David Rule is the butcher at Blackberry Farm (www.blackberryfarm.com), a pastoral 4,200-acre estate in Walland, Tennessee featuring a restaurant nominated for a James Beard award, a vineyard, apiary, a dedicated "preservationist" and more. Rule spoke with Gambit about his participation in this week's Boudin, Bourbon & Beer festival (see Fork + Center, p. 39) and his favorite cured meats.
How did you get your start at Blackberry Farm?
Rule: I'm born and raised around Knoxville (Tennessee), and have traditionally been a chef for about 15 years throughout east Tennessee. Last year, I took a job as executive chef at Dancing Bear Lodge in Townsend, which is the next town up from Walland where Blackberry Farm is located. I was the chef there for about six weeks and it burned down. From there, I had a connection at Blackberry Farm and I landed here that way.
The butchering side of my job — the protein side of things — was always huge. I've spent 15 years cutting meat for service day in and day out, whereas now it's just my primary job. On top of that, we do a lot of cured products — salami and other meats.
I work with the kitchen on its protein needs — cutting and portioning dry-aged beef, poultry and fish — and any of its sausage needs. For example, I provide the breakfast sausage they use in the main house, and different kinds of bratwurst.
What are some of the cured meats you prepare?
R: We run a retail business in addition to the day-to-day operations and sell three different kinds of salami and guanciale, a traditional Italian cured pork jowl. We do a soppressata, which is a spicy and sweet sausage, and a finocchiona which is primarily seasoned with fennel seed and fennel pollen and a fennel powder that I make from fennel in the garden here. The last one is a Toscano, which is seasoned with a little bit of fennel but primarily black pepper, coriander and bay leaf.
I'm working on some new creations, too, that are close to being out of research and development. A new salami I'm working on is called the "hunter's salami"; we're using wild boar for it instead of the Cheshire hogs we normally use. It has a gamier taste and is a little bit leaner. It's seasoned in the style of cacciatore — caraway, garlic, red wine and paprika.
I've also been working on a capicola, which is a cured piece of neck meat from a hog. It's beautifully marbled — no connective tissue to interrupt the curing and drying process. It's an ideal piece of meat for curing. It's beautiful just to look at.
What are you planning for Boudin, Bourbon & Beer?
R: I have kind of a play on pork and beans for the event, in the same vein as boudin. Where I'm from here in Tennessee there's pinto beans and meat and cornbread. It's cheap, it's filling and it's one of those things that has been converted into a luxury because of the familiar flavors that are in there.
For my dish, I have some souse meat, which is kind of like head cheese, with cornbread that has black garlic in it made with blue cornmeal so it's nice and dark-colored. We're going to do some fried pinto beans as opposed to stewed, and we're going to use the chow chow that our preservationist makes here on the farm. Finally, we're going to do some ham hock broth in the bottom. It's almost a deconstructed pinto beans and cornbread — I know no one likes to use that term anymore because it's "so five years ago."