Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Pumpkins at the retreat: An October dinner at Moss Mountain with P. Allen Smith.

CHEESES:  Six and some honey
Oh, hi there. Apologies. I’ve been recovering from more than two weeks of fair foods and travel.
The one really spectacular culinary spot in that span came Saturday night out at P. Allen Smith’s Moss Mountain Farm, where photographer Grav Weldon and I joined more than a hundred other people for Pumpkin Fest, another Farm to Table event. Of course, everything was gorgeous, including the food prepared by North Carolina based Chef Ashley Christensen.
More on the jump.
The event, benefiting Oxford American Magazine and the Heritage Poultry Conservancy, was breathtaking. Moss Mountain Farm itself is breathtaking. Grav took off when we got there shooting all over the place… I didn’t let him in on the secret of Smith’s Garden Home until we were seated at dinner.
There was a lot going on when we got there (we were late on assignment work) — martini tastings in the back garden with vodka from Rock Town Distillery, wine tastings from  Louisiana’s Pontchartrain Vineyards, blueberry tastings in yet another garden… there was a guitarist playing between the two cottages out back and tours of the Garden Home.
As always, I was dazzled by the most functional looking gourmet house kitchen I’ve ever seen. I love that kitchen. I think even Grav was breathless with it.
We also talked with Danny and Jeff with the Heritage Poultry Conservancy. I’ll be sharing more about that fine group later.
Dinner on the grounds this time around was a much more pleasant experience; the last Farm to Table dinner in July was roasting, though the food and the company was stellar. It was a very nice selection of items, for sure, and comfortably casual.
On the table when we were seated were a number of items: pickled vegetables from Smith’s own garden, including Japanese turnips and radishes, cucumbers and red bell peppers. The pickling was rather tart, and it was hard for me to try more than a little bit of the dish. Grav, on the other hand, loved it, especially those little Japanese turnips and radishes.
There was bread and butter — butter actually made by Chef Christensen on-site from buttermilk cream. It was nicely rich and a little salty. The bread basket was full of variety — French rounds, sourdough and a deliciously slightly sweet multigrain brown bread. Of course, I could live on good bread and cheese…
And there was that… the cheese. There was a platter of six cheeses awaiting us, including a finely tuned and beautiful Blue, a light goat cheese, darker hard cheeses and a Brie that was nicely creamy and salty. Christensen had paired up the cheeses with locally harvested honey from Marvell. I loved the combination of Brie and honey. It was divine.
Dinner itself was served buffet style, and everyone in their turn got a chance at the simple yet rich repast.
The star of the dinner was the lamb. No joke, it’s the tastiest thing I’ve put in my mouth all week, pit roasted with a mint vinegar that just shined so well. The 2005 Rouge Militaire served with it cut the sweetness from the lamb. It was a surprisingly meaty wine with tones of cinnamon and pepper. It had a story of its own — the grapes were harvested ahead of Hurricane Katrina, and the vintner had to be away from the vineyard during the wine birthing process. Interesting.
Grav was all over the mushrooms, big Matsutakes sliced and carefully sautéed with thyme. They were strong and meaty. I goobed over the sweet potatoes — Baby Beauregards that Christensen and Smith had dug the day before, baked simply with brown sugar and mustard. I couldn’t get enough of them. Now I’m going to have to try putting mustard in my sweet potatoes.
There was also the unusual dish of charred Brussels sprouts, gently sliced and served up with Pecorino cheese and pomegranate seeds. The green salad this combination created was powerfully good; in fact, I had to point out to a couple of our nearby diners they were actually enjoying Brussels sprouts. A lovely combination.
Dessert, though… that was something else. I repeatedly confess to not being a bread pudding fan, and still I am confronted with it over and over again. But the Pumpkin Challah Bread Pudding was well composed and balanced. It was custardy throughout, and the imprint of Dulce de Leche under the Crème Fraiche was irresistible. I’d promised myself just a taste but made it halfway through before restraint caught up with me; Grav about knocked his out.
It was a splendid evening, and even though the burn ban prevented fireworks or the usual bonfire there was still music and enjoyment to be had with Runaway Planet. The evening was relaxed and comfortable.
The next such event will come next May. Let’s hope for pleasant weather then and a little rain now — Smith mentioned that Moss Mountain Farm hadn’t had a lick of rain in 45 days. Should be interesting to see what comes next.

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