As some of you may have read, we recently helped rescue an exposed honeybee hive here in Orlando, FL. In the future, I'll use honey from the bottom of that hive in all sorts of charcuterie and cured meats. Exactly where it ends up will depend on our farmers rather than our own artistic ideology. We'll be calling farms to see what cuts they are having trouble moving. And what the chefs aren't buying, I am.
Recently, I read Dan Barber's book, The Third Plate. One of the things that stood out most to me was that despite our best intentions, the "farm-to-table" movement hasn't been as successful as we want to believe it is.
In part, it's because we aren't supporting small farmers when it comes to helping them move things like rotational crop, by-products, and off-commodity cuts of meat. If we truly want to support this movement, we need to find ways to utilize product that small farms are having difficulty moving.
To the beekeeper's detriment, most people want transparent honey from the top of the hive. On the contrary, I want that thick, heavy, baker's grade honey from the bottom. It has a maltier flavor that is more like molasses. I use it in brines and cures to make bacon and country hams. More importantly, other people don't ask for it. Baker's grade honey is the offal of the beehive. It's dark and gritty. You might find a leg or a wing in it. But in the brining and curing applications that I use it in, all of that gets washed away. What is left is a flavor that has much more depth than the brown sugar that would normally be in it's place. Beyond that, and more importantly, I am helping out my beekeeper in moving a product that helps keep his operation sustainable.
When I was learning to cook, I was taught that the benchmark of a great chef laid in their ability to cook what other chefs might throw out. Learn how to cook with liver, blood, tripe, and trotters. Learn how to make country pate, headcheese, and stuffed pig trotter. Learn how to work with pig ears, tendons, and tails. When you know those techniques you become a more valuable chef. Not only to your guest, but to the people who supply your ingredients. You can make money on what other cooks throw away and help your suppliers at the same time.
There is a complex story to be told on every plate of food. I believe that the more involved we are in that story the more we appreciate life. Something as simple as bacon can be so much more complex than the sum of its parts. And the closer we are to each part, the more we will appreciate that bacon.