Our bologna has a first name, it's L-O-C-A-L. Today marks National Bologna Day, and to celebrate, I'm reviving one of my articles from The Dirty Spoon, an Asheville-based website that focuses on food culture in the Southeast. I first met Casey and the Foothills Meats crew in early 2016 while writing a story for Dirty Spoon, well before I joined their team to help lead marketing and communications. I was a stranger who knew the Foothills Meats brand by association, and it was a little deli meat--bologna--that literally brought us together.
I hope you enjoy the article below. If you're curious about Foothills bologna, I strongly recommend trying the fried bologna sandwich at the Food Truck, or picking some up from the meat counter at their Butcher Bar in West Asheville.
Excerpt from "Never Judge a Meat By Its Casing," Dirty Spoon
When I wrote about the five saddest sandwiches in the world a couple of weeks ago, it was supposed to be a filler piece (hahahaha PUNS, but anyway). A few hundred words of entertainment. That was it. Done and done.
But right after publication, Jon (our editor) forwarded an email to me accompanied by the question, “What do you think?”
It was a note from one of Asheville’s highly respected butchers: Casey McKissick, owner and operator of Foothills Meats. In his email, he expressed concern for my assumptions of bologna and was cordially inviting me and the rest of the Dirty Spoon crew to join him at the Foothills commissary kitchen in Black Mountain to learn how bologna was made, and to experience how truly great it could taste.
A free lunch and a lesson on deli meat? First of all, I never turn down an invitation to food. And as a sheltered Appalachian kid with very little kitchen experience (my sole stint as a pie thrower for an Asheville pizzeria was definitely not applicable in this scenario), I was fascinated by the idea of peeking behind the curtain and getting a glimpse into the world of meat processing. Without hesitation I said yes, and Jon arranged the time.
The following Friday, I drove down Highway 70, carefully scanning the road side buildings for an iconic MEAT sign–the only symbol for Foothills’ flagship location. It was almost 12:30pm. I had never been to Foothills’ Black Mountain location, and for a revered butcher shop whose sandwiches I had savored at Ben’s Penny Mart, I expected more…I don’t know…fanfare? Fancy lights and carefully arranged hipster accoutrement? At least a branded store front.
No. The Foothills commissary kitchen in Black Mountain is truly a humble space and best-kept secret. They don’t sell directly out of this location, but they do offer it as one of their Meat CSA pick-up spots. This is where the magic happens. When you step inside, you get the feeling like you’re stepping into someone’s private workshop…it’s not fancy, but there’s a personality to it. The atmosphere is permeated by a love, focus, and commitment to the craft and value of “honest meat.”
Jon and Katrin were already there, and standing next to Katrin in the kitchen’s main room was Casey McKissick. We shook hands and–having never met the man–I immediately noted his warm demeanor. This, I would discover over the course of the day, is one of Casey’s gifts: not only is he a remarkable butcher and businessman, he also possesses an innate consideration and compassion that, coupled with his sense of humor, makes him well-loved in the industry. I also had the pleasure of meeting the inimitable Jimmy Lee, Casey’s right hand man and also a chef extraordinaire about town, primarily of El Kimchi fame.
There was a monstrous hog sliced lengthwise on the table next to us but MORE IMPORTANTLY sitting right beside it was (cue heavenly angels singing) a cutting board laden with triangles of delicious bologna sandwiches: ‘baloney’ freshly fried up and served between slices of toasted bread with a dollop of mayo. I was starving–read: super fucking “hangry”–so as soon as Katrin picked up hers, I reached for one. Classic rock played from an unseen radio as I savored the warm sandwich.
Casey brought us three red cafeteria-style glasses of water but I never got to mine. Polishing off the sandwich in a couple of bites, I turned my attention back to the half hog chilling on the table. I was ready to dive in.
First of all, I should explain something: pigs are alien to me. They’re cute, dirty, low riders who somehow end up on my plate and that’s all I know. I’ve never spent a moment in my life hanging out with a pig. I’ve watched Babe and Charlotte’s Web.
I was born on a homestead in Clay County where we had horses, ponies, goats, chickens, ducks, you name it…but no pigs. And I learned how to hunt and preserve game meat, but I’ve never spent any time raising, slaughtering, preparing or preserving pork. This factors into my assumptions about bologna: if I don’t understand the animal that goes into the mystery deli meat, I sure as hell am not giving it a chance. Hence SAD SANDWICH.
But all of that was about to change.