T ennessee has a rich culinary history with far-reaching influence and continues to grow as a hot destination for food lovers. But long before tourists flocked to the Nashville area to dine at award-winning restaurants, producers from all across the Middle Tennessee region were making foods that were popular both locally and around the world. Today, more and more entrepreneurs are joining the artisanal food scene and making our state all the tastier.
One of the most wonderful things about living in Middle Tennessee is the large number of working, food-producing farms, some operating within Nashville’s city limits. In addition to the farms that grow fruits and vegetables, many of these farms produce prepared food products. In Franklin, Noble Springs Dairy Farm raises the goats that provide the milk for their line of artisanal goat cheese. Not far away, The Hatcher Family raises dairy cows and sells their own line of milk, including rich whole milk (that you have to shake to mix in the cream), chocolate milk and “energy milk” enriched with added whey protein. Both dairy farms host educational tours, as well. Franklin is also home to honey producers Williams Honey Farm and TruBee Honey, both of which have received national recognition for their small-batch honey.
A little further out, The Farm in Summertown produces FarmSoy tofu from its own soybeans; Half Hill Farm in Woodbury produces kombucha, tonics and extracts from produce grown on site; and Glendale Farm in Columbia raises animals to provide cuts of chicken, pork, beef and lamb. East of Nashville, in Lebanon, Wedge Oak Farm also raises animals to provide cuts of poultry, pork and beef. All of these products are available to buy directly from the farmers or through local retail outlets.
Not every food producer has a farm, but many partner with local farmers to get their ingredients. Here in Nashville, Ousley Ouch uses local and regional ingredients for its salsa, and small pickle producer Brantley Pantry also uses local ingredients for its pickles and sauces. Sugar Plum Foods in White House produces Tennessee Chow Chow, the very popular relish available in grocery stores throughout the area. Tortilleria Santo Niño de Atocha in Gallatin makes fresh tortilla chips daily with corn grown at local farms.
In Murfreesboro, The Hamery produces cured hams as well as “Tennshootoe,” aged, dry-cured ham that is thinly sliced; it’s a Tennessee version of prosciutto. In Woodbury, Short Mountain Cultures is producing a line of fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi and tempeh. The tempeh is not just patties of fermented soybeans; other locally-grown beans are used, as well, including black-eyed peas.
There are still more artisanal food producers bringing a world of ingredients together in their own unique ways. One of the most popular artisans is Tom Lazzaro of Lazzaroli Pasta. He’s been selling his handmade pasta here for 15 years, as well as fresh-made mozzarella (only on Saturdays), sauces and a nice selection of complementary products in his Germantown (Nashville) store. One of the newer products you can find at Lazzaroli is Nashville’s own Wise Butter, compound butters made from Plugra combined with jams or seasonings to make sweet or savory butters for spreading or finishing. The chipotle butter is perfect on a steak; the vegan butter with smoked salt is fantastic spread on a slice of sourdough.
In Franklin, Nut Butter Nation is making a different kind of flavored butter: flavored peanut butters such as honey vanilla and salted caramel, using all-natural, non-GMO ingredients. Nashville’s Burch Milk makes non-dairy nut milks instead of butters. Using actual nuts (as opposed to peanuts, which are legumes), Burch Milk makes beverages from almonds, hazelnuts, macadamias and cashews and adds delicate flavorings to make them delicious.
Nashville’s Hummus Chick makes snacking better with flavors including the classic as well as roasted garlic and cilantro and spicy hummus with pesto. If it’s crunch you’re looking for, there’s Nashville’s Nola Granola, which takes granola to another level with flavors such as bourbon pecan and peanut butter brittle. Primm Springs-based Twin Forks Farm makes vegan and organic granola that’s great for breakfast with flavors like maple almond and raisin orange walnut.
No list of favorite Nashville foods would be complete without pimento cheese. Mrs. Grissom’s has been making pimento cheese salad in Nashville for decades (along with chicken salad, ham salad and other prepared foods). Newcomer Daddy Bob’s makes small-batch pimento cheese in bacon and veggie varieties. Professor Bailey’s puts another twist on pimento cheese by making it extra spicy, as well as combining it into dough for their unique spicy pimento cheese biscuits.