I Have Tasted the Future, and It Is Smoky!

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No, not that UT fleabag hound of a mascot named Smokey, I'm talking about the wonderful sweet brown-sugary, slightly acrid tang that can only be achieved by the exposure to smoldering wood. And nobody is more of a master at infusing smoke into food than the master himself, Allan Benton. Allan has been known for years for producing some of the best artisan hams and bacon in the country out of his small wood smokehouse in Madisonville, Tenn. Most of the best chefs in the South hold him up with reverential awe as they mete out morsels of his smoky goodness into their finest dishes. Lucky Nashvillians can pick up Benton's bacon at a few retail locations like Lazzaroli's and Mitchell Delicatessen, or there's always the mail-order option.

But gentle readers, I am here to tell you a delicious secret that will revolutionize your ability to enjoy the fruits of Allan's efforts and may possibly be the best single food item ever to come out of Nashville. How does Olive and Sinclair Smoked Nib Brittle sound to you? I'll give you a moment to get back in your chair and ponder this wonderful development. Now a little background. ...

Last month at the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival, I was lucky enough to sneak into one of the most popular seminars of the entire weekend, titled "Booze and Chocolate."

James Hensley, the general manager and mixologist at Patterson House, moderated a discussion and made cocktails featuring the products of two other Nashville favorites, Corsair Artisan Distillery and Olive and Sinclair Chocolate Co. We also sampled a few beta test products from both Corsair and Olive and Sinclair, including a chocolate-infused whiskey and something else that proved to be the show stopper. Before I tell you what it is, you have to picture that people were flipping over chairs to get to the front of the room for extra samples when it was offered. Now a little background. ...

Scott Witherow, the founder of Olive & Sinclair got to talking with Allan Benton a few months ago about a way to capitalize on the bacon craze that continues to sweep across many aspects of creative food development and the rest of the zeitgeist as well.

They discussed smoking some whole cocoa beans for use in a chocolate bar, but in the end decided that Scott would roast and winnow the beans and send the resulting nibs to Allan to add his smoky magic. After a few days in the smoker, neither of them was sure that the nibs had taken the flavor, but after a quick tasting it was evident that had something great on their hands.

Scott experimented with several recipes employing the nibs until he came up with the idea of creating a pseudo-brittle made using their 67 percent cacao single-origin Ghana chocolate. The genius process involves making a caramel base, adding the smoked nibs, some kosher salt, fresh cracked black pepper, and butter. The craftsmen at Olive and Sinclair then spread it on their prep tables, season it again and coat it with tempered 67 percent cacao single-origin Ghana. The resulting brittle is sweet, salty, savory, smoky and chocolatey. (Sorry the alliteration train ran out of steam at the end of that description, but just calling it "awesome" would have been too easy of an out.)

Scott says he feels fortunate to be working on this sort of project with an icon like Allan Benton. We Nashvillians are the lucky ones since we'll get to buy it wherever Olive and Sinclair is sold, hopefully in the next few weeks. This will be a limited-production product, so hoarding might be a good tactic.

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