your own blue fish? You can find it at Saltbox Seafood in Durham where Chef Ricky smokes 100 whole fish each Saturday on a first-come-first-served basis, or you can see if it’s available via our local purveyors such as Locals Seafood, Core Sound Seafood and Bella Bean Organics. Chef Teddy recommends brining blue fish in salt water and lemon for ten minutes to soften the flavor.
Following the Chain: Food and Wine From Farm to Table
This panel at the North Carolina Botanical Gardens featured a discussion of sustainably-produced wine (plus tastings!). Jay Murrie and Luc Suer from Piedmont Wine Imports were accompanied by Margherita Rava whose family has been tending their Piemonte land, called La Casaccia, since the 18th century. They laughed about the trials of small-scale organic farming but became serious when discussing the importance of supporting small producers, not only because they tend to use more sustainable practices, but also because it’s important to know what’s in your wine.
Since wine is one of the only foods that doesn’t require ingredients on the label, and agribusiness wants their wine to taste the same every time, they tend to buy the cheapest grapes and add filler ingredients to make it taste uniform and delicious. Craig Heffly of Wine Authorities in Durham and Raleigh compared this to taking a whole food product like corn and turning it into a Dorito. If you want to know what’s in your wine -- and avoid the headache that often accompanies drinking agribiz red wine -- turn to small producers and expect to pay a premium for knowing where your wine comes from.
All of the wines we tasted were from La Casaccia and paired with crostini from Billy and Kelli Cotter of Toast and Dashi in Durham. The first we tasted, Grignolino, was paired with a crostini of duck prosciutto and chickpea and tomato puree with mint. The second was Fresa paired with a toast of pork liver mousse, pancetta, and pickled fennel.
The panel acknowledged that shopping for wine can be overwhelming. That’s why you should head to a store or restaurant you trust to provide properly produced wine. When in doubt, find an importer who shares a philosophy you agree with and look for their wines.
It might seem odd to spend time at a North Carolina food festival discussing Italian wine. “Supporting local” doesn’t have to mean only supporting producers in your backyard; it can extend to helping small farmers stay on their land no matter where they are. If you support an ecosystem where the farmer, the chef, and the consumer all support one another, then you’re supporting local food.
Some tips for buying wine. Small-batch wines are more likely to tout the story of their land or grower than they are to tout “points” from a wine publication. This kind of wine also doesn’t taste the same every year -- one vintage may be distinctly different from the other due to weather and growing conditions. This is what makes it fun! A member of the audience asked which wines to pair with North Carolina barbecue. Craig from Wine Authorities suggested Barbera from Asti, Torontes with a beautiful bouquet similar to our native muscadine, and ripe reds like zinfandel, malbec, and lambrusco frizzante (my personal fave).
The Creamy Cheese & Wine Meltdown
This great class at Southern Season matched up local cheese makers with wine experts in a competition to see who could present the best pairings. We learned much about the amazing cheeses being produced in the North Carolina piedmont and tasted a lot of delicious wine. I mean a lot. We had to spend some time browsing the store before being able to drive to our next stop! Safety first!
Elizabeth Cooper, wine merchant at Southern Season, joined forces with Portia McKnight from Chapel Hill Creamery. We tasted their cow's milk cheese including Carolina Moon, Calvander, and Thunder Mountain. Inez Ribustello of On The Square in Tarboro paired with Kathryn Spann of Prodigal Farm, who sampled her goat cheeses like Hunkadora, Field of Creams, and one unnamed new cheese! Finally, the Brothers Kast -- Maximilian Kast of Fearrington House in Pittsboro and Alexander Kast of Goat Lady Dairy in Climax -- teamed up, and we sampled Snow Camp, Providence, and Smokey Mountain Round.
Carolina Table: East Meets West Dinner
We volunteered for this event and spent the afternoon helping to set up for this event while recovering from the Cheese and Wine Meltdown. The dinner took place in a gorgeous setting at the North Carolina Botanical Gardens. As is our tendency, we got most excited about the dessert course -- beautiful eclairs from opening-soon Lucette Grace of Raleigh and ginger cake with burnt honey cream from Katie Meddis of Rose's Meat Market & Sweet Shop.
Grand Tasting on the Green
The finale event of Terra Vita was the Grand Tasting on the Green at Southern Village. This event brings together 40+ chefs, artisans, and beverage producers offering tastings under a grand tent. The day was hot but the food was impressive. Some of our favorite bites came from Oakleaf Restaurant in Pittsboro and Piedmont Restaurant in Durham.