About half an hour into our feast, my tablemates and I shared in a revelation both frightening and exciting. Though we had been eagerly sampling foods and craft beer for a while, a quick glance at the menu confirmed that we were only on the third of eleven tapas courses.
With careful pacing—motivated by our unyielding desire to save room for a “sweet potato country ham whoopee pie”—we made it to the finish line. And I’m very glad we did.
Foster’s Market outdid itself with its second annual Porkapalooza on Thursday night. As its name suggests, the evening revolved around pork, and creatively explored the eclectic ways in which it can be cooked and presented. The meal was served tapas-style with optional local, craft beer pairings from Huske Hardware Brewery in Fayetteville.
The event was part of Foster’s monthly “Farm Dinners” program that starts every year in the summer or early spring and continues until fall.
Porkapalooza, like all of Foster’s Farm Dinners, sought inspiration from and highlight the foods of featured local farms. Cane Creek Farm (located in Snow Camp, N.C.) provided the omnipresent pork for Thursday’s meal. The vegetables were supplied by Bluebird Meadows (Hurdle Mills, N.C.).
“The Farm Dinners have served as a nice way to profile local farms and show people what’s out there,” said Susan White, who co-owns Foster’s Market in Chapel Hill along with Sera Cuni.
Sustainably produced, locally-sourced ingredients are at the heart of what Foster’s does—both in its day-to-day offerings and in these summer Farm Dinners. For Susan and Sera, being mindful about where food comes from is common sense.
“To create the freshest, best food you can, you need the freshest ingredients you can get,” said Susan.
These Farm Dinners and the philosophy that drives them are representative of a larger trend, both within the state and nationwide, toward a greater interest in locally grown, seasonal food—and the renewed relevance of small, sustainable farms.
Stuart White, from Bluebird Meadows, made the rounds during dessert—answering questions and talking about his farm, which has been around for 8 years.
“The number of farmers’ markets, especially in North Carolina, has been exploding,” said Stuart. “My focus, starting out, was to grow food but to do it environmentally consciously—and right now there’s more of a market for that.”
The Farm Dinners at Foster’s Market also aim to create a casual, intimate type of dining. Large tables encourage a social, communal experience, and the food is served family style.
“We live in a world where it’s rare for people to take the time to sit down and enjoy a meal together,” said Susan. “We wanted these monthly meals to harken back to Sunday night, family dinners.”
Most of the Farm Dinners are composed of four courses. However, Susan and Sera were interested in changing the format of Porkapalooza this year to feature many more dishes served in smaller, tapas-style portions.
“We wanted to explore more configurations with this year’s Porkapalooza,” said Susan.
Pork was incorporated into each dish in incredibly varied ways, which made for a unique dining experience. No dish seemed redundant or complacently executed.
Pork rillettes—a slow-cooked, prettily prepared pork and pork fat dip served with crackers—kicked off the meal (or at least the appetizer portion). Another highlight from the first group of dishes was a wood-fired flat bread topped with extremely flavorful prosciutto, fresh, delicious arugula, and quality chevre.
The choucroute platter was also a standout. It featured pickled vegetables from Bluebird Meadows including a couple types of beets that I hadn’t realized existed and some wonderfully spicy turnips. The house-made sausages and grainy mustard that accompanied the veggies were also divine.
Next came an amazing kale salad and then the main courses, of which the 7 pepper jelly glazed twice fried ribs were a table favorite. While I’m not usually a huge fan of tamales, Foster’s served up some good ones with a lovely mole sauce. And the 5 spice braised pork belly was succulent—and nicely counterbalanced by crunchy, shredded veggies in the style of an asian slaw.
The highly-anticipated desserts were delectable—especially the chocolate bacon fry cake. The curious yet delicious-sounding sweet potato country ham whoopee pie was yummy but a bit sweet and overwhelming. (The taste of ham was overshadowed by the super sweet filling.)
Of the craft beers I tried (all from Huske Hardware Brewery), the Sledgehammer Stout was my favorite. (I like drier, less sweet stouts with a bit of a bite.) There was also a watermelon stout. It was refreshing, but, as with most flavored beers, the watermelon flavor seemed to sit on top without fully mixing with the beer.
Reservations are required for these family-style Farm Dinners, which are currently in their third year. The next dinner will be on July 11th and will feature food from Chapel Hill Creamery and Peregrine.
While each dinner varies in its theme, the process that leads to its creation is more or less the same.
“Sera and Lucas (the chef) brainstorm ideas for unique configurations of the food once they’ve talked to the farmers and heard what they’re growing this year and what’s in season,” said Susan.
You can snag a spot at one of these feasts sometime this summer or catch Porkapalooza when it rolls around again next year. The fresh, local ingredients and warm atmosphere will remain—even as the themes and the farmers’ offerings change.
All Photography by Christin Hardy