Thursday, June 20, 2013

Finding the Source of Your Food

[Note: This post, prepared originally for the NC Folklife Institute's NCFood blog, is hosted on the institute’s website, with excerpts and a link to the website posted here.] 

            When you eat in a restaurant, do you think about the farms that provide your meal? At excellent way to visit the source of your food is the annual farm tours conducted in our state.
Farm tour signs direct the way to
find the source of your food.
            Earlier this year I explored several farms as part of the Piedmont Farm Tour, held on the final weekend every April by the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. This tour is one of two in North Carolina – the other is the Eastern Triangle Farm Tour – and one of four that the association sponsors. One farm – the Captain J.S. Pope Farm -- in particular is intriguing.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Food Judging and BBQ Contests

A badge indicating certified judge
established credibility.
Do you enjoy tasting award-winning barbeque? When eating barbeque, do you compare it to a standard and rate it for taste or tenderness? If you do, you may want to attend a class and be trained as a certified judge by an authorized organization. Having the credibility of certification is particularly important when cooks are competing against each other such as in a BBQ contest.

Carol Bigler explains the judging process.
The judging class that I attended was taught by Randy and Carol Bigler of Huntsville, Alabama, who have been the Kansas City Barbeque Society's representatives to several state championships. In the class I learned how important the competitions are for the cooking teams and how much expense and effort each competitive event requires. I also realized that judging has to be taught. Even though some in the class might have thought that they are natural judges, they learned to apply consistently the Society’s standards.

Many BBQ cooking contests are now sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society -- not the most Southern of organizations since it is based in the mid-West (and also international) but it seems to be the leading group for sanctioning BBQ contests in the South as well as across the United States. The Society typically judges in four categories:
·        Shoulder, a pork entry that may be cooked in one piece or divided into two (arm picnic and Boston butt)
·        Pork ribs, which can be spare ribs (11 to 13 bones), St. Louis style (with brisket bone and all skirt meat removed), or baby back ribs (also known as loin ribs)
·        Chicken, prepared whole, half, or any combination; with or without skin; and all white or dark meat or a combination
·        Beef brisket, the underside chest muscle from beef cattle.
Regardless of category, I was surprised how the training class focused us on the quality of a meat’s cooking and not the category that the meat represented.

Large trailers haul everything
important for a cooking team.
Each category is judged according to three criteria: appearance, taste, and tenderness. A table captain presents each entry for judges to score appearance. Then each judge receives a sample to evaluate tenderness and taste on a scorecard. Each criterion is scored from a high of 9 (excellent) to a low of 2 (inedible), except when an entry is disqualified (and receives a score of 1). After a brief explanation and a few samples, most of the judges in training scored samples (prepared by a team that has already won regional awards) in relative uniform pattern -- proof that we were learning the Society’s standards.

In a contest, a table of six judges evaluates each entry, which can be submitted chopped, pulled, slices or diced. Each judge has to evaluate by the standards of the Society rather than personal preferences, and KCBS rules can be very specific. For example, although everyone has a personal idea of what makes a rib good, the Society specifies that the meat of an excellent pork rib must come off the bone with very little effort and only where the judge bites. The Society considers ribs overcooked if the meat falls all the entire bone while biting. In addition, a cook can use garnish such as green lettuce or parsley but no kale or red-tipped lettuce.

Sign alerts arrivals to location of class.
After attending six hours of instruction and sampling several entries in each category, I received what I wanted: Certification as a BBQ Judge. Now I’m ready to go on the road and judge. If you like barbecue and are interested in judging, learn more about the Society’s Judge Certification Program. Similar training classes are held in most states several times a year. The perks of a certified judge are great: tasting award-winning barbeque.