Link 41: For the Love of Pork in the Heart of Tennessee | Fork in the Road


STEPHANIE BURT (originally published 3/30/2011)

Foodles - Fork in the Road

Fork in the Road is the travel blog of OKRA.

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Trae Moore always knew he liked working with his hands. Trained as a traditional blacksmith, he started his working career making ornamental tools. He loved bending and shaping the iron, and doing something that took time and had a tradition to it.

He’d always loved the outdoors, having worked summers at Sequatchie Cove Farm since high school, and although he enjoyed blacksmithing, he soon found himself working at the farm yet again, this time full-time. He helped grow vegetables and raise pigs, and it was the pig that really caught his interest. He thought about the heritage of pork in the south, and he wanted to honor that as well as the traditional methods of raising pigs – like Sequatchie Cove does – by letting them forage and run “free-range.”

Moore started experimenting with the fresh pork, making sausage and curing it. And at the same time, the local food movement was taking a big leap, starting to “go local” and get interested in the food heritage of the city. And when he met Tom Montague, his future business partner, the two cooked up the idea of butchering as a business.

After a Sausage and Processed Meat Course in Iowa, an apprenticeship with a farm in Tuscany, and USDA approved facility built on East Main Street, Link 41 Artisan and Cured Meats was born. The two have been in business a little more than a year, and they are starting to find their niche, their customers, and to discover the infinite possibilities in cured meats.

“The USDA approval process has a very big learning curve,” Moore says. “Every step is dissected out, hazard control is assessed and there is a lot of documentation. It’s stressful, but it’s not impossible.”

And Moore and Montague saw it as imperative to the success of their business. Without that certification, they would not be able to sell at farmer’s markets or to restaurants, their two target audiences. And they wanted to do things right, to respect the Southern tradition of cured pork as a centerpiece of the table.

Moore explains that “They [USDA] have an incredibly helpful small plant outreach program, sharing info. Working with them has been a good process.”

Link 41 currently produces bacon and 8-10 varieties of sausages, from a traditional southern style breakfast sausage (that has been hung in a cotton bag and smoked), to more unusual sausages such as the Pot Sticker, Ginger Cilantro and Mole.

Of all the specialty sausages, the Mole sausage is probably the most distinctive. It is a traditional cased sausage, and Moore seasons the meat with a little cayenne pepper and cocoa nibs, which provide the chocolate heat combo for which the Mexican flavor profile is known.

“We’ll make what we’re running low on and keep those in stock, then save a little bit of meat out for new flavoring we want to try. We produce about a 100 pounds a week, which is low,” he says. “But we’re really a very small facility.”

Still, Link 41 is producing enough to be a supplier for two local restaurants and the banquet facilities at The Chattanoogan Hotel, which is managed by Benchmark Hospitality International.

Trae Moore and Tom Montague of Link 41

Jeremy Riemer, the Benchmark purchasing manager for the hotel, buys consistently from the local butcher. The Chattanoogan serves Link 41’s mini-brats at all of their breakfast conference meetings, and Riemer also purchases a good bit of andouille sausage for other preparations.

“I love all their products, and we are proud to serve the local community,” Reimer says.

Moore is excited about the future but admits that Chattanooga is still new when it comes to the farm-to-table concept.

“Local food is still a new thing here, and a lot of people still struggle with the price difference. Maybe they think we’re just pricing our products really high.”

He explains that the price for the carcass is more for Link 41, since they are buying direct from the local farm, and not through an mega food distributor. It’s a commitment, yes, but the taste is worth it. One bite of sausage and you know.

Video of Trae Moore working: http://vimeo.com/19151488

More info: http://linkfortyone.com

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