Archive | Winter 2014

Contents Winter 2014

Jovial King and Guido Masé discover burdock and motherwort in Burlington’s Intervale. Photo by Natalie Stultz

Jovial King and Guido Masé discover burdock and motherwort in Burlington’s Intervale.
Photo by Natalie Stultz

EGM8 cover ctnt

ON THE COVER
Taste of Sweetwater
Photo by Julianne Puckett

GRIST FOR THE MILL

MOUNTAIN PEAK
       Elm Brook Farm
       Smugglers’ Notch
       Springbrook Farm

MONTPELIER’S SOUP GUY

WHAT’S IN SEASON
       Potatoes
       Seasonal Eats

APPLE KINGDOM
       Eden Ice Cider

BREWERY 802
      Lawson’s Finest

NO BITTER PILL
      Urban Moonshine

VERMONT WINE PARTY

COCKTAILS 101

AROUND THE WORLD AND BACK
      Dunc’s Mill

SWEETWATER
      Poultney’s Best-Kept Secret

CREW LUNCH

NEW FARMERS’ ALAMANAC
      The Off Season

LAST BITE
      What’s Your Local?

 

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Grist for the Mill

Photo by Natalie Stultz

Photo by Natalie Stultz

Welcome to our annual Liquid Assets Issue. Winter seems to have settled in so it seems appropriate to come inside and have a little something to warm you up. With the growing variety of options here in Vermont, choosing something locally made to quench your thirst and support your local mom-and-pop enterprise is easy. Just visit almost any farmers’ market in the state and you can get a chance to sample the product so you can decide which flavor suits you. In some cases you have to take a number and wait your turn to purchase your order of beer brewed by Lawson’s Finest (page 24.)

One of our state’s greatest natural resources, the sap from maple trees, is being incorporated in everything from distilled spirits to natural soda. I don’t think we’ll ever tire of its taste—but Laura Sorkin of Thunder Basin Maple Works on the west side of Mount Mansfield reminds us of the hard work it takes to tap its source. And Marian Burros introduces us to Duncan Holaday, an innovator among the artisan distillers incorporating Vermont flavors. Maple Flavored Rum is one of them.

Back in my college bartending days there was that rarely used single bottle of Angostura bitters languishing near the cash register. (I was told if a few drops were added to club soda it would settle an upset stomach—it works!) Now bitters are gaining in popularity with the resurgence of the classic cocktail and cannot be ignored as a key ingredient in a mixologist’s toolkit. Urban Moonshine is making organic bitters and tonics in Burlington that add distinction to cocktails but also claim health benefits. Their mission is to “rekindle the relationship between herbal medicine and the modern world.”

Exploring Vermont is a lot of fun and we suggest that you sit down with a locally sourced libation as you read this issue. We hope you enjoy this second annual edition.

 

Stay warm this season,
Mary

 

 

 

 

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Elm Brook Farm

David Howe, master distiller and owner of Elm Brook Farm

David Howe, master distiller and owner of Elm Brook Farm

Vodka With a Twist
Are Distilled Spirits Gluten Free?
Elm Brook Farm Craft Distilled Maple Spirits Are!

Story by Liz Conforti
Photography by Gene Conforti

ElmBrookFarm
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Local is good, but our local product should be superior,” proclaims David Howe, owner of Elm Brook Farm in East Fairfield and master distiller of the maple-sugar-based artisan spirits Literary Dog Premium Sipping Vodka and Rail Dog Barrel Aged Maple Spirit.Made entirely in the Green Mountain State, starting with homegrown maple sugar fermented and distilled locally, these products are everything Vermont—and gluten free.

Elm Brook Farm’s first venture into spirit making started with grapes, but grapes yielded what David considered a merely “satisfactory” product. He was sure they could do better.

Thus began four years of research and development related to the chemical nutrients of maple and distillation. Turns out, maple sugar makes wonderful spirits! This news is no surprise to any Vermonter with whom I am acquainted.

Elm Brook Farm occupies some 550 acres, much of it maple forest covering a large amount of the farm’s mountainside. A considerable amount of the maple sugar required for spirit production comes from that same maple forest on the farm, with occasional supplemental maple from his sugaring neighbors, tapped at the peak of sweetness.

Inside the distillery, the wonderment and magic of how it is all made unfolds before the naked eye. The distillation unit is made specifically for maple, built and soldered by David. The liquid requires 23 iterations before the master distiller considers it vodka. Literary Dog is the only vodka that goes through 23 distillations, David says, and it is then blended with artisanal well water during the boiling process to achieve 80 proof. The vodka rests two months before being called Literary Dog Premium Sipping Vodka.

One sip, neat, and you will agree that his commitment has paid off: This product is divinely light and smooth on the palate. The sip ends with the sweetest lightest note of maple. But watch out! Smooth and 80 proof, Literary Dog Vodka deserves gentle sipping and appreciation. The distiller recommends it be sipped clean and not tainted by fruit juice or soda.

Dedicated and determined, David Howe’s love and pride in his products is infectious. Just when I thought it gets no better in gluten-free spirit heaven, David brought out his unique product, Rail Dog Barrel Aged Maple Spirit. Rail Dog boasts a whole new individual distilled spirit category name: “barrel-aged maple spirit.” The distiller defines it as a spirit that shares some flavor compounds with cognac and organic wood whiskey.

What does this mean for you? A full bouquet, soft and warm stirring undertones of maple and a special oak from a North American forest—truly one of the smoothest, if not the smoothest drink, ever to cross the palate.

 People like me, with non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) often complain of reactions to some distilled spirits. After drooling for a friend’s vanilla vodka and ginger ale this past summer, I decided it was time to get to the bottom of understanding whether distilled spirits are, in fact, gluten free. I contacted a number of European and American distilled spirit manufacturers directly.

I emailed the same question to each: “Do you have any products which are gluten free?” Apparently, there is no unified industry answer. Some US manufacturers follow the standard of the European Union (EU). The EU food law asserts that distilled spirits made from gluten-containing grain, such as wheat, rye or barley, leave the gluten behind during the distillation process.

I decided to learn what the US has to say about this matter. A new FDA rule legally defines the use of the term “gluten free” on labeling of food. It states that any food product (not pharmaceuticals and not beverages with alcohol) that have a gluten-containing source ingredient and leaves a residue of 20 ppm (parts per million) or greater cannot be labeled “gluten free.” Compliance with this new regulation is set for August 2014 and manufacturers of food products will have until then to bring package labels into compliance. The Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB) of the US Department of the Treasury regulates the labeling of distilled spirits, wines (with 7% alcohol) and malted beverages (made with both malted barley and hops). The new FDA definition of “gluten free” does not apply to your favorite distilled spirit! However, the TTB has in place a ruling allowing spirits to be labeled with gluten content claims. It was issued “because products made from ingredients that contain gluten may, despite processing to remove gluten, still contain gluten that cannot be detected using available testing methods.”

The matter is confusing. Europe says there’s no residue; the US says there may be a residue. I know there are many of us who react to distilled spirits made from gluten containing source grains. What does this information mean for those who can’t consume gluten? Email manufacturers a gluten free inquiry to customer service for just about any distilled spirit on the market. Don’t drink the alcohol in question until you know the source grain. If the source grain has gluten, there may or may not be gluten residue from the source grain in the distilled product. If the spirit has a US label certifying it as gluten free, then there is no gluten.

Obtaining federal gluten-free certification through TTB programs requires considerable resources. While walking through the Elm Brook Farm distillery, so clean and perfect, it occurred to me that this gluten-free product may require patience on the part of consumers. Just as organics consumers began in the 1990s (and continue today) to support local farmers who use organic practices but do not have certification, Elm Brook Farm distilled spirits beckon this same attention from gluten-free spirits enthusiasts. The process for TTB gluten free certification is lengthy and laborious. Spirits manufacturers who maintain gluten-free practices and do not use any gluten-containing ingredients should be deserving of notice from gluten-free consumers.

Elm Brook Farm spirits do not use any grain. These superior spirits are made from naturally gluten-free maple sugar and the facility does not use or house any gluten-containing source grains.

Look for David Howe offering tastings during the cold months every other Saturday at the Burlington Farmers’ Market. Literary Dog and Rail Dog are available at some Vermont Liquor Outlets, the Country Store at Smuggler’s Notch, at Elm Brook Farm and at ElmBrookFarm.com.

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Smugglers’ Notch

A Perfect Pairing
Father and Son Create Smugglers’ Notch Distillery

Story by Tracey Medeiros • Photography by Oliver Parini

OliverParini-SmugglersDist-051812-0220During the Prohibition era in the 1920s, smugglers used a passage through the rugged Green Mountains to secretly transport alcohol from Canada to Vermont and points south. This area was appropriately named Smugglers’ Notch and today is used for all things outdoors, including visits to the caves where the smugglers hid their illegal stash.

Smugglers’ Notch Distillery creatively coined its name from those earlier days.

The idea for the business began back in 2005 when Jeremy Elliot, a chemist at a pharmaceutical company, found out that his job was being outsourced overseas. Having his home in Jeffersonville and wanting to stay in the area, he began to research his skill-set options. After much soul searching and research, Jeremy thought that starting a distillery would be a good idea: It piqued his creative side and used his scientific skills.

Creating an exceptionally distinctive product was something that lent itself to his role as a chemist. Fortunately, his father, Ron, a retired business executive from a large restaurant group, agreed to come on board to lend his expertise to the project. The two became business partners and have worked together to bring Jeremy’s idea to fruition.

“I handle the product development side and my father is responsible for the business part,” explains Jeremy.

During this period Jeremy started apprenticing at a few distilleries throughout the United States, as well as attending related classes. He recalls that obtaining the necessary permits and manufacturer’s license were the most time-consuming.

Smugglers’ Notch Distillery started off by making vodka, which has become the highest-rated domestic vodka in America. They learned early on that it is very difficult to make an excellent vodka.

“I thought of it as a huge challenge and started tasting the vodkas that were available in order to develop my palate. There were only a couple that I really liked and considered to be exceptional. This made me want to try to produce my own distinctive spirit,” Jeremy recalls.

For this product the distillery uses sweet corn and winter wheat from Idaho. The spirit is blended with water from a spring in Jeffersonville. This vodka is 60% water, giving the distillery’s spirit a true terroir (characteristic specific to Vermont). The selections of raw materials, recipe, technology and process controls allow the distillery to produce a quality product with a hint of sweetness and smoothness.

Smugglers’ Notch Distillery has won awards for its vodka’s unique taste profile. “I am trying to create a vodka that has little taste to it, more reminiscent of an Eastern vodka,” says Jeremy.

“Vodka is a very difficult spirit to make. Unlike a whiskey or rum, which is aged in a barrel for several years to mellow it out, with vodka we are taking the distillate out of the still and consuming it right away. If there is any off flavor, or off smell, most producers will charcoal-filter their products to remove the problem,” explains Jeremy. “We control the process so well that what comes out of the still is ready to be bottled. This gives our product a really unique taste profile.”

It has paid off for the dynamic father and son duo.

The partners have expanded their spirit line to include premium single-barrel, double-aged amber rum, which is made with molasses. This rum is aged for three years in charred white oak barrels; the spirit interacts with the white oak and charring. It pulls some of the vanilla and tannins from the oak, giving the rum color and mellowing it out quite significantly. After three years it is transferred to whiskey barrels, which infuse the rum with complex flavor overtones, each barrel adding its own subtle character and distinctive flavor profile.

“Ours is not a typical rum. At first, the full notes that you get from the rum are a whiskey, followed by a taste of caramel with an actual sweetness when sipped,” he says.

To achieve this unique flavor, Jeremy maintains a single-barrel rum rather than  blending three or four barrels to produce a consistently flavored rum. This means that each single barrel ages a little differently in its notes and depth. Jeremy describes, “For example, I just transferred over a barrel yesterday, my fifth, that smelled and tasted a lot like banana. Each one of my barrels is a distinctly different product.”

The father and son team have also been busy working on a Smugglers’ Notch Gin Blend No. 802.

The distillery’s newest premium small-batch spirit offering is a straight bourbon whiskey. In Jeremy’s words, “Straight bourbon whiskey is uniquely American; our bourbon is that and uniquely Smugglers’ Notch Distillery. The possibility of creating something iconic … believing in self and product … enjoying satisfaction from self-expression—all speak to our ethos at our artisan distillery.”

“The overwhelming support from Vermont has been fantastic. It is an unbelievable feeling to be rated the number one vodka in the US, almost the number one in the world—and all of this is being accomplished right here in Vermont. To me, this makes Smugglers’ Notch Distillery very special,” states the proud owner.

 

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Spring Brook

Kids & Curds
Learning Blends with Cheesemaking at Spring Brook

Story by Frederica Templeton

Calf and kid Farm For City Kids-Cellar

High up in the Alps, when the early winter dusk falls the prospect of a savory hot cheese dish and a glass of beer or wine in front of a roaring fire is irresistible. Sharing raclette has been a traditional way to get together for a relaxing evening with friends and family in French and Swiss Alpine communities for a very long time because it is so simple and so satisfying.

Raclette is a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese with a creamy, nutty flavor ideally suited to melting. Originally the wheel of cheese was heated in front of a fire and the gooey melted cheese scraped off periodically onto welcoming plates or thick slices of bread. (The name of the dish comes from the French racler, meaning to scrape.) According to legend, cow herders discovered this technique   during the many months spent high up on the Alpine slopes with their herds.

Today eating raclette remains a common tradition  in Alpine communities. It is usually served with cornichons, roasted potatoes and pickled onions, and perhaps some thinly sliced beef. Although it shares its geographic origins and involves melted cheese, raclette is not the same as fondue. It’s simpler to prepare and, though it can involve specialized equipment, it can also be made in a heavy frying pan.

The mountains of Vermont share many Alpine characteristics (as well as the presence of lots of cows) and the production of an artisan raclette-style cheese by Spring Brook Farm in Reading is a most welcome addition to the Vermont cheese scene. Located on a beautiful hillside with the vista of mountains all around, Spring Brook Farm has two interlocking avocations: the production of two award-winning cheeses and the introduction of city kids to country life on a farm.

Farm view

Photo by Marleen Cafarelli from Photo Arts Works

Although the farm has welcomed groups of children since 1993, the cheesemaking  operation began in 2008. With 42 spotless stalls for their Jersey cows, founders Karli and Jim Hagedorn  started with a semi-hard raw milk cheese made in the tradition of the Tarentaise Valley in the Haut Savoie region of the French Alps. John Putnam—owner of Thistle Hill Farm in North Pomfret, where he’d been handmaking Tarentaise for several years—offered to help the Hagedorns get started, and the farm now produces over 60,000 pounds of cheese every year.

Two years later Spring Brook introduced Reading, the Vermont answer to the European raclette. To make sure they were on the right track, they engaged the help of a young French cheesemaker from France’s Haut-Savoie region, who continues to come every year to consult with Cheese Program Director Jeremy Stephenson and his team.

The cheesemakers follow all the traditional French steps and use French equipment. In the light and airy cheesemaking house, large copper-lined vats receive the milk from their cows, the correct French strain of bacteria and some rennet, the combination of which sparks the singular biological and chemical process that results in the perfect raclette.

It takes 100 pounds of milk to make 10 pounds of cheese. With two varieties in production they needed to increase their raw milk supply, so in addition to their own Jerseys they use milk supplied from two multigenerational neighboring farms, which provide the high-quality, carefully controlled milk they need.

“It’s very gratifying to be able to help other farms in the area be successful,” says Stephenson. The cows roam the hillsides of central Vermont eating the native grasses, just as they do in Haut-Savoie, and in winter they are fed a special organic feed. 

Once formed into 20-pound wheels, both types of cheese begin the process of aging in the cool, damp atmosphere of the aging room with its controlled temperature and humidity. The process, known as affinage, is a skill that takes real dedication to perfect. It’s this process that accounts for up to half of the flavor of any cheese. The Reading Raclette is aged over three to four months and the Tarentaise for 10 months. During this time the wheels will be washed and turned at least 60 times under the careful attention of affineur Antoinette Jacobson.

“There are many decisions to be made on a daily basis in this process,” says Stephenson. “It is definitely an art that involves a lot of labor.” In 2013 Spring Brook produced 120,000 pounds of their unique and roundly flavorful Reading Raclette cheese.

All the profits from the cheesemaking go the Farms for City Kids Foundation. During the year groups of children visit for a week and take part in all the farm chores. Learning how to make cheese is a popular learning experience for them … as is learning how to milk a cow, of course.

Spring Brook’s Reading Raclette and its Tarentaise can be found in specialty stores all over the country and both have won several awards including first place in category at the 2013 US Cheese Championships. You can find out more about them at FarmsForCityKids.org.

 

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Montpelier’s Soup Guy

Customers Warm to CSA, Products from Screamin’ Ridge

Story and photography by Maria Buteux Reade

Joe in one of his greenhouses filled with winter spinachBy now, everyone knows that CSA stands for community-supported agriculture. However, Joe Buley pushes the concept to new levels with his version, culinary-supported agriculture.

Since 1999, Joe has merged his two loves, cooking and farming, to create a cutting-edge model of local food production and distribution. Classically trained in Paris as a chef and self-taught as a farmer, Joe is known around Montpelier as “the Soup Guy.” His ever-expanding line of soups and sauces are available at the Capital City Farmers Market and Hunger Mountain Co-op.

His vats of hot soup are a welcome sight on winter days, and in summer cold vegetable- or fruit-based soups bring equal relief. Joe sources as many of his ingredients as possible from Vermont and neighboring Massachusetts. In fact, many of the soups start from vegetables he grows at Screamin’ Ridge, his farm a few miles outside Montpelier.

Screamin’ Ridge Farm consists of three acres of garden beds, several greenhouses and a large fenced-in area where Joe raises some laying hens. A breezeway abutting his family home has been converted into a washing and storage annex, with a stainless-steel triple sink, counter and walk-in cooler. Piles of flattened packing boxes wait in neat stacks. A couple of scales and some mesh bags of garlic and onions hang in the rafters. Everything is clean, efficient and organized, the mark of a French-trained chef.

“I used to teach sanitation at NECI [New England Culinary Institute] so, trust me, this place is as clean as they come,” says Joe.

“Farmers typically can experience waste of 15% to 20% and most of that winds up in a compost heap,” Joe explains. “I started using my culls, or veggies which are perfectly fine but might have a surface blemish, and turned them into soups. By taking this approach, I reduced my waste to 2%–3%. I also make tons of pesto from my greenhouse basil and people go crazy for it at winter farmers’ markets.” Feedback from market customers or CSA shareholders helps him determine which soups are keepers and which need tweaking.

Joe maintains a lively and informative website. The clear writing at ScreaminRidgeFarm.com reflects his background as an English major, and the inspiring recipes and preparation tips confirm his talent as a chef/farmer.

Joe makes his soups and sauces at the Mad River Food Hub in Waitsfield. He was one of the first clients to use this space when it opened in January 2012. The 4,000-square-foot facility had once been home to the American Flatbread pizza company. Robin Morris, former CFO of that company, bought the warehouse and converted it to a food hub where producers can rent the commercial kitchen, processing rooms, or sign up for dry, refrigerated or frozen storage space. The facility is USDA-inspected and maintains stringent requirements for handling, processing and storage of all products. Visitors must don a blue hair net or baseball cap, and food processors sport knee-length white industrial lab coats.

Robin envisions this hub as an incubator for entrepreneurs to develop a product and create a successful business that can ultimately “graduate” from the facility and function independently. He wants to ensure that the person who leaves has the knowledge and access to resources in order to transition to the next logical step.

The Mad River Food Hub provides processing, storage and distribution services as part of the rental fee. Joe Buley pays a daily rate for the commercial kitchen with gleaming stainless-steel tables, powerful convection ovens and 45-gallon steam kettles. He spends most Tuesdays at the facility, working a 10-hour shift with one or two other assistants.

During the winter months, he ramps up to two or three production days a week at the warehouse as demand for soups, sauces and stocks increases. He hires a couple more staff during these busy times. In September and October, Joe and his crew transport the bountiful harvest from his Montpelier farm to this Waitsfield facility to process and pack vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, chard and sweet peppers. This produce is then frozen and stored on site for Joe’s winter CSA or reserved for future use in soups. Summer tomatoes are turned into sauce, a welcome addition come February.

People want convenience. Not everyone wants to deal with cooking, canning or freezing a whole box of CSA farm veggies. However, they do want to eat healthy local foods and support Vermont farmers. So producers like Joe Buley are creating ready-to-eat prepared foods such as soups, sauces, pestos and pastas that use local or farm-raised ingredients.

Many of Joe’s soups are vegetarian or vegan and gluten-free. “It’s not that difficult to adapt a recipe for folks who have dietary considerations,” says Buley.

Thai curry squash, a thick orange soul-warming concoction, is one of his most popular offerings. Joe roasts and purées winter squash, blends in coconut milk and spices it up with Thai green curry, ginger and lime. At the other end of the spectrum is a winter favorite, cheddar ale soup.

“That one has all the good ‘bad’ stuff: flour, beer, cheese,” he jokes. Mainstays of his popular repertoire include broccoli cheddar, roast fennel potato, miso soup and black bean chili. Buley makes a light yet rich New England chowder that emphasizes the briny clams rather than chunks of potato.

Knowing that many people prefer to make their own soups or stews, Joe also offers three stocks: chicken, beef and vegetable. He roasts the USDA-inspected beef and chicken, adds aromatics like deeply caramelized onions, garlic and carrots along with celery or fennel and seasons the heady base with fresh herbs, ginger, wine, salt and pepper. A quart or two of these stocks can make cooking at home a lot easier, especially for busy Vermonters. Joe’s Soups have become one of the most popular fixtures in the Hunger Mountain Co-op deli.

In addition to selling to the co-op and at the Montpelier farmers’ market, Joe has developed his own workplace CSA. Once a week during the summer and twice a month in winter, a refrigerated truck from the Mad River Food Hub shows up at one of a half dozen locations in the Montpelier area, including Vermont College of Fine Arts, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and National Life, and delivers the pre-packed boxes directly to the shareholder’s workplace. Joe explains, “One truck delivers boxes to 200 customers within a few-mile radius as opposed to 200 cars coming up the road to my farm. That’s just another way to reduce our carbon footprint.” Every box is labeled with the shareholder’s name and loaded with the items he or she has selected from the online grocery store earlier that week. Each share contains a 50-50 mix of fresh or frozen seasonal vegetables and fruit along with other locally sourced products. Most shareholders whisk away their boxes within the first hour of the two hour delivery window.

Joe works with 10 to 20 farmers and producers in north central Vermont and incorporates their products into his CSA, thereby providing employees of some Montpelier businesses with convenient, high-quality fresh and prepared food. Partners include well-known names such as Red Hen breads, … Read More

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What’s in Season

gnocchforkONE POTATO,
TWO POTATO

Family Recipe Makes
the Most of Humble Spuds

Story and Photography by Lisa Masé

I have been making gnocchi with my father and grandmother since I was old enough to grasp a fork. This heart-felt memory keeps me cooking food from scratch with local staples. In our Italian family’s traditional recipes, each ingredient has its purpose. Combined, they lend nutritional benefits, flavor and interest to daily meals and encourage me to slow down and savor my food.

Gnocchi are simple dumplings featuring the humble potato, which is one of the top vegetable crops worldwide. A member of the Solanaceae or nightshade family, its stems swell underground to produce the starchy tubers we enjoy. Harvesting them in August reminds me of a treasure hunt: I never know just how many I will find, and I am always delighted by the discovery.

Potatoes are rich in vitamin B6, which helps our bodies synthesize amino acids. They also contain kukoamines, phytonutrients that, according to the Institute for Food Research, can help to lower blood pressure. Their fiber content comes primarily from the skin. Hence, to gain its benefits, choose local, pesticide-free potatoes, give them a good scrub, and enjoy them with the skin on.

Winter farmers’ markets are wonderful places to see an impressive display of heirloom potatoes. From Banana Fingerling to All Blue, you can mix varieties to see which you prefer. I enjoy roasting fingerlings and mashing gold or red potatoes.

What is your grandparents’ heritage? If you know, take time to research recipes from their country of origin. Perhaps you will find your own ancestral potato preparation.

gnocchitube

Spelt Gnocchi

My grandmother’s recipe comes from our home province of Alto Adige. Depending on what’s local and seasonally available, each Italian region has slight differences. Some prepare gnocchi with cooked winter squash. Others use buckwheat flour instead of wheat or spelt. Once you feel practiced at making these delightful dumplings, try one of the variations.

6 medium gold potatoes, scrubbed and chopped (leave skins on)
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups spelt flour (try Green Mountain Flour)

Preheat oven to 425°.

Bring a stockpot of water to a boil. Drop in the chopped potatoes and boil for about 10 minutes. When potatoes are tender, drain and then pass them through a vegetable mill into a large bowl or mash them in the bowl with a potato masher. Add salt and olive oil and mix to incorporate. Slowly stir in spelt flour until you get a dough that is supple without being too sticky.

Working on a floured surface, roll the dough into inch-thick ropes. Starting from the end of a rope, cut off a small piece and roll it with the edge of a fork to create grooves on 1 side and a hole in the other. Set aside on a floured plate. Continue cutting and rolling pieces until you have shaped all the dough.

As you are shaping the gnocchi, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the gnocchi in small batches and remove them from the boiling water with a slotted spoon when they rise to the top. Place them in a baking dish and keep warm in a 250° oven, if desired.

Serve the gnocchi with the following sauce.

Spinach-Mushroom Sauce

During the colder months, my family enjoyed the remaining chanterelle and bolete mushrooms that had been foraged and dried the previous summer. These forest treasures strengthen immunity. Due to their high protein content, mushrooms lend a richness to any dish.

½ pound fresh mushrooms: shiitake and cremini
1 large yellow onion, sliced into crescents
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ pound spinach, washed (chard is a good substitute)
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon nutmeg
Salt and black pepper to taste

Brush excess dirt off of mushrooms and chop lightly. Do not wash mushrooms.

Coat the bottom of a skillet with olive oil and heat over a medium flame. Add onions, turn heat to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add mushrooms and cook for 10 more minutes.

Add spinach to the skillet and season with salt and pepper. Sauté for 2 more minutes.

Place the cooked gnocchi on plates and spoon sauce over them. Serve and savor winter’s local delights.

Suggested wine pairings: Purple Haze from the Neshobe River Winery, Brandon, Vermont, or Cabernet Franc from Shelburne Vineyard, Shelburne, Vermont.

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Apple Kingdom

EIC 10

Eden Ice Cider Company

Story By Chris Davis
Photography by Michele Davis

EIC 8Albert, a former chemistry teacher, and Eleanor Leger built Eden Ice Cider Co. in West Charleston in 2007 with one part reverie, one part impulse and one part meticulous planning. (And, not incidentally, an enormous amount of hard work.)

“We knew we wanted a working farm with an orchard,” says Eleanor, whose family has been in northern New England since at least the 1880s. But the inspiration to dedicate that farm to producing fine dessert cider did not seize the couple until one day in 2006 in Montreal, as they sipped a Canadian cidre de glace, the apple equivalent of ice wine and a signature Québécois specialty.

Like all good entrepreneurs, Eleanor wondered, “Why isn’t this being done on our side of the border?” Vermont boasts an abundance of quality apples and quality cold weather, she reasoned—two crucial requirements for concocting this unique potion. By spring 2007 the Legers had taken the plunge, buying an abandoned dairy farm and planting trees and their dream on a remote hillside in the Northeast Kingdom.

This gracious and brainy couple are the perfect ambassadors for their craft: knowledgeable but humble, zealous but not pushy. They both exude a soft-spoken confidence that comes with dedication to their craft and the knowledge that they are doing good: reclaiming a lost Vermont orchard, implementing eco-sensitive practices and supporting the local community, not to mention fashioning an exceptional gourmet product.

Despite the detailed business plan (which included hiring oenologist consultants) and incalculable man- and woman-hours, Eleanor still seems amazed at Eden’s remarkable critical and commercial success: “The first vintage was crazy! We didn’t know what we were doing.” She and Albert were, to say the least, delighted, however, when they discovered that they had conjured a delicious elixir that Eleanor realized shone “with character and balance.”

Eden’s owners had a right to be scared. Farming is, of course, a famously unpredictable vocation at best, let alone when it is practiced by novices in short-season, unforgiving Vermont. Combine this reality with the delicate pas de deux that is masterful fermentation, and you are managing a business—two, really—that lives or dies according to the whim of weather and biochemistry. Moreover, while the couple’s significant market research indicated that there would be a customer base for their high-end products, a warm reception to their icy offering was by no means certain.

While the term “ice cider” has a lovely ring to it, Eden’s products bear about as much resemblance to traditional American cider as Chateau Margaux does to a bottle of Welch’s. OK, that may be comparing apples to apples. But whereas cider is simply unfiltered apple juice (fermented to create the “hard” version), it demands many exacting steps (what Eleanor describes as “discipline”) to bring forth the intense, robust but elegant nose, body and taste of hand-crafted ice cider.

EIC 92

Eden’s brew is made by allowing freshly pressed ripe apple juice to freeze naturally (in the Vermont elements) for six to eight weeks. Slow melting then allows the maker to separate the ice—the water—from the frozen mass, yielding a concentrated, high-sugar decoction that is ready to be fermented, a process that “requires precise timing to achieve the ideal balance of alcohol and sweetness,” according to Eleanor. When that timing is perfect, the golden juice reaches the “purest essence of this particular fruit.” For many connoisseurs, it is the apotheosis of the apple.

In addition to their standard-bearer, Heirloom Blend, Eden offers two other ice cider labels: Windfall Orchards, made with fruit from a friend’s orchard, and Northern Spy, the Legers’ first—and successful—crack at a single-varietal, barrel-aged specimen. Most recently, “inspired by the craft cocktail trend,” the company introduced their Orleans line of European-style bitter aperitifs. Infused with local organic herbs, these elegant ciders are bracing and delicious over ice or ideal to make your gin and vodka wake up and pay attention.

All of these “brands” are now available widely at fine wine and gourmet food shops—throughout New England and nationally. The best selection of Eden products, however, is on display at the new Northeast Kingdom Tasting Center on Main Street in Newport.

The Tasting Center, which opened its doors in August but was officially dedicated on October 18, is the brainchild of none other than Eleanor and Albert Leger. Long a twinkle in the couple’s eye, this modern, open and airy retail shrine to Vermont food and drink features a first-class, if casual, café (the Brown Dog Bistro), a butcher shop, craft cheese and maple-based selections and a bakery, amongst other Green Mountain goodies. Not to be missed is the friendly bar at the Brown Dog, where, in addition to the bistro’s regular menu, you can order samples of the house-made charcuterie (fabulously earthy duck rilletes and chicken liver pâté), washed down with tastes of small-batch Vermont wine (good) or beer (better).

According to Trish Sears, CEO of the Newport City Renaissance Corp., the Tasting Center is an early jewel in the crown of a comprehensive revitalization of downtown and waterfront Newport. “We were able to secure a grant from USDA Rural Development. Bill Stenger, a visionary local developer will be key, as well. Our mission, in addition to the broad aesthetic and economic improvement of this important town, is the protection and creation of local jobs.”

The Tasting Center is a collaborative effort of many diverse Vermonters, all of whom share a common goal of showcasing the best native edibles and potables the state has to offer and, in the process, helping farmers, craftsmen, retailers and the city of Newport. And now that Eden has moved its operation to the expansive downstairs, where you can actually view the cider-making process and can sample all their offerings at the tasting bar, a visit to the center is an essential stop for anyone interested in doing good food and doing good.

So, how exceptional is Eden Ice Cider? Forget the roomful of gold medals, blue ribbons and trophies. Dismiss the unanimously effusive press. Ignore the fetching bottles and labels. Don’t consider the pilgrims who regularly made their arduous way to West Charleston just to see where it all happens. And overlook that EIC is served in some of the country’s marquee restaurants (New York’s Gramercy Tavern among them).

Instead, open a bottle—ideally with a Vermont cheese (Bayley Hazen Blue from neighboring Jasper Hill Farm would serve admirably)—and see (taste!) what the fuss is all about. The Legers’ handiwork bursts with intense apple perfume, of course, but also unravels in a multitude of other flavors: honey, orange peel, ripe pears, wood, caramel (wow—is that really cinnamon, or just a Proustian apple-pie moment?) and violet petals, with the daintiest edge of bitterness and a subtle, gradual afterburn of alcohol. Depth of character like that instantly elects Eden’s ice cider to a place in the pantheon of truly great dessert drinks, alongside vintage port, fine Sauternes and Jerez reserva sherries.

It is tempting to suggest that if you like apples, you will love top-shelf ice cider from uncommonly committed and earnest makers like the Legers. Rarely can you enjoy so many pleasing sensations in one food, enhanced by … Read More

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Brewery 802

Fayston Maple Imperial Stout title

I have heard more than one Vermonter respond with a “Who?” at the mention of the name Sean Lawson. This could be because Lawson, the brewer behind Lawson’s Finest Liquids, produces only about 500 barrels of his deliciously hoppy beer each year. This is equivalent to about 15,000 gallons—not a lot for this beer-loving state.

To put this figure into perspective, Hill Farmstead, which has an equally devoted following, produces about 1,800 barrels annually. Lawson’s Finest is available in limited distribution in Vermont, including on tap at the Farmhouse Tap & Grill in Burlington, the Three Penny Taproom in Montpelier and Prohibition Pig in Waterbury.

Sean Lawson at Brewery_Credit Monica Donovan-2

Sean Lawson
Photo by Monica Donovan

“The Double Sunshine IPA (an American double IPA with an 8% alcohol level) is my customers’ favorite,” says Garvin. “This is typically gone the same day it is delivered. And I’ve seen people get creative to get around the bottle limit—having their husbands, wives or friends buy beer or offering to pay strangers to buy the beer for them. Very rarely do we hang on to the beer.” Last summer, Lawson created a special maple wheat beer for the Warren Store.

In order to keep up with the ever-growing demand for his beer, which he describes as “hop forward, with assertive bitterness,” Lawson instituted a numbers system at the Waitsfield Farmers’ Market, where he sold beer one Saturday a month last summer. Lawson says that this kept everything much more organized and happy, including the hundreds of customers who drove to the market to purchase his beer.

“Customers could fill out an order form and shop other vendors at the market until their time slot came up. We had nothing but positive responses from our fans.”

Lawson is entirely self-taught. “I have worked in a couple of breweries,” he says. “But I learned a lot more through many years of home brewing and research, by subscribing to home brewing magazines, reading books and talking to other brewers. There’s been a little trial and error, too.”

Lawson has been approached by a number of people interested in investing in his business. For now, he is content doing exactly what he’s doing.

“My approach is pretty simple and basic,” he says. “First and foremost, my goal is to put out a great product and to live a good quality of life. My wife, Karen, is my business partner and I don’t have any full-time employees. We are happy shaping the business to the type of life that we want to live.” The pair do everything themselves, including designing the labels and vending at several festivals each year, where they meet new fans. Incredibly, they haven’t had to do any advertising or marketing, which also keeps expenses pretty low.

Of course, it is the beer that has developed such a cult-like following.

“My focus is always on quality—on making the finest beer that I possibly can,” says Lawson, whose Maple Tripple took home a silver medal at the World Beer Cup, the “Olympics of Beer. “It is also the freshness of my beer. You are never going to get beer as fresh as from your local brewery. With IPAs and hop-forward beers like the ones I make, the fresher you can get it, the better.”

One of my favorite Lawson beers is that award-winning Maple Tripple, which is made only once a year, during sugaring season. The Maple Tripple is brewed from concentrated maple sap from his Valley neighbors. The ale is incredibly rich with a silky texture and gorgeous color. I once heard it called “breakfast beer,” maybe because it goes down so easily. To me, it is the quintessential Vermont beer.

Lawson admits that his vision for the future includes growing the business to include a bigger facility and employees, but he is not in a rush.

“That kind of change represents a big leap for me because I really enjoy making the beer myself,” he says. “I won’t be able to keep it up forever, and I would like to offer good-paying jobs to locals and to meet some of the additional demand that’s out there.” For now, Sean and Karen Lawson are content to keep things on a mom-and-pop scale. 

Lawson’s Finest Liquids, LawsonsFinest.com

Pork and Maple Imperial Stout Chili Image

Spicy Pork Chili with Maple Imperial Stout

Sean Lawson will host the second beer-and-food-pairing dinner in February at Mad River Glen, where he runs the naturalist programs. The dinner will include food prepared and paired with Lawson’s Finest. Inspired, I developed this simple pork chili, which gets richness and heft from the Fayston Maple Imperial Stout.

—EM

3 slices thick-cut, smoky bacon, chopped
1½ pounds coarsely ground pork
Kosher salt, to taste
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1¼ teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
1 cinnamon stick
1 to 2 large chipotles in adobo, chopped
1 (28-ounce) can whole canned tomatoes, crushed, with their juice
1 (14-ounce) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1¾ to 2 cups Lawsons Finest Fayston Maple Imperial Stout
1 tablespoon pure Vermont maple syrup

Heat large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat and add the bacon. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the bacon crisps and starts to brown. Remove bacon to a plate with slotted spoon, leaving behind the delicious rendered fat. Pour all but 1 tablespoon of the fat into a jar; set aside. Add the ground pork and a pinch of salt; cook over medium-high heat, stirring a few times, until the pork is cooked through and nicely browned. Remove the pork from the pot.

Add another couple tablespoons of the bacon fat to the pot with the onion and the garlic. Season with a generous pinch of salt and cook over medium-low heat, adjusting heat as necessary to prevent burning, until the onions start to caramelize. Add a few tablespoons of water, as needed, to prevent the bottom of the pot from burning.

Turn the heat up to medium and add the spices; toast, stirring, until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, beans, stout and maple syrup to the pot along with the cooked pork and bacon. Bring to a gentle boil then lower to a simmer to cook for about 45 minutes, until the chili has thickened and come together. Season with salt to taste and serve with warm corn tortillas, cotija cheese, chopped red onion and a squeeze of lime.

Chocolate Stout Cake Image

Chocolate–Maple Imperial Stout Cake

The wine-bottle size of Lawson’s Fayston Maple Imperial Stout contains enough stout to make a batch of the chili and this moist not-too-sweet cake (plus a nip or two for yourself in between). The cake is much better the day after it is made. Buy a second bottle of the stout to sip with the cake. Recipe adapted from Bon Appétit magazine. —EM

1 cup Lawson’s Finest Fayston Maple Imperial Stout
1 cup unsalted butter
1  cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
⅔ cup pure Vermont maple syrup
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan. Melt the stout and butter in a … Read More

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