‘Tis the season for family traditions and—well let’s be honest— sometimes family transgressions! I’m referring to the family traditions that are much more controversial than sipping Brandy Alexanders with grandfather in the piano room on Christmas morning. We’re talking, hushed whispers about a cousin’s run in with and subsequent flight from the law, controversial. As the folks at the Piedmont Distillers say, “few family recipes carry a jail sentence.” We all have our secrets.
Several weeks ago, my friend Stephanie and I took a road trip 25 miles north of Downtown Greensboro to visit the quaint and quiet center of Madison, North Carolina. At the end of the main thruway, near Bob’s Restaurant and a variety of antique stores, the folks at Piedmont Distillers have been quietly churning up Catdaddy Carolina Moonshine, Midnight Moon and a variety of colorful, fruity moonshines for the past nine years. And this time, it’s legal.
We spent our afternoon with Joe Michalek, Founder and President of Piedmont Distillers, touring the facility, talking science and the South, and (twisting our arms) tasting a bit of ‘shine.
You’ll be surprised to know that Joe isn’t a Southerner. He grew up in Manhattan and left a 300 dollar-a-month rent-controlled apartment in Lenox Hill to head South for the “other” wicked Southern industry of tobacco. It was then that Joe started running into ‘shine and wondered why no one had tried to sell such a mysterious product to the masses. After years of research, compliance with the government and serendipitously finding the only legal distillery in the state, he opened Piedmont Distillers.
Joe’s an ad guy, a city boy turned “Southern by the grace of god,” with a unique sense for niche industries. In just the last year, profits at Piedmont Distillers have increased 200%. You could say it has to do with the overwhelming trendiness of the Southern food scene or just plain hard work – either way, Joe’s making it happen. And after sampling all seven varieties of the triple-distilled corn liquor, we know he’s living the dream of every bootleg Southerner.
I returned home from Madison with an urge to make a Catdaddy Corn Liquor Cocktail for Christmas. ‘Tis the season, right? Catdaddy Carolina Moonshine smells like pure vanilla extract and tastes likeChristmas, with hints of nutmeg and cinnamon. In the spirit of keeping things close to home, I cheated and purchased Homeland Creamery’s Eggnog, spiked it with Catdaddy Moonshine and dusted it with fresh nutmeg. For all you with an affection toward Tennessee bourbon, it’s time to try something in our neck of the woods. This blubbery concoction, with nine grams of fat and 80 proof alcohol, must be paired with something similarly decedent yet savory.
My Candied Bacon & Cheddar Shortbread is just that—a variation on the traditional southern cheese straw with the hint of modern candied bacon. This combination is full of tradition, yet appeals to those brave enough to risk a little harmless transgression—kind of like Joe’s ‘shine!
Candied Bacon & Cheddar Shortbread
- 1 cup flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, plus extra for garnish
- 3 tablespoons butter, cold and cut into small cubes
- 1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
- 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon milk
- 4 pieces thick cut bacon
- 4 tablespoons brown sugar
Heat the oven to 350. Arrange bacon slices on top tin foil and sprinkle with one tablespoon brown sugar per slice. Bake until the bacon is cooked and the sugar has caramelized. Watch this closely as it can burn quickly. Allow bacon to cool.
In a food processor, mince candied bacon. Add flour salt, pepper and rosemary – pulse together. Gradually add in the butter until the mixture becomes a coarse meal. Add the cheese and pulse. Slowly add the milk until the dough comes together. Put the dough on a floured surface and shape it into a 2 inch log. Wrap in plastic and chill overnight. When ready to bake, slice the log into 1/4 inch crackers – or roll out and cut with your favorite holiday cutter. Bake at 325 degrees until golden and firm.
Triple-Distilled, Double Local Piedmont Moonshine Egg Nog
- Catdaddy Carolina Moonshine
- Homeland Creamery Egg Nog
- Fresh Nutmeg
You choose the proportions – just respect the ‘shine!