Slow food, fast pace as Cantina owners work to open Great Barrington eatery

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NEW MARLBOROUGH — The home basement of the Irwins is packed with equipment and all manner of things typical of a Berkshire family of five. Except the humidity-controlled curing room.

"Good things take time," said Josh Irwin, pointing to hanging meats, like lamb, pork and one duck — all for prosciutto and pancetta.

One pork leg will hang here for two years. The duck will take two weeks.

In the makeshift curing room, Irwin, who co-owns Cantina 229 with his wife, Emily Irwin, explains what he's up to these days with the meats, and near them, shelves of canned vegetables from this year's harvest from his own garden and local farms. He and Cantina sous chef Lorenzo "Ren" Price furiously have been preserving, pickling, fermenting and deep diving into slow food possibilities. They generally are obsessing over flavor and the effect of time on food.

The two even considered a pine vinegar that has to be made in a hollow of a 50-year-old pine tree and takes seven years. They might do it yet.

There's a reason for all this bustling to capture the glory of the season. The Irwins and Billy Jack Paul, also a bartender at Cantina, are partnering up for Mooncloud, a Great Barrington establishment that won't have a kitchen, but will serve up the preserved delicacies and other snacks to go with Paul's craft cocktails.

This is set to happen in December or January at the street-level retail space in the 47 Railroad Street complex. It's a different idea than the sprawling Cantina, a buzzing farm-to-table outpost off a rural road, with its deck and fields and the hills beyond. Mooncloud will be tucked into a small space off the street that also will have some seasonal outdoor sidewalk seating. And it also will be the only eatery in town open until midnight.

"When I worked at Allium, it was always hard to tell guests at 9:45 or 10:15 that the closest place to get seated was in Lenox," Paul said of the Railroad Street restaurant that closed this year.

Paul is a Great Barrington native who, for nearly two decades, has studied the history of cocktails, ingredients and how to layer flavors. He said the so-called craft cocktail has become ubiquitous as people look for something special. And Paul said the partner trio will create a "seductive, enchanting atmosphere" to complement the food and drink.

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They'll serve all manner of these preserved things, cheeses, olives, roasted nuts, said Josh Irwin.

"Josh and I are always dreaming about what's next," Emily Irwin said. "We can't build out at Cantina, so we had to stretch into Great Barrington."

Cantina, which is next to the home the Irwins share with their three children, had started with a taco Tuesday night.

Now, the food is slow, but the pace out here is fast, as Josh Irwin and Price cook at Cantina while preparing food for Mooncloud.

"We're trying to catch up," Irwin said of getting enough done to stock the new endeavor. He said he'll have to supplement this winter from other high-quality purveyors, but already has made commitments with farmers for the next season to make sure he has enough for both establishments.

"It's a way that we can serve Berkshire-grown food 12 months a year," Irwin said.

Heather Bellow can be reached at or on Twitter

@BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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