The specialty food and beverage industry has steadily grown in popularity over the past 50 years. Ever since Julia Child closed every TV episode of “French Chef” with a bon appetit toast, American audiences have been clamoring for better tastes and more. There were so many different cuisines to discover and enjoy.
Not far from downtown Yanceyville, at the end of 86 South, is a vibrant local establishment dedicated to natural foods and organic beverages. It has a catchy name, Botanist and Barrel, and co-owner Lyndon Smith was delighted to tell the Caswell Messenger about this popular foodie business.
Author’s note: There is also a Botanist and Barrel sister store in Asheville.
“It all started with the purchase of an old local farm, Cedar Grove Blueberry Farm. My parents, Bernadette Pelissier and Vann Bennett, bought part of it, then a few years later, the other part. There was a business here called The Witch’s Cauldron (producing hot sauces). Their building and the rest of the part of the farm were put up for sale after my parents bought it. It was a total of 98 acres. My wife, Amie Fields, and our other partners, Kether Smith and Deric McGuffey, now share ownership of the remaining five acres,” Smith said last week.
“I had a strong wine background, my wife the same, and my sister and brother-in-law went to culinary school in North Carolina (Asheville) and had ‘chef’ in the South. My sister and I decided to buy this other part of the farm. We were doing wholesale blueberries and the “You Pick” blueberry thing. It was all organic, spray-free and a ‘dry farm’, meaning irrigated once or not at all,” Smith adds.
One day, Smith and his wife, Amie, were sorting through scrap blueberries and thought why not make blueberry wine in the Beaujolais style. This means that fresh, fruity aromas are the “nose” of these wines, which come from a winemaking technique called carbonic maceration that was first researched by French scientist Louis Pasteur. Carbonic maceration also makes it possible to produce and release wines very quickly, even in the same year as the harvest. Thus comes the popular term, a young Beaujolais!
“Amie and I have traveled all over the world, and we love Basque (spritzy) and Norman (cider) wines. We started making small batches and experimenting with ciders without additives, just 100% juice. We don’t use sulfites, sorbates and we don’t pasteurize, so we have a light cider hybrid drink.
According to Smith, in the Southeast, the Botanist and the Barrel produce the only natural cider there is!
The four partners took over the farm in 2015 and officially launched Botanist and the Barrel in June 2017. They produced blueberry cider, blueberry wine and 100% pure apple cider. All of their ‘juices’ were refined by ‘still’ (distilled) with low handling and production has been steadily increasing ever since.
The locals like their products healthy.
“One of the things we decided to do was to use ‘ugly’ fruit that has had its skin stained. There’s some sort of reason why it can’t be sold at a grocery store or farmer’s market. “Everything we use comes from within a 200-mile radius of our farm. We partner with 24 farms in southern Virginia and upstate North Carolina,” Smith says.
“We process 100 tonnes of this ‘ugly’ fruit a year and see this as a ‘food waste reduction’ mission. It’s an eco-friendly way to make a drink. Our methods have the least impact, if that makes sense, on the people who live around us. We will pay three times the amount for local apples rather than less for the cheaper ones that are shipped.
“B ad B” works with a number of Mom-and-Pop farms, which is the complete opposite of mass-produced commodities. It is a true artisan nano-production operation that prides itself on quality control and durability. “The Botanist and the Barrel was more like a name, a style, an approach to what we were doing. We use so many different barrels it’s hard to keep track. Most of them are shipped here or we partner with local distillers like Southern Artisan Spirits. We use whiskey, gin and rye barrels to ferment our cider and it picks up the subtle notes of the wood,” says Smith.
“Botanist comes from using fermented yeast because it can come from so many different places. It comes from the skin of apples, it comes from the skin of blueberries, etc. My mother, Bernadette, started a flower farm on the property calling it Persimmon Hill Flower Farm. So we’ll harvest some flowers that we know contain healthy yeasts like Caligula and Nasturtium and we’ll put some in to start the cider fermentation. We use all of these botanical influences, so that’s where the name comes from. I do a lot of farming, although I don’t have a doctorate in botany or anything, but about 8% of all the fruit that goes into our ciders is forage. and is a wild fruit.
The Cedar Bottle Shop has no indoor seating, but there is plenty of covered outdoor seating on the surrounding acreage. “B&B” occasionally hosts local food trucks and has an outdoor stage to host live music, usually Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Performance styles include everything from a three-piece jazz band to an eight-piece bluegrass band.
“We also have a wood-fired pizza oven that we turn on quite regularly. An important feature of our food programs is that all ingredients come from the farms around us. We also have a farm stand that is attached to our building, and it’s a collaboration between four farms: our farm, Eden Meats, Nourishing Acres, and Persimmon Hill Flower Farm. The farm stand stocks items from all of us and another dozen local farms as well. Smith adds.
“You can come in and buy local eggs, beef jerky, Kim Chee and sweet potatoes, whatever is in season.”
The four talented owners who started the business all work full time and more. In addition, 17 other people also work full time. As with most catering businesses, the work is intense and the hours are long.
“Our plans are to add a new wrinkle, every month, to the outdoor space at Cedar Grove and make it a little nicer and a little more comfortable. At Asheville, we are planning a more robust in-house food program. offer beautiful charcuterie and cheese boards with premium canned seafood such as sardines, mussels and oysters.We have added grilled, canned and ready-to-eat wild salmon, which has been very popular. The fillets are served with a small wedge of lemon and some artisan crackers.
Smith mentioned that there was no more room to expand the Cedar Grove Farm unless a larger building was put in. Currently, the partners are satisfied with the volume of cider produced. They just want to improve a little each season.
“We produce some of the best ciders in the country. We want to continue to learn and evolve in our profession, and we could open a third tasting room in a year or two. None of these conversations took place with intensity. Right now, we are focused on planting more of our own orchards, producing better fruit with less intervention, and continuing to learn our trade,” concludes Smith.
Botanist and Barrel is at:
105 Persimmon Hill Lane (off 86, north of Hillsborough)
Cedar Grove, North Carolina 27231 919.644.7777
Website: botanistandbarrel.com for hours
Or downtown Asheville: on I-240
32 Broadway St. Suite 110, Asheville NC 28801