Noah Robins sat down with Biltmore’s Public Relations Manager, Marissa Jamison, to discuss the extensive farm & agriculture programs at America’s largest private residence.
BILTMORE is the single largest draw for visitors to Asheville each year and is well-known for its monumental home, gorgeous gardens and diverse collection of on-estate activities. Touring George Vanderbilt’s masterpiece is just the start of a full Biltmore experience; visitors can taste wine at the Biltmore Winery, stay in one of the two on-estate hotels, take horseback rides or Segway tours, book a fly fishing or clay shooting excursion, or make use of the many miles of walking, hiking and biking trails that snake through the property. Locals get in on the action as well; a Biltmore annual pass allows individuals and families virtually unlimited access to the estate and its attractions, as well as reduced prices on for-fee activities.
Recently, Biltmore has garnered even more attention for its range of first-rate dining options and a firm commitment to farm-to-table principles and practice. While delivering organic produce to the estate for my family’s farm several years back, I would frequently meet with the Biltmore executive chef for planning meetings about produce availability, the varieties and quantities we expected to have on hand, and most importantly the quality of the squash, greens and tomatoes that would end up in Biltmore’s kitchens. Most commonly our deliveries would be met by the chef himself, who was quite willing to praise or critique (kindly) the produce on offer.
This diligence and attention to detail lives on. In an extensive conversation with Marissa Jamison, Biltmore’s Public Relations Manager, I got the inside scoop about Biltmore’s unique take on farm-to-table and the many excellent dining options available for visitors to the estate. Particularly striking is the degree to which chefs and managers coordinate their efforts to provide an authentic and well-rounded experience for diners.
How does Biltmore think about farm to table – is there a broader philosophy behind local and farm-raised food in the estate’s restaurants and in its other catering and food service departments?
From the beginning, it was George Vanderbilt’s intention that Biltmore be a self-sustaining estate. After visiting working estates in Europe, George Vanderbilt envisioned building his Asheville home on a foundation of self-sustainability. Soon he had a dairy that was the centrepiece of Biltmore’s agriculture program and one of the largest dairy operations in the southeast. Vanderbilt also had an estate producing meat, poultry, fruits, and vegetables for use in Biltmore House’s kitchens. Original Biltmore livestock varieties and crops included Jersey cattle, Southdown sheep, angora goats, Berkshire hogs, turkeys, laying hens, ducks, pheasants, quail, forage and grain crops, vegetables and beehives.
Biltmore’s mission is preservation, and agriculture has remained an important constant of life at Biltmore to the present day. The descendants of George Vanderbilt, the present-day owners of Biltmore, have built on that original vision of a self-sufficient estate. Today, the family carries on the farm legacy with our vineyard, Biltmore Winery that is housed in what was formerly the dairy barn, a production garden and greenhouse, Angus and Wagyu cattle, South African White Dorper sheep, and swine. Biltmore also recently restored George Vanderbilt’s turn-of-the-century brooder house used for raising chicken eggs, and on occasion quail eggs.
Tucked away on the west side of the estate, away from guest traffic, Biltmore’s production farm supplies estate restaurants with fresh herbs, seasonal fruits and berries, and a variety of vegetables
How much control do chefs at each of the dining locations have over their menus? While the Bistro appears to be the main “farm to table” restaurant, is there an effort to incorporate seasonal produce and special items into menu selections at other locations?
Biltmore has seven sit-down restaurants on property and all of those restaurants serve estate-raised products. Biltmore chefs meet every winter to plan for the upcoming year. Each chef places orders for their respective restaurant and those orders are manipulated based on the fixed amount of product that will be available. Chefs decide amongst themselves who is going to get what product. In regard to planning, Biltmore’s Director of Agriculture Ted Katsigianis says, “we have a model in place, as Biltmore has had a field-to-table program for many years now.”
Biltmore’s Field-to-Table Manager Eli Herman manages all aspects of Biltmore’s production garden. Chefs have frequent meetings with Eli to discuss menus and ongoing needs for the freshest seasonal vegetables. Eli also regularly works with estate chefs to solicit feedback on new products they want to experiment with on menus. The estate’s Director of Agriculture manages estate raised meats and works with chefs on orders for specific cuts of estate-raised beef, lamb, poultry, and swine.
How much of Biltmore’s farming operation output ends up on diners’ tables?
Everything Biltmore produces goes exclusively to our restaurants (Biltmore does raise some breeding stock animals that are sold, but that is a separate venture and those animals are not intended to provide food to the estate). Biltmore is one of the largest attractions in North Carolina. We welcomed 1.4 million guests to the estate last year, so Biltmore is not able to produce the volume of food necessary for the demand. To supplement our field-to-table program, Biltmore has many partnerships with farmers in Western North Carolina for locally-sourced trout, cheese, beef, and pork for our restaurants.
Our chefs only use seasonal, fresh products from the estate. For instance, our meats are never frozen. Products are planned and raised in the spring through the holiday season so our chefs receive everything fresh. The “specials” menus at estate restaurants incorporate the majority of seasonal ingredients.
Deliveries from our production garden are made to estate kitchens weekly. Chefs receive products such as butternut squash, microgreens, lettuces, radishes, beets, carrots, spinach, broccoli, tomatoes, Swiss chard, herbs, blackberries, raspberries and more. The production garden also features a greenhouse where we start some of the seedlings for field production. The more controlled atmosphere of the greenhouse also allows us to grow micro-greens, hydroponic lettuce, herbs and even edible flowers.
What should diners expect from a restaurant experience on the estate, and what else is important to know about Biltmore and food and drink?
Estate dining options range from walk-up barbeque to fine dining, so there is truly something for everyone. In addition to the cuisine, there is just as much variance from restaurant-to-restaurant in ambiance too – from white linen table cloths and crystal to a 19th-century stable transformed into a delicious café where guests dine in renovated horse stalls! Visit this page for more info on the estate’s dining options: biltmore.com/visit/things-to-do/dining. Biltmore tickets or an annual pass are required to visit all restaurants on the estate. And keep an eye out for special food & wine events here: