I’m was slated to give a talk today for a Dallas garden club about locally inspired holiday gifts for food enthusiasts, so I thought I might as well give it to my PIE friends, too. My thinking is this…Dallas, Fort Worth, and Texas generally, are just brimming with interesting people, food entrepreneurs, artists, and fascinating ideas in general. What better way to celebrate this holiday season than by giving people gifts that really say something about where you live and love, and by supporting gutsy business-people, great writers, and uniquely Texan enterprises. It is good for the local economy, creates jobs, and has the potential to create new industry. Shop at home. Log off and get out and meet your neighbors. And, your out of state friends get enough boring catalog garbage. Introduce them to some hometown folks.
Treen is an old English word that essentially means “made of a tree.” It is a centuries old art-form wherein simple everyday objects are carved from wood for household use. When the settlers first came to America, as you can imagine, metal was scarce and it wasn’t even in use at that time for serving, except by the very wealthy. People made their utensils, serving items, and bowls out of wood. The Native Americans also had a strong tradition of making tools and utensils out of wood.
Nancy Lou Webster carries on this old tradition today. Her shop is in Elgin, Texas. She is 83 years young. She can take a piece of wood, a mere branch, and SEE what it wants to be. She hammers and saws and sands using tools she has made for herself, until the envisioned piece is released from the wood.
I know about Nancy Lou because I set out to find her. My mother always had gorgeous and large hand-carved spoons in her kitchen, still does, and I’ve always envied them. So, one day I set about to find some and came across articles about Nancy Lou. I listened to a wonderful recording of her that had been done by a journalist and it was as if I had met someone I had known for a thousand years, part aunt, part shaman, part storyteller. I was hooked. I bought several pieces and finally showed them to my mother and lo and behold she had been buying hers from Nancy Lou all along, over many years.
I sell NL’s spoons for her because she doesn’t have a shop anymore. I cannot bear the thought of her not having an outlet for her work. She should have her treen in galleries if not stores. But for now I have them in my ETSY shop. I just want her to have them moving into people’s homes because I think they are extraordinary. (I’m taking a big basket of spoons to this event and will put any remaining spoons on ETSY in the coming days so make sure to check back.) I did a post all about her a few years back if you would like more information on treen and Nancy Lou.
I’ve suggested several of these books to you in the past, but I still think they are the best of the best.
Paula needs little introduction in Dallas. She was making small batch, artisinal mozzarella before “small batch” and “artisinal” were so popular in the food lexicon. She was cool before she was cool, in other words. She took a passion, and knowledge gained in Italy from master cheese makers, and created a thriving business. Her cookbook, Cheese, Glorious Cheese, is a must for cheese lovers or anyone who is building a collection of important Texan authored cookbooks.
Lisa is The Homesick Texan. She is a Texan, through and through, who happens to live in New York. Her memories of her favorite Texas dishes led her to create a successful blog, documenting her favorite recipes. In her book, The Homesick Texan, she shares them with us. This is a great gift for yourself, or any ex-pat on your list. While you will surely be able to get her book on Amazon, I recommend that you call independent bookseller Posman Books in Manhattan and order a signed copy. Lisa will run down and sign it for you and it will be on your doorstep in no time.
Edible Dallas & Fort Worth
EDFW put out a great community cookbook last year. It has a number of chefs’ recipes as well as recipes from farmers and some of my favorite food lovers in town. I even have a couple in there. It is a great little book. I think you can also grab a copy at Empire Baking.
D: The Cookbook
This is a great little book. At only $15 it is a bargain. And, proceeds benefit Café Momentum. Recipes are by the likes of Nick Bodavinus, Steven Pyles, Janice Provost, Brian Luscher, Lisa Garza, and Justin Fourton. The Pecan Lodge Banana Pudding recipe is in this book, justifying the purchase all by itself.
Smoke by Tim Byres
Tim is the owner/chef of SMOKE at the Belmont Hotel. It is one of my favorite lunch spots. Not only is he a devotee of wood fire cooking, but also seasonal use of fresh, local produce. So, with his fantastic smoked and fire-cooked meats, you also get a nice dose of fresh salad greens and pickled and preserved treats. I also believe that SMOKE has the best French fries in Dallas, as a side note. But, last year he published a fantastic cookbook for fire lovers and novices alike. The recipes are great. They would be. Of course they are. But what I love about the book is that he makes cooking with fire accessible. There are drawings and instructions for creating fires and very inexpensive fire pits and cookers. So if you have access to a hardware store and don’t mind digging a hole, you can be cooking in no time. It is a very useful book for old and new hands, alike. You can pick up a signed copy by visiting SMOKE at the Hotel Belmont.
The Prophets of Smoked Meats by Daniel Vaughn
Daniel is an architect who wandered, or rather drove, headlong into the world of Texas BBQ. With the meticulousness you would expect from a professional of his kind, he scoured the state in search of the best BBQ. He documented his travels on his website Full Custom Gospel BBQ. Last year he was hired by Texas Monthly to become perhaps the world’s first BBQ editor. His book The Prophets of Smoked Meats chronicles the most interesting notes on his journey. And, while it isn’t a cookbook, per se, the section with the advice of the pitmasters on their signature dishes is as valuable as almost any BBQ-centric cookbook I’ve found. If you need more BBQ gifts or you want to give the gift of actual TX BBQ, you need to see Daniel’s posts on Texas Monthly’s TMBBQ blog: Buying Guide Mail Order BBQ and Buying Guide BBQ Stuff. I am actually wearing the “Come and Brisket” t-shirt by Texas photographer Robert Strickland as I write this post.
Dottie Griffith has re-issued The Texas Holiday Cookbook. She has been a consistent recipe home-run hitter throughout the years. And, this is the only holiday oriented book on my list. So if you like holiday recipes, this is your go-to.
Jesse Griffith’s Afield
While not a “men’s cookbook” exactly, this one will be adored by any guys that love to cook and hunt. It will also be adored by women who love to hunt. The photographs by Jody Horton are fantastic (as is his work in Tim’s book) and the instructions on dealing with game are essential for any hunters, novice or seasoned. It contains personal stories about Griffith’s hunts with friends and his respect for the game he follows. The cover alone makes Afield a book you will want in your kitchen. And, to boot, it is a James Beard Award nominated book, a recognition which got this gal’s notice.
Jams, Jellies, Pickles and Sauces
In a Pickle
Put your love and effort and the greatest fruits in a pot and boil them with great care. Put them in jars with pretty labels and let me give them to my friends. I love jams and jellies.
Karen Felps is a great lady. And she is a school teacher. In her spare time (what spare time, I’d like to ask) she and her husband make a gorgeous line of jams and jellies. Most importantly, they make great pickles. I have been a devoted customer of their products since I first tracked them down at a local farmers market. Their spicy sweet pickles are a must for me on a pimento cheese sandwich. I have these pickles in my refrigerator at all time. All of their products are great. For Christmas they are doing this darling reclaimed wood caddy of four jams. If you are visiting this Christmas, or you are the sort who gives out multiple gifts for neighbors, co-workers, and friends, this is an easy and cute solution. Visit the InAPickle website for more information.
Again, this is an individual running a really great business deserving of your support. Kathy Neumuller makes jams, jellies, fruit butters, you name it. And, again, visit their website for options such as gift caddies and gift boxes. Her lovely wares can also be found at the local farmers markets, and I’ve seen them at Empire Baking and Scardello.
Recently, these sauces caught my eye at the White Rock Local Market. I rarely buy jarred sauces because I tend to make my own. But, I can admit that making Mexican cuisine is not my strong suit. So, when I saw that someone was selling high quality Mexican regional sauces I wanted to try them. Mölli sauces are delicious. I was not disappointed. This company was created by Rodrigo and Leticia Salas, a Lakewood couple. I used one of the sauces to create a layer in a corn tortilla and chicken casserole and it was great.
Tomatoes, garlic, salt and olive oil. If you want to get away from the laundry lists of unpronounceable ingredients but still want the convenience of a jarred sauce, Chef Mansour Gorji’s pasta and pizza sauces might be the thing for you. Gorji is the owner of the Canary restaurant in Addison and a winner of the Texas State Cook-Off Championship. He is a long time Texan, who arrived via the Middle East and Scotland, so he definitely has some great perspectives on flavor.
Jim Blumetti is a Dallas movie producer, actor and writer. But he is also a descendant of Italian grandparents who taught him to appreciate wonderful food. He has bottled up his grandmother-inspired recipe and takes care to use the best ingredients and cook them in small batches. I think it is definitely worth a try.
Empire Baking Company
If you feel like you need to add a little something to a food gift, always turn to bread. I love bread. I have a fascination with it. Go to Empire Baking and grab a few loaves of something. My favorites are the Sourdough and the Hippie Health bread. Make a basket with breads and jams. Add it to a gift of cheese and honey. Also, Empire carries many of these products that I have mentioned. It is like going to the farmers market where the artisanal products are concerned. Meaders Ozarow, the owner, is a friend of mine, so I’m fully and totally biased. However, I do not abide mediocre bread, because I make pretty darned good bread myself. Meaders and her wonderful crew create bread day in and day out and they do it the right way…no shortcuts and no corners cut. It is the best bread in Dallas, which is why when you eat at the finest restaurants in Dallas, the bread basket usually contains Empire bread. Plus, let me go here for a moment. There are folks in Dallas who are constantly giving back, constantly finding ways, big and small, to make the world around them a better place. Meaders is one of those people. I just wrapped up working on the VNA Power of Pie project with her and I was amazed at how often her thoughts migrated to “doing a good turn” and she does it reflexively. Schools, business associates, synagogue, friends…she creates a tidal flow of good energy around her that makes you want to get out and do somebody a favor, just because. And on top of this, she runs this incredible and successful bakery full of hard working and devoted and skilled people turning out a high quality product in incredible volumes every day. I want to be her if and when I choose to grow up. Visit the shop at Inwood & Lovers Lane and put together a basket. I recommend the Gingerbread, the pies, Cranberry Scones, or a loaf of the Apple Walnut Bread. If you need to give teacher gifts, for an extra buck they will even wrap it in cellophane with ribbon. One stop…life’s problems solved with a little flour and sugar.
I have a bad Starbucks habit. Imagine the money we spend. Now imagine if we kept all of that cash in our community this Christmas. There are a number of coffee roasters right here. Just as SBUX does, they acquire beans according to their tastes and preferences and then custom roast them here. Amongst the feel-good notions of supporting the home team there is also this: You can pull a bag off the shelf and know that it is freshly roasted. Brand new. This stuff has not been sitting in a warehouse for a year.
Noble Coyote Coffee
Kevin and Marta Sprague are, in a word, nice. And they love what they do. Marta gave Kevin a table top coffee roaster 10 years ago in support of his growing passion for good coffee and it was off to the races, as we say. They became more and more serious about sourcing good beans and roasting. And when the time came to fish or cut bait, they invested their savings in a business. They are not only serious about good coffee but they are also serious about doing it the right way. All of their beans are either Fair Trade or Direct Trade. They seek to tip the balance to mostly direct trade where they actually have a relationship with the growers. Find Noble Coyote by visiting their website or Empire Baking. They are also at White Rock Local Market, where you can meet them and try their different offerings.
Friends since grade school, Gerald LaRue and Jimmy Story also decided to capitalize on their passion for good coffee after a change in job status, it appears. LaRue has a long family history in coffee. They talked about next steps and they just went for it. Now they have a shop and a roaster in the Near Southside part of Fort Worth and the coffee is good.
I like these local teams…the friends, the spouses, the individuals…just setting a course. They trust their instincts and their knowledge and they are making a go of it despite all odds…in a Starbucks world.
Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters
Again, OCCR started small. It was a passion play. But it has really caught on. They have a great relationship with coffee shops and you can find their beans all over the place, from farmers markets to Central Market. Plus, they just opened a new coffee shop on Davis Street called Davis Street Espresso which even got a mention in the NYMag, Grub Street, as one of the 58 Extraordinary Coffee Shops in America.
Cultivar Coffee Company
Cultivar Coffee was started by Jonathan Meadows and Nathan Shelton in Dallas. Good Stuff. I found it at Bolsa Mercado. They also have a café in east Dallas near White Rock.
Clay Eiland of Coffee Eiland in Richardson started roasting coffee in 1998 and he is said to be as much of an educator as a roaster. This coffee is high on my list of coffees to try soon.
For gifts: track down a few bags of these coffees. Pair a few bags of coffee with a Chemex, a grinder, or a MokaPot. That is a gift I would be pleased to receive.
Domestic olive oil only makes up 2% of the US Market. Europe imposes high tariffs on imports. The US does not. European companies enjoy subsidies. US companies generally do not. Quality and labeling are recurring problems with imports, as well. Oil is often mislabeled as extra-virgin or it is adulterated, mixed with other oils. Refined oils (which have been cleaned up chemically for human consumption) are blended with virgin oil and sold as “olive oil” containing only 3 to 12% virgin oil. To qualify as “extra virgin olive oil, the olives must have been processed by purely mechanical means, not with heat or chemicals. But this speaks nothing about the source, or rather sources, of the olives.
An incredible amount of blending goes on which is why it is so important to read labels. Very fine Italian olive oils will brag about the methods and sources of the olives. More generic oils will simply list the countries of origin and you will often find that there are oils from several countries in one bottle of oil. They are blended.
Texas is the largest olive oil producing state outside of California, producing 14.4k gallons on only 920 acres. Great potential for growth because of the climates and regulatory structures. Projected to grow to 5000 acres by next year. But all of this depends on demand. We are the demand.
Texas Olive Ranch
Since the mid-1990’s, Jim Henry of the Texas Olive Ranch has been growing olives in Texas and experimenting and moving operations based on finding the perfect spot for olives domestically. He is now near Carrizo Springs and has hundreds of olive trees. He grows several varieties of olives but mostly the Arbequina variety which is an olive that grows well in Spain in a terrain and climate very similar to that found in South Texas. They sell a number of flavored olive oils and vinegars but my favorite is the unflavored extra virgin olive oil. You can buy it locally or purchase lovely wooden gift boxes online that contain your choices of oils.
You can also find their oils at the local farmers markets, and at Empire Baking and Bolsa Mercado.
John Gambini of the Texas Hill Country Olive Company is building an impressive orchard outside of Austin in Dripping Springs, Texas. He has 2000 trees, which are older trees that he brought from California. There are 5 different varieties of olives in the orchard. He is projecting expansion to 100, 000 trees. His oil is beautifully bottled and it is certified organic. I have found it both at the Dallas Farmers Market and in specialty stores such as Bolsa Mercado. For more information on the Texas Olive Oil Industry, visit this article in The Olive Oil Times.
Why is it important to support Texas olive oil.
It is good. It is new, and it is playing on an uneven playing field.
Karen Lee, owner of Cowgirl Brands, an olive oil wholesaler, is a leader in the Texas Olive Oil Council. She wrote a telling statement to the U.S. International Trade Commission detailing the challenges facing the Texas olive oil industry. Cheap, mislabeled, adulterated and blended oils face no import barriers. They sell in enormous bulk and therefore can come in at a very low price point. The infrastructure for the European producers has been in place for, literally, ages. Texans starting these orchards have huge infrastructure costs. And they are producing on a smaller scale. Thus, the cost of the product is higher than what you see in the grocery store. But the quality is also much higher. She noted that a grocery store wants to buy oil at the equivalent of $4 per 500 ml bottle. This equals about $15 per gallon. Texas producers’ costs are about $40 per gallon, and that is a break even number.
The math is difficult. But the quality is there. The oil on the grocery store shelf has traveled thousands of miles and is old, generally. Yet due to subsidies in their home countries the price is low enough to block out domestic producers on the grocery store shelf. We can effectively even the playing field for Texas Olive Oil producers by paying a truly appropriate price for a high quality, locally sourced, fresh extra virgin olive oil. We know the producers, we can visit the orchards, and the products are available.
They are great gifts and make wonderful hostess gifts when you are traveling out of state, in particular. This is not something that will sit around unused. People who love olive oil (or the idea of what they think is good olive oil) use it every day to cook for their families. We can all act as ambassadors for this growing Texas industry. I need to do a better job of buying Texas oil. It is so easy to pick up whatever is at the big box store. It is cheap and convenient. But this could be a huge boon for the Texas economy. Read the labels, have friends over to taste oils. Learn about olive oil and give these Texas producers a chance to get through the expensive stage of expansion. Because, the product is better than what you are getting on the shelf. It is worth paying for the good stuff.
Let us however talk about a good way to buy European olive oils, if you choose to do so. Don’t be swayed by a romantic label into thinking you are getting quality. Estate bottled, high quality, producers in Italy and Spain face the same challenges as the Texans. It is a point of education. Consumers know that they want “olive oil” writ large. We assume that “extra virgin” means something. But we are all getting taken to the cleaners when we assume that because a bottle is labeled “Italian Olive Oil” it means that we are getting a quality product.
Dallas friend Betty Nadalini and her husband Cesare are growing olives in Tuscany and making wonderful oil bottled under the name Tutta Toscana. She takes orders of their estate bottled oil throughout the year and then brings it here to sell. She has told me the magic language to look for on a bottle if you are considering paying up for a great bottle of truly Italian, truly extra virgin olive oil.
A true Tuscan extra virgin olive oil, according to Betty, to comply with Italian law, will state on the bottle: All of the olives are from Italy and they were “extracted solely by mechanical means.” The words matter. True extra virgin olive oil is expensive to produce. So, if you find olive oil that is very inexpensive, you are safe to assume that there is a correlation between quality and the price of the product. She and Cesare take a great deal of pride in the way that they grow, prune and harvest their olives. They are creating an exceptional oil. They want you to understand the difference between cheap imports and quality Tuscan Extra Virgin Olive Oil just as much as the domestic producers do. Because, when you understand how the good stuff is made and handled, and when you understand that freshness is key to flavor, then you understand why a good oil is worth a premium price. Cheese
Scardello is one of my favorite shops in town and I think it is one of the best lunch spots in Dallas. They have any number of great cheeses…no matter what you are looking for. And, they do a fantastic job of stocking Texas cheeses. If you are putting together a group of gifts or need a quick hostess gift on your way to a holiday party, they offer darling round wooden boxes filled with cheese selections. They come in three sizes to fit any budget. I recommend a Texas assortment, which should come as no surprise. Following are some of my favorite North Texas cheese makers, and you can find them at Scardello. Molto Formaggio is also a great cheese shop in Higland Park Village that is worth a visit, and they also do custom gift assortments.
Veldhuizen Texas Farmstead Cheese
Veldhuizen is a family owned dairy and cheese maker in Dublin, Texas. They have a herd of mostly Jersey cows and they appear to run their farm on organic principals with no antibiotics or growth hormones for the cows, and no use of chemicals on the land. They started out with one type of cheese and now have fifteen. The most common you will come across is Redneck Cheddar, but they also have a blue, a parmesan and gruyere, as well as other variations of cheddar. They also sell raw milk at the farm and the cheeses are raw milk cheeses.
Eagle Mountain Farmhouse Cheese
Eagle Mountain makes incredible cheeses. My favorite is called Drunken Monk. Dave Eagle is a former lawyer who has devoted his life to making cheese. He sources his milk from Sandy Creek Farm which has a herd of Brown Swiss cows in Bridgeport, Texas. These are also raw milk cheeses.
Brazos Valley Cheese
Brazos Valley Cheese is an off-shoot of the family of Mennonite businesses in Elm Mott, Texas known as the Homestead Heritage Community. The cheese operation was started by Rebecca Dhurkin, who wanted to teach herself to make cheese. She did just that and began to teach others to make cheese. Her cousin Marc Kuehl joined her in the business and now they have the capacity to make 2,000 gallons of milk per week into cheese. They are best known for their Brie and their Eden, which is a Brie wrapped in fig leaves. They are both gorgeous, award winning cheeses.
The Mozzarella Company
Hometown favorite Paula Lambert learned to make Mozzarella cheese in Italy. She has been making cheese since the days before all of this artisinal, craftsman, local craze began. Like so many of us who have been fortunate enough to spend time there, one comes home aching for the tastes that we enjoyed there. Paula turned that into a thriving business. She has an extensive line of cheeses. I have worked with several of the cheeses developing recipes for Edible and they are delicious and fun. She, or course, has a shop in Deep Ellum. You should drop in, not only because you can see the full line of cheeses, but because you can stand there in the shop and watch the ladies working in the back, which is a real treat. But her goods are also carried by Scardello and many of the grocers in town.
Deliveries: Half Pint Palates, Artizone & Greenling
Half Pint Palates
My friend Tara Anderson started a baby and toddler food company last year but it is not just any baby food company. She is a chef. Her husband is a chef. She created a chef inspired menu for babies and toddlers and made a conscious choice to introduce children to great food, organic produce and interesting herbs and spices from the get-go. The company is called Half Pint Palates, but the menus look like something from the Mansion. Salmon, Tilapia, lamb stew, beautiful veggies, juices and purees are all available. And, it is delivered. What could be a better gift for the new mother in your life? And, a further really smart aspect of this business, Tara has also created this menu with seniors in mind or people with special dietary needs. I have eaten most of the line, and while it is appropriate for kids, it is not “kid food” so if you have a senior in your life that is tiring of the boring offerings that are geared toward aging adults, take note.
Greenling and Artizone
Greenling and Artizone are two other delivery services to consider as gifts for your favorite busy people. Greenling is like a farmers market that comes to your door. Artizone is a specialty foods delivery service though some of the stores in their collective also offer produce, dairy and eggs. Gift Certificates from either of these would be a real treat for anyone at all.
What better way to support local agriculture. The simple act of buying LOCAL honey means that you are supporting the hometown team. Why? One third of the food we eat exists because of honeybee pollination. Honeybees pollinate 80% of all flowering crops. Consider that in its lifetime, one bee will make only 1/12 or a teaspoon of honey. In each trip to collect pollen or nectar, a bee will visit 50 to 100 flowers. And, a single bee can make up to 30 of these trips a day. These creatures are stunning.
We speak of terroir with wine where a grapevine reflects the earth beneath it. Bees reflect all of the flowers and blooms in up to a 10 mile radius. And they concentrate that flora into the confines of a honeycomb.
We can celebrate the bees by becoming aware of the bees around us. They truly hold our horticultural world together. And, therefore they hold humanity together. Honey is truly a symbol of the way we are all bound together on this Earth. What little I know about bees is that their efforts cause the pollination of the fruits and plants that we and the entire animal kingdom rely upon in one way or another in the entirety of the food chain. Bees and their hives and the honey speak volumes about our interdependence on an ecological scale. But I also like it as a symbol of our interdependence as a community, on a scale from the family all the way up to the global population as a whole.
Don’t buy honey at the grocery store! That is an exaggeration, but like the other products I’ve mentioned, it is worth getting honey locally for many reasons. The most important reason is that it is better. Look for Texas Honeybee Guild, Round Rock Honey, or honey that has the name of a local producer on it. From here on out, if I catch you in the store with a jar of Sue Bee, I’ll be disappointed in you. I’m kidding. But, much like huge olive oil imports, honey is a big and lucrative import, too. By knowing who you are getting your honey from you avoid getting honey from somewhere you DON’T want to get honey from. Support the bees in your neighborhood, the ones that are pollinating your very flowers, by buying the honey they are making.
For Gifts: Bottles of honey, boxes of honeycomb, creamed honey. Offer to bring something over…bring a box of honeycomb, a bottle of wine, a cheese and a baguette.
Who would have thought that award winning vodka and whiskey were being make in Texas? But they are. Consider changing your go-to staple mixing and sipping liquors to some of these great finds. Plus, they are also great gifts. The Texas wine industry is growing by leaps and bounds, but I think the Texas spirits industry goes unnoticed. One star that we hear about is Tito’s vodka, however there are two others I’d like to introduce you to as well.
Dripping Springs Vodka
Dripping Springs Vodka is made in 50 gallon micro batches right in Dripping Springs Texas. They are using American non-GMO corn and Texas Hill Country Artesian spring water to create a vodka that is getting great attention. They won the Gold, “Best in Class” award at International Wine and Spirits competition and are, in fact, the only American vodka to have ever been awarded the Vodka Purity Trophy.
This is a company that had a rocky start including a fire several years ago, but they came back from that brink and have been expanding their reach ever since. It is a family business started by two brothers who have built their brand out of the Texas water and traditional small batch methods and it is a very well regarded vodka.
Oddly, I use liters of this vodka and not in the typical fashion. I have been using it to make vanilla extract for all my cooking.
Firestone & Robertson Distilling Company
It is risky to put your money and time into a product that will not even be ready for sale for 2 years. But, Leonard Firestone and his partner, Troy Robertson have done just that. This small distillery was born in a 1920’s era Fort Worth building in the Near Southside District. To produce something called “bourbon” which is a protected name, the spirit has to meet certain criteria. One, it has to be made in the U.S. and contain at least 51% corn. And, two, it has to be aged for at least two years in charred oak barrels.
F&R put their first batch in barrels in 2012, so it still has a year to go. In a unique turn, they chose to create a local yeast strain for the fermenting. After testing various wild yeasts, they settled on a yeast found wild in pecan. They did this not only to tie the product into the landscape, so to speak, but because it would set their bourbon apart. Many whiskeys are made using the same lab manufactured yeast. This attempt to capture a wild and distinctive yeast has created, therefore, a unique flavor profile for this product. We will all get a chance to see if it pays off in a year, I suppose. They test the budding bourbon throughout its development. Also, like Dripping Springs’ use of the Texas waters, F&R are seeking to use what Texas grains they can in the product, so they are sourcing their grains to the extent possible in Texas. They use malted barley from nearby Rahr & Sons, a local beer brewery, which is not a Texas barley, but the tie-in with Rahr adds a certain local and communal feel to the mix.
In the meantime, they created a blended whiskey that could go to market immediately, using several premium whiskeys to create the blend that they like and it has apparently been a success. The feedback seems to all be quite positive. One more unique thing is that if you look at the corks for the whiskey there is a leather circle on the stopper. They get the leather from cowboy boots and boot manufacturers nearby so each top is a little bit different depending on when and where you buy the whiskey.
My guess is that this would not only be a great whiskey for having in your home but would be a very well received gift by any men in your life. I would also love to know if people are lining up to get a crack at the first bottles of the bourbon to come out of the distillery. I think they will have no problem finding takers for that.
If you find the notions of blending and distilling confusing just know that, as with the olive oils, words matter. A blend is created, with exceptions of course, with spirits created by someone else. If the bottle says that it was distilled by “so and so,” then the spirit was actually created by that company. So to be clear, and if I have my business straight, Firestone and Robertson are in the process of creating a house distilled bourbon and in the meantime are creating and bottling a blend of whiskeys made by others. Balcones Distilling in Waco and Garrison Brothers Distillery in Hye are craft distillers creating true Texas Whiskeys. Balcones, in fact, recently won a whole bucket full of awards for their whiskey at the New York Wine and Spirits Competition. Rebecca Creek Distillery in San Antonio has created a blend of procured bourbon and whiskey that they distill in-house. Got it. Great gifts, all. But know what you are getting. It is more fun that way. The Dallas Observer recently had a terrific article on the whiskeys being made in Texas. It is worth a read if you are considering purchasing some.
Texas is experiencing a craft beer renaissance, and I think it is fantastic. There is so much creativity and passion in this state and beer, wine, cheeses, breads…these living foods and drinks are a great canvas for it. I will cry no tears for the big beer boys losing a few of their sales to benefit these interesting Texas brands. They can handle it. I cannot think of a son, or husband, or daughter who wouldn’t mind a stocking with a few selections of craft beers. They are fun, they have neat names, they have cool bottles, the folks who make them are excited about them and from what I’m told, they are great. Again, I cook with them. I make batters for fried food with fun Texas beers and I’ve been known to throw one into a pot of beef stew. But the brands deserve a look if you have friends and families who enjoy beer. I have no fewer than 20 relatives who would expire of sheer joy if I sent them a box of beer containing a selection from each of the following craft brewers.
Great Texas Craft Beer
For Gifts: The very best spirit related gift in my opinion is a bottle of custom vanilla extract. Buy a limited edition bottle of Dripping Springs Vodka. It has bluebonnets on the label. Add nine split and scraped vanilla beans. It needs to steep for several weeks before being used for baking, but it is a wonderful alternative to the tiny bottles of extract. And, for a prolific baker, it is a very personal and useful gift. The others need no dolling up. Putting together a home bar or a big gift basket of Texas spirits, wine and beer is easy. I recommend trying Pogo’s. They are a local outfit and they have an incredible selection, as well as very friendly employees who can advise you on selections. Want to go all out, consider a pair of nice martini glasses, a bottle of Texas vodka, Texas olives and a shaker. Done. Guys don’t need a gift set. Give them a bottle of TX whiskey and call it good.
Finally, if you are into a “no stuff” kind of holiday, consider supporting some of these great organizations and non-profits.
Edible Dallas & Fort Worth
If you love supporting local and sustainable agriculture and local foods like the ones I’ve mentioned above, consider subscribing to Edible Dallas & Fort Worth. They shine a much needed light on many of the unseen, small, and new businesses in our area. Farmers markets are small business incubators, and farmers and ranchers and dairymen feed the world. Edible covers this beat like no other local publication. I’m biased, clearly.
For a full picture of what Foodways Texas is, you can read the many posts I’ve done about their fantastic Symposia and BBQ Camp. I’ve never had such fun supporting an academic mission. Foodways Texas exists to document the food culture(s) of Texas, and along the way, we are having a ball. In fact, I just wrote an article for Edible Dallas & Fort Worth about Foodways. It is a great place to start. Buy a membership for yourself or buy a gift membership for a friend or family member. You will then get first dibs on symposia tickets and tickets to BBQ and Brisket Camp.
Southern Foodways Alliance
Imagine Foodways Texas and then expand it all across the South. Membership to the Southern Foodways Alliance supports studies of the food cultures of the south and all that they imply, touching on the celebratory and the sticky issues. We all love cornbread. But cornbread isn’t just a bread any more than a cigar is just a cigar. Look at your plate and learn about history when you join these purposeful, but incredibly fun, groups.
Chad Houser, the much loved former chef at Parigi, now works in support of Café Momentum, an organization which provides opportunities for young men who have been convicted of crimes and are in pre-release or post-release programs. It provides mentors and training and inspiration for juvenile offenders in the sincerely held belief that if you put someone in an environment where they are encouraged and taught and where you have the highest positive expectations in their ability to overcome their circumstances and past missteps…they will soar. All of this is done in the context of the professional kitchen, where these young men work side by side with the area’s best chefs and rotate through each and every aspect of restaurant service. Very cool idea. Very inspired approach. Utterly worth our support.
VNA and The North Texas Food Bank
VNA is the provider of Meals on Wheels and Hospice for Dallas, and of course, this time of year a gift to them, or the North Texas Food Bank is always a huge help. Celebrate the holiday by ensuring that the most vulnerable amongst us are taken care of, as well.
My family has gotten into the habit of making “no stuff” gifts, by making donations to organizations like these in honor of one other. I don’t need more “stuff,” and I love knowing that money that might be spent on something frivolous for me, will go to an organization that truly makes a difference in my community. My life is improved when the lives in my community are improved.
Happy Holidays, friends! Many thanks to Edible Dallas & Fort Worth, the magazine that makes researching local finds very easy.