For The Five Days of Meat, regular contributor Timmons Pettigrew convenes with some of the personalities bringing top meat products Charleston, in a series he likes to call "Eater Meets the Meaters."
If you've eaten a particularly tasty meat special at one of Charleston's finer and/or hipper restaurants, there's a chance it came from a rare breed of animal raised on a tree-laden farm in Georgia by Bradley Taylor. There are relatively few people raising "heritage Southern livestock," and even fewer of them got their start in the tech industry. "Renaissance Man" comes to mind when thinking about Taylor, but it's a bit too easy of a label for the guy who also that co-launched the over-the-top Meat Beer Fire event series last year.
Eater scored an interview with Taylor during the first week of June, discussing his operation, his relationship with local chefs, and his kickass van.
Your operation has been referred to as LJ Woods Farms and Revival Foods. What does each name represent?
LJ Woods Farm is the actual farm where the animals are raised. Revival Foods is a food distribution company that sells meat from LJ Woods Farm as well as other area farmers that have interesting products.
How would you describe your "meat business," in brief? What sets it apart from others?
We focus entirely on rare breeds or hybrids derived from rare breeds.
How much of an animal's cycle from birth to plate, do you personally handle? Do you slaughter, butcher, etc., yourself?
In general, we handle the animals from birth to delivery to the abattoir, although we do buy animals from other farmers to supplement our supply and support heritage breeders that do not directly market to restaurants. This is where the distinction between LJ Woods Farm and Revival Foods was born.
On the flip side, LJ Woods Farm also sells live animals as breeding or slaughter stock to other farmers. For example, I'm selling most of my beef crop this year "on the hoof," as the market for lean, pastured beef has been limited for us. Live cattle prices are up so it makes financial sense to sell in one lot as opposed to distributing to restaurants over the course of the year. If beef prices continue to rise, then we might discover a new market for local beef with chefs.
At this time we do not process the animals ourselves, but rather at an Animal Welfare-approved facility in South Carolina.
Where are you based?
Sylvania, GA, across the river from Allendale, SC.
How did you start getting your products integrated into Charleston kitchens?
We did a lot of guerrilla marketing and silly stuff. For example, we stalked Sean Brock while he was grilling burgers at a book signing event at Heirloom Bookshop. After we were introduced to Craig Deihl, we gave him one of every species on our farm for heritage breed "meat science." During the 2012 Charleston Wine + Food Festival, we gave Josh Keeler a pig head as a gift!
Sara Clow at GrowFood Carolina and Matt Lee were also super helpful introducing us to folks.
The primary way we get to know our customers is by eating at their restaurants and introducing ourselves. We met Joey [Ryan] and Josh [Walker] at Xiao Bao Biscuit sitting at their bar trying to recover from Brewvival one year. Sometimes we'll bring special cuts, homemade hooch, or goodies from our garden for the chef when we go out to eat. Being a purveyor and a customer creates a unique relationship.
We love food and enjoy collaborating with chefs on how our products might fit their menu and vision. Cooking with heritage meat comes with compromises and challenges that will work for some chefs and not others. We try to cultivate relationships that take a more holistic view, rather than just an availability price sheet.
How do you get your products to restaurants, and how often?
We deliver the meat ourselves in our little refrigerated van. Right now, we deliver for special occasions and during our personal trips to Charleston. We used to deliver every two weeks, but it was just too much driving. We live 3 hours from the abattoir and 2.5 hours from Charleston. I wish it was practical to deliver more regularly, but it's just not economically feasible. Direct marketing is tough for mid-size farms. Building chef-farm relationships has been much more rewarding as opposed to just trying to create a "local" version of a box distributor.
We'll probably deliver next week since my wife (Catherine Compton Taylor, chef advocate for Revival Foods, co-founder of Slow Food Savannah, and other awesomeness) and I are planning a date night while our son is at camp. We also want to try Leon's Oyster Shop and snag a few bottles of Westbrook Mexican Cake. The best part of delivering to Charleston in a refrigerated van is that we can chill any new beers scored at Westbrook or The Charleston Beer Exchange to cellar temperature on the ride home!
What is generally available for restaurants to procure? What do they generally order (whole animals, cuts, etc)?
It depends on the species. I prefer selling whole animals, but that's not practical for all but a handful of restaurants. Often I talk with the chefs and try to find three or four that will take a few specific cuts in a quantity that allows them to run a special.
Right now we have lamb, pork, beef, goat, and ducks available.
Any dishes around town made with your products that you're particularly fond of?
Since we don't have a regular schedule, most of our products are run as specials that, sadly, we never get to eat. We have enjoyed some delicious charcuterie and salumi made from our products at Two Boroughs Larder, McCrady's, Edmund's Oast, Cypress, and The Lot.
Are there any new plans on the near term horizon? New breeds, new species, new preparations, etc?
At this time we're engaging in a lot of reflection on our experience so far. We have some amazing ideas, but nothing solid right now.
Written and reported by Timmons Pettigrew
· Bradley Taylor [Twitter]
· Meat Beer Fire [Facebook]
· Revival Foods [Official]
· Heirloom Bookshop [Official]
· GrowFood Carolina [Official]
· Brewvival [Official]
· Catherine Compton Taylor [Twitter]
· Slow Food Savannah [Official]
· Westbrook Mexican Cake [Official]
· The Charleston Beer Exchange [Official]