Pretzel/Potato Chip Tasting, and Jim Meets Chickens

Banner Elk, North Carolina

Maverick Farms
Maverick Farms (410 Justus Road, Banner Elk, North Carolina; 828-963-4656) has become one of my favorite getaways. I can’t write about the place objectively anymore because I’ve become friends with the proprietors, but my original article about them, written several years ago, still delivers the gist. So, before I update, let me replay that piece:

The Enigma of Maverick Farms

Maverick Farms is hard to describe. It’s an organic, politically aware nonprofit small farm run by super-foodie hipsters who bring a dot-com sensibility to their work. Remember all those Internet upstarts back in 1998 where nobody outside—or even inside—the company understood what the company actually did, and everything rolled forward via sheer exuberance? That’s Maverick Farms. They claim to grow things, and I actually did see some salad greens growing plus a few chickens, but … I don’t know. I suspect Maverick Farms is more of a state of mind than an actual farming operation. To be fair, though, I did arrive late in the season. The badminton court may brim with soybeans and corn in the summer, who knows?

It’s a beautiful big farmhouse on a beautiful creek in a beautiful hollow, though, and that’s all that matters, from the viewpoint of an agritourist (their term for guests). They rent out (short or long term) some rooms, e.g. a beautiful downstairs corner space with awesome view and veranda and private bathroom for just $65/night, or a little monastic bedroom for a mere $25/night—a steal in this increasingly boutiquey area. Speaking of the area, I was strongly corrected that western North Carolina is NOT the South—it’s Appalachia. People hereabouts fought on the Union side.

For an extra $13/day, you can be served dinner, which is excellent and very California-style, very much about letting the goodness of the ingredients sing out. And the ingredients are up to the task. Those salad greens, for example, are hallucinogenic in their intensity and persistence of flavor; coated with a dab of oil and vinegar, they steal every meal they accompany. Portions are modest; a typical dinner consists of a shallow bowl of squash soup, and some of those psychedelic salad greens with freshly baked bread and well-chosen olive oil, all top-drawer.

The Mavericks have channels to get unpasturized farm milk (they’re all about channels; their forte seems more in provisioning rather than in actual growing). It comes in enormous jars from which you scoop out rich, extra vivid life-affirming milk. Cereal will never taste the same again.

I attended one of Maverick Farms’ occasional $35 farm dinners. It could be described in two ways: 1. a way to divest the local gentry of some of their lucre in order to support the operation, or 2. an outpouring of culinary expressionism from exuberant cooks using ingredients grown or procured with a great deal of care and who love an excuse to blow out a serious dinner.

The menu will give you the idea:

  • Cornmeal Flatbread with Garlic and Parsley Confit, Olive Tapenade, and Homemade Ricotta-Chipotle Spread

  • Springhouse Farm Fresh Salad
  • Candy Roaster Squash Soup Garnished with Spicy Cilantro Pesto
  • Cider Glazed Pork Roast with Homemade Pear Chutney and Root-Vegetable Puree or (for vegetarians) Homemade Ricotta and Sage Gnocchi
  • Both Entrees Garnished with Braised Greens
  • Sweet Potato Flan with Sesame Tuilles

Long tables are set up in the farmhouse, and the aforementioned gentry (professors at a local college, landowners, yuppie gentrifiers) get their status buttons pushed via several courses of fancy gourmet cooking described with a rich cavalcade of adjectives. For my part, I enjoyed some top-notch flavors as well as some (charming) near misses. Guests bring their own wine, and nobody shares.

These infrequent dinners aside, if you’re looking for a rustic getaway at very reasonable price, and want to immerse yourself in some very high level rural-yet-sophisticated foods and foodways, Maverick Farms is a smart choice. Note: I actually split wood.

This time I arrived earlier in the season and saw some actual farming going on. Not at any vast scale, but certainly some interesting—even weirdo—foods. I’ll let Leo Gaev of Maverick Farms take you on four video tours.

Video 1: Wild volunteer tomatoes, husk cherries, and purple Osaka

Video 2: Hops … and a major greenhouse initiative

Video 3: Meet Leo’s bees

Video 4: Surrealistically fastidious chickens

I risked my life to bring you this report.

This is not actually food. Look closely.

Typical Maverick Farms salad (all homegrown, of course)

Let the pretzel tasting begin …

Pennsylvania Dutch Pretzel and Potato Chip Tasting Notes

Way back in installment #8, I went a bit overboard at Yoder’s Market in New Holland, Pennsylvania, filling my shopping cart compulsively with bag after bag of lardy potato chips and hand-pulled pretzels. At Maverick Farms, a tasting panel was organized to evaulate them. The following are my conclusions, with input from the panel.

Pretzels

Old Fashioned Hammond’s Hand Made
Pretzels
(”... taste the difference”)
Very malty, almost like malted milk. Uninteresting texture.

Unique Pretzels Splits
A clean, simple, pure pretzel. Good for an extended pretzel bender.

Martin’s Special Handmade Pretzels —Akron, Pennsylvania
Shattery texture. Each pretzel is unique, varying in darkness, saltiness, thinness, everything. Very interesting and delicious.

Martin’s Hand Twisted Hearth Pretzels
Light color. Crumbly/crunchy rather than shattery. Funky flavors —I taste onion and pork, but the ingredients list reveals nothing unusual.

Uncle Henry’s Handmade Pretzels
I can taste the wood oven they’re baked in, but it’s subtle. Check out the ashes on the salt! Fine crunch.

The following three brands tasted soapy/perfumy because they’d apparently been poorly stored at the grocery.

Wege of Hanover Broken Sourdough Hard Pretzels

King’s Broken Hard Pretzels

Dieffenbach’s Sourdough Broken Pretzels

Lard-Fried Potato Chips

Dieffenbach’s
I hardly taste potato. It’s all pig. There are chips where you have to point out the fact that they’re lard-fried to people. Dieffenbach’s are not among those chips. Good texture, and they’re thick-cut.

Good’s Blue Bag
Also very lardy, but the potato flavor shines through (unlike in Dieffenbach’s!). Texture is more shattery than crisp.

Good’s Red Bag
Lard is very nicely integrated; more potato-y than Lewis Good’s or Dieffenbach’s.

Nibble with Gibble’s
This chip does it all. Texture is full-out crisp, not flaky. This is the first one where I find my hand reaching for more.

Family Owned Markets Kettle Cooked
A generic chip I’d never spotted before. We think they’re Dieffenbach’s.

Other Snacks

Utz Classic Russets Gourmet Dark potato chips
Not lard-fried, but I love ‘em. My favorite dark chips since Cape Cod went downhill.

Kettle Krisp All Natural Caramel Corn
Ingredients: brown sugar, popcorn, corn syrup, salt.
Without butter, it tastes overly simple, like Cracker Jacks sans prize.