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Minding the Dirt

a bottle of wine and a bowl of salad

“Can we talk about the salad?”
This was the question posed by a guest the other day, remarking on how good it was.
We have had a salad on the menu since before we opened. In my experience working with chefs, many do not wish to make a simple green salad. It does not pose a challenge and does not allow a lot of room for creativity, yet it is a dish that many guests have asked for throughout my career.
Our goal was to source excellent greens and top quality artisanal vinegar to make something simple, special. We achieve this by working with Hidden Creek and Lindera Farms.
Hidden Creek Farm in Delaplane, VA is owned and operated by two lovely people Andrea and Dendy. They are committed to preserving natural spaces, sustainable agriculture, and humane treatment of animals. Their property is home to cattle, pigs, goats, chickens, sheep, and a very special garden.

The garden is tended by Dominic, who is as cerebral as he is intuitive. He is the man behind the greens that make up F&M’s house salad. Previously, he grew greens for Over the Grass Farm and made the move to Hidden Creek when commercial growing operations phased out over a year ago. We are delighted that he has a patch of dirt to work again. The resulting lettuce is second to none.
In May, the F&M team paid a visit to the farm. While standing over a mound of compost, I asked Dominic what the difference was between dirt and compost. The first part of his answer was supremely simple, which is remarkable because taking complex ideas and making them simple is a great skill. “Dirt is ground up rocks and earth mixed with dead things. Compost is dead things decomposing.” He said.

Then he paused and his eyes rolled up as they do when one is contemplating. He continued, “I do not know enough about the formation of the earth to know when dirt formed, but from the dirt comes life and then the life dies and goes back into the dirt, making the dirt more fertile, bringing forth more life.”

The profundity of dirt and the origin of all things informs his work. He ponders the origin of the dirt and the life that comes from it. He ponders the varieties of lettuce preferring to create his own mixture. Each contributes a different texture and flavor.

The walkways between the immaculately tended rows are the width of his favorite tools. “Different rows need different hoes,” Dominic points out with a sly grin. He is careful not to compact the dirt so that his plants will have oxygen. They need air just like we do. They are living beings. Tasting Dominic’s greens, one senses the mindfulness and the intention with which he works.
Daniel Liberson is similarly intentional with his vinegar production at Lindera Farm. He sources honey from a particular apiary and essentially makes a mead that he then converts to vinegar. He shepherds a natural process and results in a natural product.

His resulting honey vinegar dresses the salad and is both an accent of flavor and an amplifier of the other flavors brought by the greens. The match of Dominic’s salad mix and Daniel’s honey vinegar make the salad special.

So my answer was, “Yes, we can talk about the salad.” There is a lot to say about something so simple.