Made in the South Awards

2015 Food Category

A new class of Southern artisans have turned their passion for craftsmanship and quality into a way of life

Photo: Tara Donne

Food Category Winner: Oliver Farm

Oliver Farm
Product: Artisan oils
Made in: Pitts, GA
Est.: 2013

“Let’s just say, I wasn’t a foodie before this,” says Clay Oliver, a Georgia farmer who was looking for a new source of income during the recession. It had been a good year for his sunflowers, so he bought a press and tried his hand at making oil. It turned out so well that he began experimenting with the pecans and peanuts he also grows on the generations-old farm where he grew up. “Most people don’t realize that the cheap peanut oil you buy at the store comes from the damaged and diseased crop,” he says. “The flavor of oil made with quality nuts can be a revelation.” Just two years after he first sent out samples, you’ll now find his oils at some of the best restaurants in the country: Miller Union in Atlanta; Husk in Nashville and Charleston, South Carolina; Extra Fancy in Brooklyn. And he has earned a following among home cooks who swear by them for everything from frying fish to sautéing vegetables to finishing salads. But Oliver’s number-one buyer is still his local grocery store: “Nothing makes me happier or more proud than my hometown supporting us.”

Price: $5–$25

Food Category: Runners-Up

Preserving Place
Product: Small-batch jams and condiments
Made in: Atlanta, GA
Est.: 2013

In 2008, Martha McMillin launched an important project: sitting down with her mother, Martharene, to codify the family recipes of her country childhood. It started with learning how to put up summertime corn for a Thanksgiving creamed corn dish and quickly progressed to jams, pickles, condiments, and more—all made in season using fresh Southern staples and not much else. McMillin became so committed to making the old-school favorites that she left a high-paying job to devote herself to the pursuit full-time, opening a charming kitchen and storefront not far from downtown. It isn’t an easy living, but locals can taste the difference in her offerings—from apple butter to spiced muscadines to watermelon-rind pickles. “In a cheap jam, sugar will be the first ingredient,” she says. “In ours, it’ll be peaches.”

Price: $13–$15

Woodlands Pork
Product: Mountain Ham
Made in: Louisville, KY
Est.: 2005

This country ham tastes like the Appalachian Mountains in the fall, thanks to cure master Jay Denham and his partners, Nick Heckett and Chuck Talbott. In addition to grazing on more than 350 acres of barley, sunflowers, and root vegetables, their heritage pigs—hybrids of Ossabaw and other pre-industrial breeds—forage woodlands for the persimmons, black walnuts, and acorns that fill the forest floor come autumn. “My ingredients are mostly pork and salt,” says Denham, a former chef who has spent nearly two decades studying the art of charcuterie, both in the United States and in Italy. “So the pork has to be good.” Applying old-world curing techniques to animals raised primarily on the Appalachian bounty, he makes ham that rivals the best of Europe—and goes awfully well with a glass of bourbon, too.

Price: From $25

Shotwell Candy Co.
Product: Toffee
Made in: Memphis, TN
Est.: 2012

Jerrod Smith came up with the caramels that kicked off his business after making a batch as a gift for friends and discovering a talent for the confectionery arts that became a full-blown obsession. But his grandmother gave him the inspiration for the toffee he launched this year in three flavors: classic, espresso, and trail mix. Working in two-pound batches, he takes the same hands-on approach that has made it a family favorite for generations. “When you’re making small amounts, you can get it to just the right consistency,” he says. And because Smith packs it on ice during the warmer months to preserve the toffee’s snap, you’ll never end up with the gooey mess that some commercial formulas can create. “You get that crunchy, buttery, nutty, caramelized bite that won’t stick to the roof of your mouth.”

Price: $6