With a careful focus on quality and regional, seasonal ingredients, Matt Payne is creating true artisan goods on the Outer Banks. While he spends his days cooking wildly-popular dishes as the chef for Bad Bean Baja Grill, more ideas for new and interesting flavors and foods are ever-present in his mind.

Nine years ago, Payne, a 2003 graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, began making homemade bacon as Christmas gifts he and his wife could share with friends and family. Each year, he’d turn out a new version of bacon, with different seasonings and components.

Recently, he arrived at the idea of pancetta, but with a southern twist of adding smoke to the process. This, along with Bacon Jam, Habanero & Sweet Potato Hot Sauce, and Ghost of the Outer Banks Hot Sauce were the first of his Paynefully Good Artisans items available to the community for sale at Buffalo City Jug Shop’s Crafts & Drafts Holiday Market this past Christmas.

The demand for the jarred Bacon Jam exceeded the supply in the first hour of the event, and Payne started an email wait-list, of sorts, for his next batch.

I know, you’re curious, so let’s get back to that Southern Pancetta for a moment. It’s made from North Carolina Heritage Farms Cheshire pork belly, dry cured with a thoughtful mix of salt, sugar, and spices, and smoked for hours with seasoned hickory wood from a fallen tree out of a friend’s yard. The Sweet Potato & Habanero Hot Sauce comes together with habanero peppers from his buddy’s garden and, everyone’s favorite: North Carolina sweet potatoes.

There is more to this hot sauce story, too, though. It’s lacto-fermented for nine to 10 days, meaning Payne’s utilizing the good bacteria in the peppers and potatoes to produce that sharp, pleasing tang we love in a hot sauce. Then, he’ll top it off with just a dash of apple cider vinegar from his hometown, Newfield, New York.

The same is true of the Ghost of the Outer Banks Hot Sauce, which gets fruitiness from prickly pears plucked off the Beach Road to balance out the heat from locally grown ghost peppers, courtesy of that habanero friend. This is a personal operation for Payne, with elements of home, ingenuity, and talent resulting in completely unique, small-batch goods.

There’s not a lot of room for waste in Payne’s process either, as he uses the scraps from his homemade bacon and pancetta to create Bacon Jam. Can you imagine the flavor of that smoked pork belly, cooked down with real maple syrup and a high-quality balsamic vinegar, not to mention any other prevalent ingredients Payne may see fit to throw in? The flavors, recipes, and ideas all come organically out of Payne’s inventive brain, and he supplements that flow with a little science to ensure tasty results.

A few years back, a soy sauce cured bacon was the much-enjoyed reward for figuring out the salinity of soy sauce versus that of a good bacon brine, and swapping it out.

As our seasons change here on the beach, so will the products of Payne’s creativity. In the months to come, we could be enjoying his newly imagined pickles or collard ‘kraut. Bacon will remain (luckily for us) Payne’s staple product, with whatever tempting flavor is on his mind at the moment. There is already an idea brewing for incorporating homegrown hops in a batch of bacon.

Whatever that tastes like, we all want it. As is the nature of truly artisanal goods, Paynefully Good Artisans’ culinary gifts to our little town — and those lucky enough to visit will be as local as possible, unique every time, and created with quality in mind.

Megan Scott is co-owner of The Spice & Tea Exchange of Duck, 1171 Duck Road in the Scarborough Lane Shoppes. Check out her food blog, ServingTonight.com.

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