Squirrel gravy, oyster-flavored beer at southern food festival

CHARLESTON, South Carolina Sat Mar 5, 2011 5:07pm EST

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CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) - Squirrel gravy on grits, fried catfish with peanut sauce and oyster-flavored beer lured thousands to the Charleston Wine + Food Festival this weekend.

"You turn something that the upper echelons of society would turn their nose up at into something they'd wait in line for two hours to eat. That's the beauty of southern food," said Joe York, a filmmaker at the sixth annual festival.

Named one of the country's five best food festivals by Forbes Traveler, the Charleston event featured shrimp, grits, rice, oysters, fish, pork, game and other Low country dishes.

It also served up some perspective on southern cooking in six short films screened by Potlikker Film Festival, a project of the Southern Foodways Alliance at the University of Mississippi.

Much of southern cooking's charm is tied to ingenious, often labor-intensive ways to elevate the flavor of extremely inexpensive ingredients, experts say.

"When you cook a hog for 24 hours, you do that because maybe it's not the finest cut of meat," said York. "The majority of Southerners, white or black, weren't rich or even remotely well off."

Featured film stars included an artisanal hog farmer, Emile DeFelice, and miller Glenn Roberts, who has reintroduced heritage Carolina Gold rice.

"I see our role as showcasing the working-class cooks and putting them on the same pedestal as white-tablecloth chefs," said John Edge, spokesman for the food alliance.

(By Harriet McLeod, editing by Barbara Goldberg and Ellen Wulfhorst)

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