Made in the South Awards

2014 Food Category

A longtime hunter takes inspiration from the duck blind to craft next-level caramels

photo: Jennifer Causey

Food Winner

Olive and Sinclair
Product: Duck-fat caramels
Made in: Nashville, TN
Est. 2009

Scott Witherow has been a duck hunter all his life. He’s also a confectioner—the talent behind Olive and Sinclair, one of the South’s most successful up-and-coming candy shops. He made his name with creative chocolates that incorporate such regional standbys as buttermilk, bacon, and bourbon. Witherow’s latest creation, dreamed up in a duck blind, is yet another exploration of Southern flavor that combines two lifelong pursuits. “Using duck fat instead of butter brings a unique richness to caramel,” he says. “It’s like the difference between frying potatoes in butter and frying them in duck fat.” But that doesn’t mean these caramels taste like part of a hunt camp dinner. The fat is a subtle presence, a counterbalance to a healthy amount of cane sugar, alongside traces of salt, pepper, chile, and thyme. “You wouldn’t want the caramels to be overly savory,” Witherow says. “Balance is important.” Not only do the caramels pay tribute to the sporting life, but the box they arrive in also tells a story: Decades ago, the company responsible for Witherow’s packaging manufactured boxes for a now-defunct shotgun shell company. It agreed to let the confectioner adapt the design to suit his purposes—as with the caramels, bringing a little bit of his own flair to a classic.

Price: $20 for a box of twenty-four

Food Category Runners-Up

Society Fair
Product: Green sausage
Made in: Alexandria, VA
Est. 2012

Pork and greens go together like, well, ham hocks and collards. And you’ll rarely see the two Southern staples combined in a neater package than the pork and mustard green sausage at Society Fair, chef Cathal Armstrong’s Alexandria, Virginia, market and restaurant. According to a legend endorsed by Armstrong and his collaborator Dan Fisher, who oversees the kitchen, the sausage has its origins with a hurried farmer’s wife whose cat tipped a bowl of ground pork into a bowl of greens, forcing her to stuff the two together. But the confident balance of fatty pork and spicy mustard greens in this link is no accident. “The combination has just always made a lot of sense to us,” Fisher says. The sausage is a self-contained meal, really, and needs little more than a hot cast-iron pan, a bun, and a smear of mustard.

Price: $8 for three

Sunburst Trout Farms
Product: Caviar
Made in: Canton, NC
Est. 1948

“The fall, when our fish traditionally spawn, was always such a pain,” says Sally Eason, the second-generation proprietor of Sunburst Trout Farms, which supplies rainbow trout to some of the foremost restaurants in the South. “We’d bring in lots of females, and every belly you’d split open, the eggs would fall all over the floor.” Then in the early 1980s, her father, Sunburst founder Dick Jennings, realized that he might be able to do something with those torrents of spilled roe. With help from an Eastern European friend who was experienced in the ways of sturgeon caviar, Jennings settled on a subtle brine that preserves the eggs without overwhelming their natural flavor. The result: delicate globes, each one perfectly distinct, that taste like trout fresh from the opalescent waters of the Western  North Carolina mountains.

Price: $52 for a two-ounce jar

photo: Jennifer Causey

Bulls Bay Saltworks
Product: Carolina Flake salt
Made in: McClellanville, SC
Est. 2012

You think you know salt. But try a pinch from Bulls Bay, and then a sample from a big-name competitor, and you’ll understand what salt maker Teresa Gooden means when she de-scribes how textures and flavors of different salts can vary widely depending on location and environmental factors. “Ours has a very briny flavor, and is a little bit on the sweet side,” she says. Gooden wasn’t always so focused on seasoning. She and her husband, Rustin, spent years working as wilderness guides before settling down in the little fishing town of McClellanville, where their experiments with seawater birthed a business. Now they sell several varieties of local sea salt, including crystallized, melt-on-your-tongue flakes. Look for them in boutique grocery stores across the country, where they’re nudging imports off the shelves.

Price: $15 a jar