I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order. ~ John Burroughs
There is a peacefulness in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee. The morning mist blanketing the foothills gives way to sunny afternoons and soft breezes of mountain air that refresh the senses. Nestled in these foothills is the little town of Walland, Tennessee, just thirty minutes from Knoxville, where reality can be suspended and life moves at a slower pace. Come to Blackberry Farm, an American Treasure.
Started as an inn with six guest rooms by the Beall family in 1976, Blackberry Farm today is a 4,200 acre property with 62 guest rooms. As a recipient of the 2012 President’s American Treasures Award for their work on the farm and in the garden, it is one of the most highly acclaimed resorts in the United States.
The property was named the #1 Food & Wine resort in the world and the #2 Hideaway in America in 2012 by Andrew Harper’s Hideaway Report and the #1 Resort in North America by Travel + Leisure’s 2011 World’s Best Awards. As a member of Relais & Chateaux, they also have the honor of the Grand Chef distinction since 2005.
This luxury property offers an upscale escape with numerous outdoor activities for the sportsman such as fly fishing, equestrian sports, clay shooting, cycling, fox hunting, and mountain biking. There are also opportunities to relax at the Farmhouse Spa. However, to anyone in the culinary world, Blackberry Farm stands for one thing, Foothills Cuisine. Foothills Cuisine blends locally grown and regional artisan ingredients with the ruggedness of the mountains in a manner that reflects the refinement of the resort. Blackberry Farm also attracts some of America’s top chefs to host cooking schools and epicurean events.
The focus of our visit was to meet with Executive Chef Joseph Lenn at The Barn (the premier dining restaurant at Blackberry Farm) and visit with their Master Gardener, John Coykendall, to learn more about their farming practices and preservation efforts.
We arrived on a Tuesday to meet with Chef Lenn. After our meeting, we learned there was a special event, Smoky Mountain Table, concluding that evening with a dinner in the garden. Chef Lenn invited us to be a part of the final gathering of the participants that had come from points throughout the United States to “experience Blackberry Farm.”
The Smoky Mountain Table was described as “a weekend dedicated to celebrating many of our favorite elements of Blackberry Farm. Our guests will be taken on a behind-the-scenes journey through everything Blackberry, including garden demonstrations with Master Gardener John Coykendall, a dairy tour, cheesemaking classes with Cheesemaker Adam Spannaus and unique meals hosted by our artisans. Along with our very own Executive Chef of The Barn, Joseph Lenn, every guest will experience what defines foothills cuisine and a little about this wonderful region we call Appalachia.”
Prior to dinner, we were given a quick tour of the grounds. We made our way to the garden to meet with John Coykendall, Master Gardener of Blackberry Farm. We spoke with him about his philosophy of preserving heirloom varieties of seeds, from around the world, and the produce they are growing for the chefs on the property. Four blue rocking chairs and a watering bucket lined the path to the front of the garden shed. Inside, signs decoratively adorned the walls alongside flowers and grains that were hung to dry. On the gardening table, next to the heirloom seeds that are neatly displayed, Chloe was sleeping in a dish that appeared to be custom made for a cat nap.
We saw the hazelnut orchard (truffière) that was planted four years ago, with the assistance of Tom Michaels of Tennessee Truffles, in hopes of raising their own “Tennessee Black Gold” in the years to come. Truffles are a high risk crop. It takes ten years or more to cultivate Black Périgord Truffles once the ground has been inoculated. In the meantime, Blackberry Farm is breeding, raising, and selling, Lagotto Romagnolo or “Truffle Dogs” in anticipation of the day that they can harvest their own truffles for their guest’s enjoyment.
After a brief rest, we made our way to the garden for dinner. The meal was everything you would expect from Blackberry Farm. The ruggedness of the region was exemplified in the picnic tables and mountain views. The Tennessee roots could be heard in the four piece band playing banjo, guitar, mandolin, and bass. The refinement of the resort showed up in the place settings, wine, and the food. We enjoyed the fresh vegetables from the garden, picked just hours before dinner, combined with ingredients from regional artisans, creatively prepared and beautifully plated. We dined by candlelight, entertained by the company of new friends, delightful wines, and an evening filled with laughter. We watched the sun set over the foothills and the stars shine in the night.
The following day, before leaving, we met with Blackberry’s butcher, Michael Sullivan. Located on property at what is known as the FarmStead, Michael is creating some unusual salumi incorporating local “foothills” ingredients with old world techniques.
As we reflect on our time at Blackberry Farm, one word comes to mind, ambiance. The grounds, the design work, and the activities all come together to offer a luxury mountain experience. There is a place for everything and everything is in its place, from the perfectly positioned watering can at the garden shed to the rocking chairs overlooking the property and foothills in the distance at the Main House. Blackberry Farm does a wonderful job of managing the balance between the casual feel of the Smoky Mountains and the refinement of a sophisticated resort. I might call it “Foothills Posh.”
My interview with Joseph Lenn, Executive Chef of The Barn at Blackberry Farm can be found here.
Disclosure – We received a media rate to stay at Blackberry Farm. As always, the opinions expressed here are my own.
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