Q&A with Michael Sullivan, Butcher at Blackberry Farm

Chefs, Meet, Thanksgiving

Q&A with Michael Sullivan, Butcher at Blackberry Farm

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. 


As Blackberry Farm’s butcher and charcutier, Michael Sullivan creates handcrafted sausages, salami and more to serve in the resort’s dining rooms. He takes pride in using traditional methods and adding a small part of himself to every product he makes. For our Thanksgiving menu, he created this gluten-free spoon bread with guanciale, a nod to classic Southern ingredients.


How did you become interested in butchering and charcuterie?

My first chef, John Mantrom, was German-influenced. He did a lot of large-muscle breakdown as well as making fresh sausages.


Tell us about your background and what brought you to Blackberry Farm.

After working in New York, my wife and I wanted to return to our Southern roots, and we started looking around. We came upon Blackberry Farm and, after visiting there, I knew this was the place I wanted to come and work.


What is Blackberry Farm’s philosophy on raising livestock, and how does that affect how you operate?

The philosophy behind the meat program is to source the best products we can find that are raised in a humane and sustainable way, where the farmers treat their animals with respect and pride.


The animals we raise on the property are such a big part of our farm. We feed them the whey from the cheese making, the spent grain from the beer, vegetables from the farm, the good trimmings from the kitchen and, of course, leftover bread from the bakers. They are given plenty of room to roam across our beautiful property.


 What is unique about the charcuterie you make at Blackberry Farm?

It is the old style of butchering, curing and hanging — bringing it to the present day and time.


Can you tell us about the different products you make and flavors you use?

Sopressata is classic salumi that is made with all pork, white wine, a little bit of pepper flakes and garlic. The Finocchiona is made with pork, white wine and fennel pollen. The Toscano is a bold salumi with pork, red wine, garlic, pepper flakes and fennel.  Guanciale is a cured pork jowl with a very sweet and complex flavor that can replace bacon or pancetta.


How do you work with the other chefs and artisans on the farm to create dishes?

We talk about upcoming ingredients that will be available to use and the products we are currently making, and how the chefs might be able to use them.


What does a typical day at work look like for you? 

A table full of pork and ingredients, mixing it with my hands and just adding in the love. Everything I do is made with my hands and the passion of my heart.


What do you love about your job?

I get to play with pork everyday.


Spoon Bread

What was the inspiration behind the spoon bread you created for the Williams-Sonoma/Blackberry Farm Thanksgiving menu? How does it complement the philosophy of BBF?

The dish was inspired by a corn pudding that my grandmother made, with the addition of pork jowl. It has a family comfort with a Southern flare; the use of late-season corn and great corn meal keeps with the Blackberry Farm tradition.


What do you look forward to eating all year long at Thanksgiving? 

Anything but turkey (I process about 80 turkeys each year). My mom’s dressing and my dad’s famous pumpkin pie.


What are some general tips for creating a holiday charcuterie platter?

Making a charcuterie platter can be a fun addition to your Thanksgiving tradition. Have a selection of different meats such as salumi, pate, or other cured meats. Simply slice them and arrange them nicely on a board, and add some fall preserves and pickles. Serve with toasted bread or crackers.


How does the addition of meat boost flavor in dishes? How are some ways you can add different kinds of meats into your menu?

The addition of meats in a dish can provide a nice savory or salty element. I like to use rendered bacon, jowl, slivers of salumi and smoked shanks in different recipes to enhance the flavor. I also like cooking with meat stocks to add hidden meat flavor.


What are some stuffing tips for home cooks? 

I do not recommend stuffing a turkey. By the time the stuffing reaches a safe temperature, the turkey will be overcooked. Cook the stuffing on the side and stuff the turkey with aromatics like onions, garlic, thyme and sage.


Read more about Thanksgiving at Blackberry Farm.

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