Thursday, October 25, 2012

Cellars at Jasper Hill Cheese and Wine Tasting

Last Friday, I attended a wine and cheese pairing, featuring the Cellars at Jasper Hill and Crush Wine Distributors at Whole Foods Market in Portland. 

Thanks to Shannon and Barbara of Whole Foods for having me, and to Vince from Jasper Hill and Tabitha from Crush for providing a great evening of educational food fun - my favorite kind! 

So obviously all the cheese we had was good, and the story behind the Cellars at Jasper Hill is a great one - supporting local, small farmers, individuals coming together to create resources that benefit the small food producer, and a large corporation creating an 'artisan' product seemingly for no reason other than the love of cheese and community. 

The Cellars at Jasper Hill, in Greensboro, Vermont, age, package, market, and distribute small-batch cheeses from local, small scale dairy farmers. By taking over theses processes, they create cheeses that wouldn't otherwise exist, as cheese aging facilities are very expensive and producing aged cheeses is time consuming. Creating a value-added product also gives dairy farmers additional income. 

Most small cheese makers opt to produce fresh cheese that sells quickly, rather than have so much of their product tied up in the aging process. The Cellars at Jasper Hill give cheese makers the room to create just as much product, and take care of the administrative tasks involved with selling and shipping the cheese to buyers. They sound like cheese angels to me. 

We tried eight cheeses: WeybridgeHarbison, Alpha Toman, Moses Sleeper, Landaff, Cabot Clothbound CheddarBayley Hazen Blue(and one I'm forgetting, but I'm sure Shannon will fill me in on the details as soon as I hit 'publish') and Willoughby, which is an aged Moses Sleeper.   

My favorites were the Moses Sleeper, a buttery, bloomy-rind cow's milk cheese, the Harbison, a bark-wrapped soft cow's milk cheese that tasted woodsy, and of course, the Cabot Clothbound cheddar. Mmm, nutty. 

The Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, was dreamed up by Cabot Cheese, and is the bread and butter of the Cellars at Jasper Hill. It accounts for 50% of their production, and so is their cash cow (cow... cheese... get it?!?). Cabot dreamed up the old style of aged cheddar, wrapped in muslin cloth, and asked the Cellars at Jasper Hill to take over the aging and post-production processes. They ship it all over the country, giving their smaller cheese a ride to otherwise unreachable markets. Cool all around. 

The wines we sampled were all American, from New York Finger lakes Gewurztraminer and Reisling, to Californian Cabernet and Pinot Noirs. It's always fun to see how the wines change depending on what you're eating, in particular the Vermont Ice Cider

The extremely sweet cider was tempered by a nibble of the Bayley Hazen blue, a salty, nutty cheese, without the typical bite of a blue cheese. 

These cheeses and wines are all available at Whole Foods Market in Portland, where you can get chat up the very knowledgable wine staff (I enjoyed a conversation with Colleen after the event about wine) and whomever is at the cheese counter these days (no longer Shannon after she was promoted to lead cheese buyer, sniff).

The holidays are coming up, and perhaps you are hosting out of town guests or having a holiday party. A cheese plate of New England cheeses including Jasper Hill Farms' would certainly impress as an appetizer, dessert, or cocktail pairing (look for our 4th Annual Obscure Holiday Cocktail Tasting in early December!). 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Saigon Restaurant Review

I intended to go to The Loft the other night, to pursue this burger that is served on a donut instead of a bun. I have not given up on my mission, but on this night, the Loft was closed (rat infestation? doesn't phase me), and I was momentarily stymied since I was on foot. 

Faced with the relatively bleak dining options of outer Forest Avenue (Dominos? Takeout?), I was excited to see Saigon, a Vietnamese restaurant I haven't tried. I wrote about the pho at Thanh Thanh 2 during an O-rama, but have yet to make it across the street to the other Vietnamese restaurant in that block. 

Some fairly standard soup, dumplings, and crab rangoon started out our meal. They didn't indicate much about the quality of the food to come—they were fine, but forgettable. 

A. and M. ordered pho, which came accompanied by a giant plate of fresh vegetables and herbs to add to the soup. 

M. fixed his soup and dug in, but A., not having had pho before, was a little slow to start. One of the employees, maybe sensing his hesitation, quickly came over and began fixing the guys' soup for them.

She grandly named each ingredient as she tore it into pieces (shaved celery, sorrel, basil, sliced jalapeƱos, bean sprouts, and a spicy chili sauce) and added it to their soup. Finishing with instructions to thoroughly mix everything together, she left us to our meal (she pointed at my dish and told me to mix it all together too). 

We were momentarily bewildered, trying to hold in our laughs, but then I thought it was pretty great that she dove in and fixed our food for us. I guess she wanted to make sure we had the dish as it was intended to be served. And A. reported his soup was much better after having been doctored up.

I had beef and shrimp vermicelli, with lots of fresh herbs, crushed peanuts, and fried shallots served over a bed of vermicelli noodles, carrots, and daikon radish pieces. It was a great mix of meat and veggies, that left me feeling full but not weighed down.

This restaurant was very different from the Hooters-esque environment that I was expecting to encounter next door at the Loft. It's bright (a bit too bright!), quiet, and full of fresh, light food. This is the place you go when you need to nurse your hangover, not to earn one in the first place. 

Even though it wasn't my pho, the small slurps I had were better than what I recall of Thanh Thanh 2's. But then again, my past pho wasn't personally prepared for me tableside! 

If you find yourself looking for a good meal in that block, skip the Thai food, and try something a little different at Saigon. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Birthday at Bandaloop, Kennebunkport

My 30th birthday! Last year the weather looked like this: 

but this year it rained. Meh. My friends threw me an awesome Bowling Bieber Birthday party, and stenciled my face on a cake with cocoa powder. Too funny. 

See any resemblance? 

On my actual birthday (Wednesday), my boyfriend A. took me out in Kennebunkport and we spent the night at his parent's beach front cottage. Very romantic and cozy, but a little chilly in the three-season camp! But I loved falling asleep to the sounds of the ocean on the beach. 

We went to Bandaloop in downtown Kennebunkport, just off Dock Square, for dinner. We had our first official date at this restaurant - a night of drinks and apps at the bar after a *brief* walk on a pier to see the sunset (brrr again, since it was February!). 

I've been to Bandaloop a few times since and always enjoy its cozy environment, with low light, lots of dark wood, and very high ceilings. The menu focuses on locally sourced, seasonal ingredients, frequently organic, with free-range and organic meats. It feels fancy, but still has reasonable prices for a nice night out. 

Their bar has a nice drink menu - I had an $8 tempranillo, while A. had the pepper infused tequila and ginger beer margarita. They make classic cocktails as well as house versions, and the bar is a lovely place to sit. 

We were seated in a cozy corner with a view of the open kitchen and started with the Bandaloop soup ($4.50), this night a peanut squash coconut spicy bisque. And it was delicious. I wish I could figure out how to make such a creamy, spicy, nuanced soup in my own kitchen - it's all I'd eat. 

A. returned to his favorite starter, the cheese quesadilla ($10). I agree, I was skeptical the first time he suggested we order it. Really? A cheese quesadilla? 

But this one has some extra crispy cheese baked on the outside (genius) and comes with fantastic candied jalapenos, on this night super spicy! 

I opted for a smaller starter as my entree - to save room for dessert! - and tried the Shiitake mushroom, Gorgonzola in cream with greens and a garlic puff pastry twist ($14). 

The preparation was a little rich, and could have used more greens to offset the salty cheese and rich sauce. But I spaced out my meal with bites of A.'s entree to lighten up the overall effect. 

A. had the entree special  of a pepper crusted pork chop, Yukon Gold mashed potatoes, and roasted Swiss chard. Everything was delicious - especially the potatoes, which were both creamy and crispy, thanks to a few slices of roasted potatoes on top. 

We finished with a creme brulee dessert, which our waitress was kind enough to place a candle in. She said she figured it was my birthday - all the present opening gave me away - and I was so happy to be full of good food while celebrating with my sweet boyfriend. 

Kennebunkport doesn't have the food reputation that Portland does - I'd imagine there's a lot of overpriced, mediocre food being served to the wealthy out-of-towners that frequent. But Bandaloop bucks this trend by serving up a solid meal without pretension in a nice environment. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Canned Goods at the Fair

Last Saturday, I helped to judge the canned goods at the Cumberland Fair. The past three years, Master Food Preserver volunteers have helped award ribbons to the hundreds of canned goods entered into the Fair. 

Canned goods are judged using the judging resources from the National Center for Home Food Preservation, and based on appearance alone - no tasting required! We looked for attractive color, appropriate consistency, correct headspace (a frequent markdown), clean jars, and new lids.

This was the first year I helped, and it was a lot of fun. We enjoyed seeing the staggering variety of jams, jellies, salsa, vegetables, and the stray jars of meat.

The yellow wax beans pictured above was a particularly attractive sample of canned vegetables. The color is vibrant, the pieces all the same size, the vegetable of good quality, and the headspace correct for a low-acid food (1 inch).

This jar of lard was a first place as well - also the first time I've ever seen home canned lard! I don't even know if there is a recommendation for home canning lard, but I assume it's similar to canning meat stock

The appearance and headspace (again, 1 inch, but hard to see in this picture) were both great, so I had to award it a blue ribbon, despite it being a rather... unusual entry.  

These identical jars of salsa and spaghetti sauce made us laugh - because they truly were identical in appearance - same consistency, headspace, and as far as I can tell, ingredients. 

We awarded the salsa a blue ribbon and the spaghetti sauce a red ribbon (second place) due to the headspace being a little small for a pressure canned recipe. 

The day before the Cumberland Fair, I was up at the Common Ground Fair demonstrating canning applesauce. I of course checked in on the canned good entries in the Exhibition Hall. While they hadn't been judged yet, another Master Food Preserver volunteer was going to be judging them the next day. 

These whole San Marzano tomatoes were beautifully packed, and I hope earned a blue ribbon. 

I was intrigued by this rose hip nectar. While the wire bale jar isn't recommended for home canning, the syrup was beautiful with whole pieces of fruit floating in it. 

And these pickled garlic scapes with fresh dill and hot peppers were beautiful. I am always drawn to scapes packed curled around inside the jar like this. 

And yes, I got my requisite fried shrimp at the Common Ground Fair. Obviously.

Have you ever considered entering canned goods into the fair? Did you know every entry gets a ribbon and a cash prize? 

If you go for it next year, do me a favor and make sure to clean off your jar first? The judges will thank you for it! 

Monday, October 1, 2012

September Foodie Pen Pals

After enviously reading S.'s Foodie Pen Pal write ups, I decided to take the plunge and sign up. Foodie Pen Pals, created and maintained by Lindsay of The Lean Green Bean, is a swap between blog writers and readers. 

I sent off a package of Maine-themed goodies to Elena in Minnesota, and eagerly awaited my package from Patti in Niagara Falls. Patti lives on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, but her New York address allows her to swap with U.S. residents. 

Lucky for me, since that meant I was set to receive a box of Canadian goodies. My only worry was that I'd fall in love with a Canadian product that's hard to find in the States! 

Here's my box of Canadian goodies. I first dug into the Cadbury chocolate bars; I know Cadbury makes all sorts of chocolates that aren't available in the states. I sampled a Butterfinger-like crispy bar and a peanut butter filled chocolate bar. So far, so good. 

The other sweets in the box included giant cinnamon and coconut lollipops; blueberry Passion Flakes, a   fruit, and marshmallow filled puffy pastry treat; and my favorite, Imperial Cinnamon Spread. It's like a buttery, cinnamon and sugar spread, that has found it's place on my toast every morning. 

But I was most excited to try the Anchor Bar Wing Sauce. Allegedly the home of the original Buffalo wing, I have always wanted to make it to Buffalo to try Anchor Bar's wings.

And with the start of football season, I have ample opportunity to make wings; it was kismet!

So the following Sunday, I grilled up some wings from Whole Foods - and mixed in a little Franks' Red Hot wing sauce, natch - and enjoyed delicious Anchor Bar-style chicken wings while watching my team win.

And I stil have lots of Canadian treats to look forward to! I'm saving the white bean and ham soup for a hearty lunch and the beef stew and wing sauce mixes for future football Sundays.

Thanks, Patti for the generous package, and if you're interested in becoming a Foodie Pen Pal, visit the The Lean Green Bean.