By JACK WEATHERLY
Broken rice is less desirable than whole.
But when it’s broken intentionally it becomes something else.
That’s what the Arant family of Ruleville calls it.
And now a lot of other people are buying into grits as something other than corn.
The fourth-generation farm has made a specialty out of it, which is catching on.
And gaining praise is something hard to do for a food that plays a supporting role on American plates and is the main food for much of the world.
The Arants do sell great quantities of rice, soybeans and corn on their expansive Sunflower County operation, Arant Acres.
But some of the rice is sold by the pound.
That’s because it is special, an artisan rice.
Garden & Gun gave it the top Made in the South Award in the Food category in the December/January issue.
Southern Living earlier in 2016 picked the Delta Blues white as the best long-grain rice.
Sales immediately doubled after the Garden & Gun issue hit mailboxes and news racks, David Arant Jr. said.
The four variations – white and brown long-grain and white and brown grits – can be purchased in Kroger stores in the Delta Division, which includes Mississippi, as well as Rouses on the coast and in Whole Foods.
“It’s one of our biggest sellers,” Jorena Johnson, customer service team leader at the Whole Foods in Jackson, said, referring to the brown rice and white rice.
Along with the boost in sales come compliments, including those from the Garden & Gun food judge, Alton Brown of the Food Network, who noted the grits’ “addictively nutty” flavor.
The farm gets emails with messages such as: “I’ve always just thought of rice as rice, till I tried your stuff,” said Arant (pronounced A-rant.)
He added that “it’s still just rice, but it’s a little bit different and people like that difference, I guess.”
It attracted Alex Harrell, owner and executive chef of Angeline in New Orleans.
“We used a lot of the rice grits because of its texture and flavor” and the fact that it is a local source, Harrell said.
While there is no rice on the menu just now, when it reappears, so will Delta Blues, Harrell said.
Saltine, a Jackson restaurant, uses the rice grits in its alligator and andouille gumbo and long-grain rice in the Simmons Catfish Piquante.
The Delta Blues Rice is a particular variety, which Arant won’t disclose.
The specialty rice milling began when his grandfather bought an old milling machine in the 1970s and the family started giving it away to friends and family, he said.
“My uncle says I don’t know whether they liked it because of the taste or the price.”
Arant and his wife, Rebekkah, lived in Jackson, where he worked as a civil engineer after graduating from Mississippi State University.
They visited farmers markets in the city and liked the farm-to-market experience.
That planted the seed of selling their rice on that scale, he said.
When they returned to the Delta, “we kind of wanted to be part of that.”
The marketing of the Delta Blues Rice started in 2014.
The white rice grits is currently the bestseller primarily because of the Garden & Gun publicity.
“Online sales doubled,” he said. The timing of the article during the holidays led to a lot of gift-giving, he said.
But that doesn’t mean the Arants keep a big inventory.
“I want my rice to be as fresh as possible,” he said.
And the company tries to keep its fences mended.
Tommy Rutherford of Horn Lake said his mother read about the rice in Southern Living and said that if he could get her some of the rice she would be most appreciative – if he ever ordered some, she’d like to try it.
Rutherford, who, as it happens, develops sauces, seasonings, batters and breadings in the Horn Lake plant for Newly Weds Foods – a Chicago-based company that is the largest “coatings” company in the world – and holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in food science, said he would do that.
He ordered some and the shipment was delayed. David Arant personally called him and apologized. Then he called back and offered a refund.
Eventually, the rice arrived. Rutherford likes it a lot.
“I cook the grits, serve it up with red beans and rice and gumbo at hunting camp,” said Rutherford, whose sideline is selling retrievers.
Rutherford was sold on the customer service.
“I already knew the people were good. If the product was as good, that would put it over the top.”
And it did.