The relationship of consumers and food took on a deeper meaning in 2020.
The tremor of the “restaurant shutdown” was felt equally in the industry from large to small operations. Rising above the foodie experience, everyday folks realized (some for the first time) the correlation of the quality of food we eat and our health.
The subject of where food originates from (and the fact that people had time on their hands) prompted many to visit farmers’ markets, butcher shops, seafood markets and farms instead of grocery stores for the freshest produce and meats. In Forsyth County, diverse businesses, each with unique services, give consumers choices of the best-of-the-best meat products.
Mother Nature Meets Haute Cuisine
Joyce Farms is a name that should be on every meat lover’s lips. The third-generation farm run by President and CEO Ron Joyce, (started by his father) and his two sons, Ryan and Stuart is no fly-by-night business but a well-oiled machine that operates that operates a poultry-processing facility in Winston-Salem and multiple small farms throughout the eastern North Carolina and Georgia.
Butchers know their name, as well as James Beard award-winning chefs like Frank Stitt (Highlands Grill and Bar in Birmingham), Sean Brock (formerly of HUSK in Charleston), Jean-Georges of Mercer Kitchen in NYC, John Folse in Louisiana are among those who have served Joyce Farms products in their restaurants.
Why don’t more consumers know the name?
"It is a matter of educating the public," Joyce says. “Aside from training Americans to understand the importance of eating meat that is drug-and-antibiotic free, there are the subjects of the environment, animal welfare and keeping working farms viable. Experts have traced disease and illness to the food we eat, or don’t eat. The other fallout from farming industrially rather than raising foods ethically and humanely is the loss of nutrition and flavor in foods.”
The farm’s dedication to producing healthy animals takes it a step further than most with the concept of regenerative farming. That’s a farming method that puts nature first and doesn’t use chemicals.
The method brings mega-benefits to farms and farmers, the environment and the food we consume. It builds healthy soil by capturing carbon and nitrogen from the air and returning it to the soil.
Joyce has a few commandments he lives by and trains his employees, staff and sales force. First and foremost, is “genetics.” The pedigree breeds that Joyce Farms produce have pure, traceable genetic lines: Poulet Rouge chickens hail from France, Aberdeen Angus from Scotland, Old Spot hogs from England (once nearly extinct) and Black turkeys from Spain.
The Joyce family's search for heritage animals led them to travel through Europe, where they discovered the Poulet Rouge heritage breed, the “best chicken in the world.”
Then they looked at adding heritage grass-fed beef and pork to their program.
Addressing the “no meat” movement is something Joyce feels is important.
“The problem is not eating beef — it is how the beef is produced, raised and processed,” Joyce says. “We don’t need a ‘cancel the cow’ culture. We just need to educate the public on the importance of eating meat grown using the regenerative farming method.”
Key to regenerative farming are two things: healthy soil and grass. Soil is coaxed into retaining carbon dioxide and nitrogen. And the land is treated with respect with the no-till method, meaning plowing is not allowed. Pesticides and chemicals are nonexistent in soil, and animals never experience hormones, antibiotics or drugs.
All Joyce animals, from turkeys to cattle, essentially have total access to pasture that’s not stripped of nutrients but filled with what popular culture calls “weeds” — hairy vetch, forbs (clovers, sunflowers, daylilies, and milkweed) and other edible “salad bar” delicacies. Cattle and pigs are rotated to different areas of pasture for maximum grazing impact called adaptive grazing. Heritage Poulet Rouge chickens are also raised by the same method on pasture.
Why is this important, aside from humane treatment of animals? Nutrition and flavor are sacrificed for mass production or commercialized, industrial ag, not to mention the spiraling obesity issue of Americans versus Europeans.
“We are unique because of our genetic program,” Joyce says. “Our best-in-the-world program gives us superior, healthy animals that deliver the same great taste each and every time.”
Sandwiched into between a funky antique store and a cool consignment shop, you will find Smoke City Meats artisanal butcher shop in the trendy neighborhood district of West End.
COVID did not take a bite out of their business at the 1-year old company. Folks were staying home, and cooking and grilling time was (and is) peak meat time.
On any given day, you will hear Hank Williams Jr. wailing or another country artist playing on the speakers. The music sets a laid-back boho vibe that makes you want to grill and chill. Cases show off steaks, burgers, pork, chicken and fish. Assistant butcher Clay McGuire and head butcher/manager Matt Pleasants are trained chefs who understand the importance of good quality meat.
Heritage breed livestock comes from local farms: pork from a Heritage Ridge Farm, Apple Brandy Farms in Wilkesboro supplies beef. Joyce Farms’ Poulet Rouge chickens are displayed, and at Thanksgiving, pre-ordered Joyce Farms heritage turkeys sell out.
The usual suspects are best sellers – filets, rib eyes and pork chops. Filets “fly out the door” Clay says.
Weekly specials are found on a scroll of butcher paper roll on the wall.
North Carolina products range from pickles, rubs (made in house) and barbecue sauces to cheeses, butter and pork lard.
The fan-favorite pimento cheese spread comes in four flavors with a smoked and horseradish version (made in house). Lusty Monk mustards from Asheville come in fun flavors like “Burn in Hell.”
Smokers are sold on site for serious grill masters. Owner Rob Richardson sells handcrafted, vintage, professional working axes (not the kind at axe throwing parties).
No Place Like Home for a Farm
Nomad Farms is more than a breath of fresh air. The bucolic, 100-plus acre farm (25 farmed) is like a Norman Rockwell painting, with a serene farmhouse on the property.
On green pastures, Charolais cattle graze slowly as two resident black and white Belted Galloways keeps them company, and pastured chicks hang out in a mobile chicken house.
In the shaded woods, two expectant Red Wattle heritage sows lie in the cool while piglets forage for roots, grass and leaves. Lambs rest in the shade on grass. Rounding out the menagerie is the farm greeting committee, headed up by the Mabel, the vocal bloodhound and Freckles, the beagle. Earnest, the family Mastiff from Tibet, pulls up the rear.
Mark and Dana Nicholson were in China when they bought the farm, sight unseen. They were practicing the concept of rotational grazing that they would later use on their farm. Ethical farming is a way of life for the couple who spent a decade in Tibet with their four children among Tibetan nomads (hence the name).
The Nomad animals get a steady diet of grass mixed with clover, dandelion, bluegrass and other greens. The cows are strictly on a grass diet without any grain.
A commitment to keeping animals on grass makes for a shorter poultry season than commercialized operations – March to November – but humane treatment of the animals and not speeding them to market is the Nomad philosophy. Chickens are processed humanely on the farm with highest level of USDA food inspection.
A no-hormone, no-antibiotic-or-genetic-modification approach to raising livestock one is used on all grass-fed livestock.
Chickens are produced over the course of two months, about twice the 30-day production of the commercial poultry business. The Red Wattle pigs are a slow-growing breed, and time to slaughter is nearly two years. “Heritage breeds are being replaced by race-car breeds,” Nicholson says.
Turkeys are a Nomad holiday tradition, and orders are sold out by the summer. Turkeys are grown for the orders and are never frozen. Nomad products are for sale at the Cobblestone Farmers’ Market as well as their on-site Log Cabin Farm Store.
“We are an education-based farm,” Nicholson says. Evidence is seen in lecture series with NC Forestry and Wake Forest University and summer camps. “This is a community farm,” said Nicholson. “There is someone here everyday learning and helping out at the farm.”
All in the Family
Forsyth Seafood Market and Café keeps it all in the family. Seafood is the protein of choice in the restaurant, open since 1984.
Virginia and Charlie Hardesty grew up in the Beaufort area on the, and seafood was a way of life – both their fathers were commercial fishermen. After college in the Triad, they decided they needed a business venture. Charlie was famous for saying “You go with what you know,” so the path was clear.
In the café, flounder, bone fish, oysters and whiting are best sellers with live crab and soft-shell crab in season.
Sales jumped on the market side during the pandemic as people cooked at home. Snapper, croaker, black bass, flounder and other fish are brought in fresh each week.
“Uber Eats, Post Mates and online orders kept the restaurant alive during 2020,” Virginia says.
The family torch still burns brightly after the passing of Charlie eight years ago. Daughter, Ashley Hardesty Armstrong has taken the reins with marketing, social media and cooking. Ashley has a culinary degree from Johnson & Wales University and enjoys being behind the grill.
She is also the mastermind behind new menu items like collards, seasonal sides and eastern N.C. seafood dishes in the café. Her creativity is on display at Cobblestone Farmers’ Markets events and their food truck.
Clearly, the Hardesty family knows seafood. The café was named “Best Seafood in NC” by Eater magazine. The duo passed on being on Food Network because the producers wanted to showcase mothers and daughters who did not get along.
“We get along and don’t ‘do’ drama,” Ashley says.
Her proud mother agrees. “Ashley is a blessing to me,” Virginia says. “It’s a gift to have her continue our business.”
Urban Butchery is a Cut Above
It might be the Butcher Block’s tag line, but truth sticks.
This is not your mama’s butcher shop. The urban, hip retail space in Innovation Quarter is spacious (35,000 square feet), with colorful eye-popping walls, industrial chic concrete floors and the unexpected chandelier that hangs in both Butcher Block locations (the original shop is in Lexington).
On the parameters are all the condiments you will need to have a great, meat experience from light produce (colorful, heritage tomatoes), a spice wall and lots of North Carolina products like Chad’s Caramel Corn (Greensboro), barbecue sauces with the eternal favorite, Cackalacky and Boar Castle, a nice selection of Ashe County cheeses and more.
Butcher Block has a wine section and tasting events. Handcrafted charcuterie boards made from high quality woods are available.
Décor and ambiance aside, the clear star of the show, and front and center is the gleaming, meat counter. Beef is certified Angus prime and always fresh, never frozen. The most expensive cut (north of $170 per pound) is the Wagyu beef overnighted from Japan that comes with a certificate of authenticity. It is the highest grade of beef with an A5 rating.
Fresh, Carolina Bison is also a best seller. Kabobs and gourmet burgers are ready for the grill.
Seafood is 90 percent wild-caught and is delivered five days-a-week. Chilean sea bass, flounder, North Carolina trout, crab cakes and oysters dominate the seafood section. Sixty South is a signature salmon that is farm-raised but is a cut-above the average farm raised fish. Flown in from Antarctica, Sixty South salmon is farm raised fish and is hormone and antibiotic free. BB is the only butcher shop in the Triad to sell Sixty South.
Butcher Block boasts one of the most extensive cold-water oyster selections in the Triad, available year-round. In the summer, oysters come primarily from Prince Edward Island in Canada. At peak oyster season, the shop sells 75 varieties.
“The pandemic put us on the map,” owner Eric Everhart says.
At one-point last year, the line to get into the Lexington location was around the block, Everhart says, and sales at both locations remain healthy.
Promoting specials on Facebook made BB even more relevant, gaining an increase from 5,000 to 15,000 followers almost overnight. Weekends are the busiest times and Saturdays are “huge.”
As to why they have a chandelier, Everheart has a simple answer. “You will not find one a butcher shop, and it speaks to how we are one-of-a-kind