Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Fall Weekend of Cheese, Goats, Wine and Ice Cream in Rural Maine

Hello from Coastal Maine
Goat Cheese at Seal Cove
The Best Ice Cream in Maine?
Columbus Day weekend is a big tourist weekend in rural Maine, both inland and along the coast, with leaf peeping, Fall events like pumpkin festivals and Oktoberfests, and Open Creamery Day on Sunday, where most of Maine’s cheese producers open their doors to the public. This year we drove up on Saturday to Ellsworth, in northeast coastal Maine about 3 hours from Portland, for an overnight stay in order to get an early start visiting cheese producers up that way the next morning.  But before heading to Ellsworth we stopped at Bailey’s Orchard in Whitefield for apple picking, one of our regular fall activities.  Bailey’s has been owned by the same family for 60 years, and raises over 50 varieties of apples.

After picking our share of apples, we headed towards Ellsworth.  As we were driving on Route 3, a high-speed road through rural Maine, we saw a roadside sign in the town of Liberty for “John's Ice Cream.” As we passed it I realized that this was the place a friend had been telling us about for years as having the best homemade ice cream in Maine, and in a flash I pulled into the next driveway and we made our way into John's parking lot.  The shop opens at 1 p.m., and I looked at my watch and saw that it was 1:01. So we had “lunch” at John's; 2 sccops each.  And my friend was right; it's the best ice cream shop in Maine, despite tough competition from Toot's in North Yarmouth.

After leaving John’s Ice Cream we continued on towards Ellsworth, stopping to check in at the Twilite Motel, where we were spending the evening.  We then drove the short distance into downtown Ellsworth, where our first stop was Mortons Moo Homemade Ice Cream, which had gotten rave reviews on-line.  Although decent, it paled in comparison to John’s.  We then spent some time wandering around the charming downtown area of Ellsworth.
Twilite Motel Patio

After spending a little time in downtown Ellsworth we drove to Mount Desert Island and through parts of Acadia National Park, stopping in the charming village of Southwest Harbor for a short stroll and a visit to Sawyer’s Specialties, a wonderful wine and cheese shop run by Scott Worcester.  After picking up a couple of bottles of wine there, we strolled down to the harbor, then drove down and around the western part of the island, winding our way back to Ellsworth.  We unpacked our car at the Twilite Motel, then headed to dinner at Cleonice in downtown Ellsworth.  Although it started to rain, we walked the three-quarters of a mile to the restaurant, where we had an excellent meal.  Cleonice specializes in Mediterranean-inspired cuisine, and has a superb wine list emphasizing Spain, Italy and France.  We had a bottle of the outstanding 2008 Petalos Bierzo, a wine made from the Mencia grape variety, which is grown principally to northwest Spain.  We also had a couple of glasses of the 2 featured wines from Greece: a white blend of Roditis and Viognier; and a smooth, flavorful red made from the indigenous grape varieties Mandilaria and Mavrotragano on the island of Santorini.  When we left Cleonice the rain had stopped, which made for a very pleasant walk back to the Twilite Motel.

Sunday morning we headed out towards our first cheese producer, Seal Cove Farm in Lamoine, which is reached by turning off the main road shortly before crossing onto Mount Desert Island and Acadia.  We had been to Seal Cove a couple of years previously, and considered it to be the best goat cheese producer in Maine.  This follow-up visit certainly confirmed that; in fact, the cheeses rival those from the Loire Valley and Provence regions of France, where Barbara, the owner/cheesemaker, trained.  We spent about an hour and a half touring the farm and tasting the cheeses, guided by Barbara, her sidekick Lynn, and several apprentices.  Of course, the real stars of the show were the producers of the raw material from which he cheeses are made: the goats.  A few pigs and turkeys are also raised at the farm, and they also recently had a beautiful stone pizza oven built, which they plan to put into full operation next year.

Thanksgiving Is Coming

Pizza Oven Ready To Go

After visiting Seal Cove, we left coastal Maine and drove inland to Unity to stop at South Paw Farm/Fuzzy Udder Creamery.  While South Paw Farm has been around for awhile, they only started making cheese last Winter, under the Fuzzy Udder name, under the guidance of Jessie Dowling, who formerly worked as an assistant cheesemaker at Appleton Creamery.  At the moment the creamery is making sheep and cow milk cheeses of various styles and ages, utilizing milk bought from nearby farms.  However, the farm raises goats, sheep and cows of their own, and plans to start making goat, sheep and cow milk cheeses from their own milk next year.  Jessie and Cassie showed us around the creamery and provided a number of cheeses for tasting.  As was the case at Seal Cove, we left Fuzzy Udder with several cheeses, and also spent some time with the star attractions.

We then headed back to make the long drive home, with a few stops along the way, including a wine tasting at Savage Oaks Vineyards, a tasting of a Calvados-like aged apple brandy at Sweetgrass Farm Winery and Distillery in Union (which specializes in spirits such as Back River Gin), and a stop at one of the best farm stands anywhere, Beth’s Farm Market in Warren.  At each stop our car’s trunk got fuller and fuller, so we finally headed home before we ran out of space.

Sweetgrass Gins

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Great Pizza, Doughnuts, and a Farmstand in Southern Connecticut

Thoroughly Modern Pizza
    This is one of my few posts that isn’t derived from a trip outside the United States, but the food aspect of it fits right into what I’ve posted about over the past few years, so I thought I’d mention that aspect of my recent overnight trip to Southern Connecticut, where I grew up.  While I moved away from that area around 40 years ago, I still have family there, and on a recent family visit I made some surprising food finds.  I hadn’t planned to write anything about the trip, and hadn’t brought my camera, so the pictures I’ve posted here have mostly come from the web sites of the places I visited.

    First up was Modern Apizza in New Haven, Connecticut, which has been around since 1934.  A lot of Italians settled in the New Haven area, and having grown up nearby, I was familiar with the well-known pizza establishments that have been mainstays of the New Haven scene for years, particularly Sal Pepe’s Pizza and Sally’s, both on Wooster Street in downtown New Haven.  However, having been twice disappointed on my most recent forays to one of these establishments, I decided to do some research before the trip, and came across glowing reviews for Modern Apizza, which was #1 ranked on Tripadvisor.com among all restaurants in New Haven.  So on Saturday night, after picking up my father, who lives in Wallingford, we all went into New Haven to Modern.  The parking lot was mobbed, and there was a line outside the restaurant.  But the parking attendant, who, like all the staff I came into contact with that night, was incredibly friendly and helpful, directed us to the one empty spot.

    While my wife waited in the car with my father, who is in a wheelchair, I went in to leave my name.  The place was mobbed, but I could see that the line moved fairly quickly, and it was a pleasant evening to wait out on the street.  After about a 20 minute wait (I was later told that was very short for a Saturday night), we were seated.  The staff helped me get my father out of his wheelchair and into a seat, and when I had trouble folding up the chair, one of them said he’d just put it off to the side to save me the trouble.
    The helpfulness and friendliness of the staff at Modern continued throughout the meal, with our server explaining about the local beers they had on tap, and recommending the Caesar salad, which was excellent.  We had a pepperoni pizza and one with eggplant, and they were outstanding.  And while I’m far more of a wine drinker than a beer drinker, I thought the beer from Elm City Brewing was superb. I can see why Modern is so highly rated, and why it’s always busy.  I’ll definitely be back.
Ready for the oven
    That evening we stayed at a hotel in Wallingford, north of New Haven.  A major part of Wallingford used to be farmland, but development has taken over large swatches of former farmland.  Besides the hotel we stayed in there are several others right nearby, all built on what probably used to be farmland.  There is still some farming in town, and in fact you can see corn fields from the hotel.  The next morning on our way out of town we discovered Farmer Joe’s Gardens and Farmstand and stopped there on to stock up on wonderful corn, peaches, plums, and other produce grown right beside the stand and at another field nearby.  We had the corn that night with dinner after we got home, and it was superb.

    Sunday morning we had another food find that was as pleasantly surprising as Modern Apizza; Neil’s Donuts in Wallingford.  I had stumbled across it on the Internet the day before when looking for a place to get something for breakfast on Sunday morning, and there were glowing reviews.  As with Modern, the reviews were spot-on, and the place was just as crowded.  I should have known as much, since when I stopped for gas nearby and I asked where Neil’s was, the person at the gas station pointed me in the right direction and, when I asked if it was good, her face lit up ands she said “The best; they make them by hand, not by machine like at [well-known donut chain].”  I got apple cider doughnuts, a glazed cruller, and a glazed chocolate, and all were excellent. Not greasy, and not too heavy (for a donut, that is).

[Neil's Photos from Roadfood.com]
    So, if you find yourself in New Haven craving pizza, go to Modern Apizza, but be prepared to wait.  And if you need a doughnut fix when in the area (but probably not after eating at Modern), stop at Neil’s.  You won’t be disappointed in either one.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Finishing Up In Paris

    After leaving Bordeaux on Monday morning we took the TGV to Paris to finish up our trip there and head home on Wednesday.  Although we did a lot of walking in Paris, it was cloudy and rainy most of the time, so we took very few photos.  And while we did take a walk along the Seine, we crossed the nearby Canal Saint Martin far more times than we crossed the Seine.


     On Thursday we decided to go to one of the outdoor markets, even though we couldn’t buy anything for meals.  However, it was worth it just to see all the interesting French food vendors one more time, including one that had a whole pig’s head on display.  And we did buy a bunch of beautiful looking goat cheeses from one vendor, some of which we planned to have as part of our lunch along with the bottle of Bordeaux given to us by the proprietor of the Hotel des Voyageurs in Bordeaux, and some of which we planned to bring home.

       We didn’t do a whole lot in Paris besides walk and eat, partly because when we got to one of the museums we had planned to visit (the Musee d’Orsay), there was a massive line that would put anything at Disneyland to shame.  So we skipped that and later went to the Carnavalet Museum, a great museum of Parisian history.  We also missed out on going to our longtime favorite Paris wine bar, Jacques Melac Bistro a Vin, because after taking a long walk to get there, we discovered that it was closed for a couple of weeks. C’est la vie!
      We did eat well in Paris, which is not always a foregone conclusion.  Besides the great cheeses and bread we had bought for lunch, we had two very good dinners.  The first night we ate at Pain, Vins, Fromages, a restaurant that specializes in all things cheese: cheese platters, plus cheese dishes like fondue and raclette.  The second night we went to the Auberge Pyrenees-Cevennes, which features rustic French regional cuisine.  I had a terrific lentil salad and one of the best cassoulets I’ve ever eaten, and Ann had a foie gras salad followed by a perfectly cooked steak with peppercorn sauce.  And the tarte tartin for dessert was outstanding, surpassed in my opinion only by Madame Lantin’s croustade that we had in the Gers.

    The next morning we awoke early for the long trek home.  And it was a long day: we walked to the Gare de Nord, took a train to Charles de Gaulle Airport, flew to Dublin, followed by a Dublin-Boston flight, then a bus from Boston to Portland.  And now we’re home, having brought back a lot of photos, some goat cheeses and wines, a few Provencal tablecloths, and other assorted things to remember the trip by.
Platter of Goat Cheeses Chez Nous

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


      Before leaving our chambre d'hote in Ste.-Croix-du-Mont on Sunday, we stopped at the cave/tasting room of the proprietor and tasted his 2010 Sainte-Croix-du-Mont, which had won a gold medal at the recent Concours General Agricole in Paris. The wine was outstanding, and we bought a bottle to bring home. The proprietor explained that Sainte-Croix-du-Mont is a very small appellation, and is far less well-known than nearby Sauternes and Loupiac, even among French wine drinkers.

        We then headed for Bordeaux, where we returned our car and then took the tram to our hotel, the Hotel des Voyageurs. The hotel was just over one of the bridges, the Pont des Pierres, that cross the Garonne River. It was easy to get to the center of town by walking across the bridge, and there was also a tram stop just down the street from the hotel. Bordeaux has a very good, fairly new tram system, and is also very pedestrian- and bike-friendly.

      We spent the afternoon walking all over Bordeaux and admiring its beautiful buildings, massive old gates to the city, and narrow streets.

      We also stopped at a cafe and had a glass of Loupiac and a glass of a Grand Cru Sauternes (Chateau Lamothe). In the evening, after returning to the hotel for a short break, we headed out to find a place for dinner. Along the way we spotted a wine bar which had some outdoor tables, and since the skies had cleared, we stopped for a glass of Bordeaux Rouge. We eventually wound up walking by a small restaurant we had noticed earlier, Le Petit Commerce, and I had read great reviews of it on the Internet while checking for information about Bordeaux that afternoon. It was almost exclusively a fish restaurant, and all the choices were written on chalkboards, depending on what was available. It turned out to be an outstanding choice, with simply grilled, incredibly fresh fish. I had grilled sardines, followed by grilled dorade, and Ann had grilled squid followed by langoustines. It gave us a geat opportunity to try several white Bordeaux, which I rarely drink, and afterward we had a couple of glasses of Loupiac to finish the meal. When I mentioned to the hotel owner the next day that we had eaten at Le Petit Commerce, he said that it was a favorite spot for him and his wife when they go out to dinner. He also brought out a gift for us as we were leaving: a bottle of Bordeaux Rouge, 2007 Les Chevaliers de la Carbonnie, which he said was a favorite everyday wine of his.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Leaving the Gers and on to Bordeaux

    On Friday, our last full day in the Gers, we spent a lot of time driving to small villages, some of which we had planned to make it to before the week was out, and others which we decided to visit on the spur of the moment. The weather cooperated occasionally, but it did rain a lot, so sometimes we just drove through a town without stopping, and other times we stopped but really couldn't take any pictures. I also made one more stop at the bar/cafe in Mezin to use the Internet, and I guess I was now recognized as a regular, as the owner said my Floc was on the house.  Among the highlights of the day were the chateau in the tiny village of Mansencome and the 12th century bastide town of Valence sur Baise.
Chateau de Mansencome

Valence sur Baise

       We also returned to the beautiful bastide town of Vianne that I had written about in my prior post because we wanted to check out a faience pottery shop in the town. We wound up buying a couple of beautiful small dishes with distinctive colorful designs; the proprietor told us he made everything in the little workshop in back and hand painted all the pieces. Afterwards, on our way back to our gite, we stopped in the nearby tiny village of Villeneuve de Mezin, which had a lovely church with a few surrounding buildings, a door leading out through the old walls, and a dog guarding his baguette, which he proceeded to devour.

         Saturday morning we left our gite to head to the Bordeaux region. I had just booked a chambre d'hote (bed and breakfast) over the Internet not far from Bordeaux for Saturday night (part of the reason for my frequent trips to the bar in Mezin), and then Sunday we were returning the car in Bordeaux and staying there overnight.

      The first stop on the way to the Bordeaux region was the town of Duras, which had a chateau in the center.

      We then drove to St. Emilion, which several people on the trip had said we shouldn't miss. I had been there briefly in 1979, but it was pouring and I saw very little (for awhile it looked like history was going to repeat itself, but the skies cleared for most of our visit). Since then the town has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site (in 1999), and it was magnificent, if a bit touristy. St. Emilion was founded over 1,000 years ago, and the buildings are amazingly well preserved. We spent an hour or so wandering around the town, which was filled with shops offering tastings of the famous St. Emilion wines as well as other Bordeaux wines. We skipped those, but did see most of the town.
Cloister in St. Emilion

Rooftops of St. Emilion
      After leaving St. Emilion we continued on to our chambre d'hote in the town of Sainte-Croix-du-Mont, which was on the property of a Sainte-Croix-du-Mont wine producer, Chateau Lamarque. Sainte-Croix-du-Mont is one of the sweet white wine appellations along the banks of the Garonne River not far from Bordeaux, which includes Sauternes, Barsac, Cadillac, and Loupiac (over the next 2 days we would try almost all of them). All of those appellations are only for sweet white wines; any producers that make dry white or red wines have to use other Bordeaux appellations. Chateau Lamarque makes dry red wines besides its sweet Sainte-Croix-du-Mont, and those wines are simply AOC Bordeaux.

     After checking in to our chambre d'hote, we drove to the nearby village of Loupiac for a quick stroll, then drove to Cadillac, a much larger town that still has most of its old walls, and spent several hours there. We saw the chateau of Cadillac and had a glass of sweet Cadillac wine, but didn't see any Cadillac cars. We had dinner in the town, which included a glass of Cadillac wine as an aperitif.
Gate of Cadillac

Chateau de Cadillac
  Next: On to Bordeaux

Friday, April 20, 2012

Changeable weather in the Gers

    After leaving the Chateau de Cassaigne on Wednesday afternoon, we drove back to the gite with our prize croustade in tow. It had started to rain, so we decided to skip our usual early evening walk, and I headed to the bar/cafe in Mezins to use the Internet. After finishing my Floc and posting my most recent story, I drove back to the gite, where Ann was getting dinner together. We had bought foie gras at the ferme auberge where we had lunch on Sunday, and we started dinner with that, accompanied by a 2010 Pacherenc Vic Bilh from Domaine Dou Bernes, which was a great match. After a couple of other courses, we had the 3 different Roqueforts we had bought at Roquefort Papillon last week. We also opened the 2011 Equinox (a late harvest Viognier) from Domaine Mazel to try with the Roquefort, but despite what some people had said, we didn't think it was a great match. On the other hand, the wine by itself, like everything else from Jerome Mazel, was outstanding. Following the cheese course, we had the piece de resistance – Madame Lantin's croustade. The apples had been flavored with vanilla and Armagnac, and the crust was amazingly thin; it was one of the finest desserts I'd ever had. Madame Lantin certainly deserves a Meilleur Ouvrier de France in the croustade maker category!

      The rain had gotten heavier during the evening while we had dinner, so we stayed in our gite rather than venturing out for our usual late evening stroll around the town. The gite is in an ancient building that includes part of the old wall of the village running through it, and has very old wooden timbers and a large fireplace.

      On Thursday morning we went to Éauze, the center of the Bas Armagnac area (the Armagnac AOC is divided into Bas Armagnac, Haut Armagnac, and Armagnac Tenareze), which has their weekly market on Thursday. It was quite a large and busy market just outside the center of the town. We parked near the medieval center, which has a magnificent cathedral that had originally been constructed in the 15th century and was rebuilt after being destroyed in the Wars of Religion (they had a lot of those in France). There were a number of beautiful old half-timbered houses in the square around the cathedral, but because of the rain we really couldn't take any decent pictures. We did buy a few provisions at the market, including some greens from an organic farmer. His lettuces looked beautiful, so I took one, and I also saw what I thought was a pile of arugula, but when I asked him for some of the arugula, he said it was a mix of bitter greens in addition to arugula (at least that's what I think he said in French), and he gave me a taste of some of them. I bought a basketfull, and we had them as part of a salad later that day; they were so fresh and flavorful.

      After leaving Éauze we eventually went into Mezins again, and after I used the Internet while consuming the obligatory Floc, we had lunch at Le Relais de Gascogne on the edge of the village. For 12 Euros (about $16) each, we had the Menu du Jour, which consisted of a tureen of leek and potato soup, quiche, roast pork with a vegetable gratin, apple and walnut tart, and a carafe of rosé. Everything was very good, especially the pork, which was incredibly tender and juicy.

      In the afternoon the skies cleared on and off, and we drove to several towns in the nearby Lot et Garonne department to take strolls. The first stop was Barbaste, which had a massive old mill building with towers (le Moulin des Tours) on the Gélise River.


After leaving Barbaste we went to the village of Xaintrailles, which had fabulous views of the valley below and a chateau in the center.

Chateau de Xaintrailles

     I then saw a sign for a bastide town, Vianne, which turned out to be a jewel. There was an old square, and four gates at each entrance to the old walled part of the village.

Gates of Vianne

     Afterwards we drove back to Fources by way of Mezins so I could use the Internet (I think the bar owner had my Floc ready), and had dinner at the gite. We had the rest of the foie gras as an appetizer with Jerome Mazel's Viognier, duck confit from a local farm that we had bought in town, plus a salad and cheese, and more of Madame Lantin's croustade. And a bottle of 2007 Madiran from Domaine Dou Bernes.