This year we partnered with Tennessee’s Blackberry Farm to create a Thanksgiving menu inspired by new recipes and old rituals. The farm’s chefs and artisans brought inventive dishes to the table, each with a personal twist. We talked to each of them about their favorite Thanksgiving traditions, as well as the inspiration behind their dishes — read on to hear their stories.
The seasons drive cheese making at Blackberry Farm, and the end products represent the land at a specific point in time. In the spring, soft ewe’s milk tastes of the wildflowers and grasses found in the pastures; in the fall, aged Singing Brook cheese is rich with caramel flavors. At the center of it all is Ryan Burger, the farm’s cheese maker and livestock manager. For our Thanksgiving menu, he created this wild mushroom and root vegetable gratin, topped with Brebis, a creamy sheep’s milk cheese he makes on the farm.
Tell us about your Thanksgiving family traditions: What’s on the menu? Who cooks what?
Growing up we had the Thanksgiving celebration at my dad’s parents house. We always had turkey, ham, baked sweet potatoes in homemade syrup, bogatchles, green bean casserole, warm potato salad and a Kielbasa and cheese tray. And, of course, the dessert assortment, including fresh pumpkin pie made with longneck pumpkins; poppy seed rolls; nut tossies made by my mom; and much more. Most of the the time my grandmother would do all of the cooking, except for my grandfather setting up the Kielbasa and cheese board.
What do you look forward to eating all year long? What’s the recipe that always has to be on the table?
The poppy seed rolls only made by grandmother. And the pumpkin pie has to be the standard, always made from scratch.
How important is tradition to your holiday meal?
Togetherness and food is what makes it a holiday.
What makes your Thanksgiving meal uniquely your own?
All of the dishes with Hungarian and German descent.
Tell us about the gratin you created for the Blackberry Farm/Williams-Sonoma Thanksgiving menu.
My original idea was a fresher, lighter play off of a traditional gratin, which just ends up being almost a casserole, with the trueness of the vegetable lost. This way, the vegetables stay distinct but still meld together very nicely, texture-wise as well as with flavor. I would much rather eat this than mashed potatoes.
If you put the appropriate amount of Brebis and pre-cook the other ingredients properly, there is no need for cream. Also, finishing the dish with the olive oil provides the necessary moistness and helps differentiate between the layers and ingredients.
How do you work cheese into the Thanksgiving meal?
I would make a Brie-style cheese en croute by taking a Magnolia-style cheese and topping it with jam and maybe some almonds, then wrapping it with rolled-out puff pastry dough and brushing it with egg white. Then I’d sprinkle some crushed almonds, a little sugar and sea salt on top and bake it at 375 degrees F for about 20 minutes. You can let it sit out until your guests come and want to munch on it, with no concern about the product drying out.
What are your tips for putting together a pre-meal cheese plate?
I love soft ripened bloomy-rinded cheese, like the Magnolia or Mountain Maid. I also love a good Boucherondin. But blues are also very high on the list.
What are your favorite cheeses to serve for Thanksgiving? To cook with throughout the meal?
One of my favorite things to cook is blue cheese grits. I also enjoy using feta or the Brebis in salads.