Early Mountain Vineyards’ Ryan Collins on seasonal eats (plus a recipe!)

Photo: Amy Jackson Photo: Amy Jackson

Pork, apples and mustard. It’s a quintessential autumn combination and one that Early Mountain Vineyards chef Ryan Collins says he’s most looking forward to cooking as the weather turns cold. “I love to take advantage of the bounty of Virginia’s wide array of apples, with tender pork, sticky pork sauce, smooth mustard and crunchy apples all playing off each other with great flavor and texture,” Collins says.

Ryan Collins. Photo: Amy Jackson
Ryan Collins. Photo: Amy Jackson

Collins took over the winery’s kitchen in April after leaving chef José Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup in Washington, D.C. Since then, the Cordon Bleu grad has continued Early Mountain’s inclusive programming, collaborating with other local chefs and purveyors to create one-of-a-kind food events at the Madison County venue, including a barbecue with JM Stock Provisions, where, coincidentally, he recommends sourcing the pork cheeks for this cold-weather recipe.

“They don’t shy away from specialty cuts,” he says. “The meat from the head of the pig is often unappreciated because most people are more interested in the loin or the chop. This is a great way to take advantage of an underutilized cut and where the most flavor is: the face!”

Braised pork cheeks with mustard sauce and local apple duo

6 pork cheeks

8 cups chicken stock

1 tbs. rice wine vinegar

1 tbs. apple cider vinegar

1 tbs. kosher salt

1 sprig rosemary

1 sprig thyme

1 clove garlic, smashed

1 small white onion, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

1 rib celery, chopped

4 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Season the cheeks with the salt on both sides. Heat the EVOO in a sauté pan until it starts to smoke. Put the cheeks in the pan and turn the heat down to medium. Brown the cheeks on both sides very well. This may take 10 minutes. Take the cheeks out of the pan when browned and drain about half the oil from the pan. Add the vegetables and garlic to the pan and continue to cook until the vegetables are soft. (Do this slowly over 20 minutes. Do not brown too much because this will make the sauce bitter.) Once the vegetables are done, add the cheeks, stock, vegetables and herbs to a braising pan. Cover the pan with a lid or aluminum foil and put in a 350-degree oven. Cook the cheeks for about two and a half hours or until tender. Make sure to check every 30 minutes to ensure the liquid has not evaporated. If it has, add a little water back into it. Once the cheeks are done, take them out of the oven and put them in the fridge to let them cool in the liquid overnight. When the cheeks are cool and the fat has solidified on the top, carefully skim the fat off the top and remove the cheeks. Reduce the liquid in a pan on the stove until it yields about three cups of sauce. Once the sauce is reduced, add the cheeks to the pan and slowly heat them through. The heat should be on low. (After the cheeks are heated through there should only be about two cups of liquid left and the liquid should be thicker and sticky.)

Apple and mustard sauce

5 Granny Smith apples

2 tbs. butter

2 tbs. grainy mustard

2 tbs. sugar

½ white onion, chopped

1 cup water

1 egg yolk

Salt to taste

Peel and core the apples and roughly chop into small cubes. In a sauté pan on medium low brown the apples and onions in the butter. After about five minutes, add the sugar to the pan and continue to cook until apples are soft. Add the water and cook until apples are very soft. Purée the mixture in a blender, food mill or food processor. Once the mix is smooth add the mustard. In a separate bowl, add two to three tablespoons of the hot mixture to the egg yolk to temper it. After it’s incorporated, add the rest of the hot mixture and stir well. Let it cool to room temperature before serving.


1 pork cheek

1 tbs. pork cheek sauce

¼ tart red apple (Braeburn), julienned

1 tbs. red onion, julienned

1 tbs. toasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped

5-6 1 1/2-inch leaves of cleaned frisée
lettuce hearts

5-6 parsley leaves

1 tbs. sherry vinaigrette (1:3 sherry vinegar to EVOO)

Kosher salt to taste

Black pepper to taste

1 tsp. EVOO

1 pinch Maldon sea salt

Toss the apples, onion, frisée, parsley leaves and vinaigrette together and season with the kosher salt and pepper. Smear a bit of the apple mustard sauce on the bottom of a plate. Be as fancy as you want to be. Place the cheek off center on half of the smear and half on the plate. Pour a few tablespoons of the pork cheek sauce on the meat so that it drips down onto the plate as well as the apple mustard sauce. Lay the little salad on the side of the cheek with the apple mustard so that you can still see the sauce but some of it is covered by the salad. Sprinkle the chopped nuts on top of everything, trying to keep the nuts that fall to the plate as close to the meat as possible. Garnish with a sprig or two of parsley, EVOO and Maldon.

Posted In:     Knife & Fork,Magazines


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