I was at The Pig on Weaver Dairy in Chapel Hill talking with the owner, Sam Suchoff, when we got on a tangent about the best way to bread fried chicken. I started with how my mother had schooled me with a classic dry-wet-dry technique, with a few well-timed moves regarding the oil temperature. He eventually described how his was a hybrid that involved using half of one common variation with the reverse of another. Honestly, it didn’t sound possible (and probably isn’t) but that wasn’t really the point. I was just looking for an interesting story and fantastic-tasting unique food is always interesting. That’s what brought me to The Pig in the first place.
But then Sam paused and said, “For the record, you can’t print that fry-batter recipe. It’s special.”
Now that’s interesting.
There are some things you brag about in business and some things you don’t. Companies like to make it known when they give to charities or donate to their communities. And likewise, Sam isn’t afraid to talk about how he gets his pigs from North Carolina farmers, buys his veggies local from Stanley Hughes, oversees every inch of the meat they prepare homemade, and how he even goes and meets (or meats) with his swine farmer at least once a year.
But a perfected fry technique? That’s another story. Those have to stay in-house. And you can’t blame him because it’s their recipes and preparations at The Pig that set them apart.
I can’t print all of those techniques but it would be way too long anyway — just a list of everything they make homemade could fill up an article. Sam usually does about five pigs a week, all from Acres Station Meat Farm in Pinetown, NC. They make their own barbecue, pimento cheese, bacon jam, smoke their own cheddar, make their own bologna (not a typo) and slow cook some of the best brisket around.
The brisket comes from Cliffs Meat Market in Carrboro and is dry-rubbed then slow cooked for over twelve hours. So moist is the result that they make sure to put the sauce (tomato-based) on the side.
Speaking of sauce, Sam tries to stay clear of the Eastern vs. Western debate. As a non-NC native he never had a dog in the fight, but does confess that The Pig stays fairly Eastern and therefore vinegar-based. Though to Sam, the important thing isn’t the sauce or cut of the meat but how it’s cut, which is something they take pretty seriously.
They slice nearly every ounce of meat in-house, and the coolest thing about The Pig might be that they’ll cut most of their raw or cured meats to go like any meat market. I bought a half pound of country ham for the Holidays and watched Sam personally slice and package the Eastern North Carolina-bred pig like Italian Prosciutto. (There are plenty of different varieties to choose from but the Country Ham is fantastic.)
Considering what else is on the menu, you’re likely to make the same mistake I did by asking what type of meat stock is in the homemade macaroni and cheese. Amazingly, there is none. You have to try it to understand, but it’s so perfectly savory you’d bet your life it was loaded with pork or beef drippings (it also has the perfect amount of fresh ground black pepper, as any real connoisseur knows is the key to good mac & cheese ).
As the macaroni may have suggested, Sam used to be a vegetarian. “Instead of just throwing something random on the menu, we really try to get creative and make our vegetarian options tasty,” he said. The mac and cheese gets it’s savory flavor from the smoked cheddar that they cold-smoke themselves in the restaurant. They also have a veggie-gravy that uses brewer’s yeast to give it a meaty taste.
Obviously the vegetarian dishes aren’t a huge part of any BBQ joint, but it shows how seriously they take their food at The Pig. And when the owner supervises nearly every step from the production to when it ends up on your plate, I guess you really can say it’s their food.
Next time you want some North Carolina hog that’s had as much thought put into it as you do when you’re looking for great food, try The Pig. It’s can’t-miss. Just make sure you save some money for after the meal — the homemade to-go cuts are hard to pass up. Trust me.
Um, look, since we’re pals and everything, you’ll understand why I’m going to feel a little ill if I don’t see your pretty face at TerraVITA this Saturday. I mean, you say you love the food scene here in North Carolina and you love to talk to friends about seasonal eating. You’d love to get out more and explore the other fabulous restaurants around this great state but you just haven’t found time – it’s been a crazy summer. I get it. Things have been nuts.
You know what is even more nuts? Missing TerraVITA. It can be tough to convince your favorite friend or lover to join you for a few hours sampling delicious food, booze, and bevvies on a gorgeous fall afternoon. So, let me do the dirty work for you. Please note the following reasons you need to be at TerraVITA in Southern Village this Saturday.
Soooo, yeeeeah. Like I said. You have a 15% off discount code to use, enter Grow2 at checkout. JACKPOT.http://chapelboro.com/columns/orange-zest/terravita-a-coupon-a-few-good-reasons-to-attend/
Please pardon my tardy posting this week. I’m just waking up from the food coma induced by this past Sunday’s Farm to Fork picnic, the annual fundraiser for farmer apprentice programs hosted by NC State’s Center for Environmental Farming Systems and Slow Food Triangle.
Sure I spend much of my time searching out prime food bargains in the Chapelboro, but I’m not a sucker for just any buffet. Stuffing my face with cheap eats just doesn’t satisfy. When we relocated to Chapel Hill from New York City in 2008, my husband and I chose this town largely because the people and snackie establishments here forced us to really think about the origins of our food. We’d sit down for a snack at a bar and see the name of the farm that provided the basil in our pesto. We’d pop into a store for a bottle of wine and see photos of a burly, mustachioed Frenchman standing in the vineyard that sourced the booze in our hands.
Slowly, quietly, we really started to care about this stuff. The cool thing about this area is that we’ve been able to find lots of other people who care too. The really really cool thing about this area is that there are numerous nonprofits situated within about 30 miles that help people make informed decisions about their food choices. One of my faves just happens to be Animal Welfare Approved.
Animal Welfare Approved “audits, certifies and supports farmers raising their animals with the highest welfare standards, outdoors on pasture or range. Called a ‘badge of honor for farmers’ and the ‘gold standard,’ AWA has come to be the most highly regarded food label when it comes to animal welfare, pasture-based farming, and sustainability.”
More than two dozen restaurants in the Chapelboro receive the Animal Welfare Approved label including my crushes Neal’s Deli and The Pig. You can be old school and search for their sticker in the window. Or you can plan ahead and check out this super cool online search tool to find restaurants, markets, and stores within a specific zip code that serve up Animal Welfare Approved products. Since you can search any zip code in the USA, I’ve found this tool especially handy when traveling. Oh the joys of being an informed tourist!
Just a little tip as you prepare to eat and drink your way through another celebration of our nation’s independence. Happy 4th!http://chapelboro.com/columns/orange-zest/your-vacation-animal-welfare-approved/