Celebrating Farm to Fork Chesapeake: The Fare Fair offers important perspectives on new, local culinary products
Jun 08, 2016 02:02PM ● Published by Cate Reynolds
Important perspectives and insights about local culinary trends and products emerge at the annual Future Harvest/Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture’s recent conferenceBy Rita Calvert // Photography by Stephen Buchanan
Ever wonder “Where do our restaurants and food purveyors obtain their Chesapeake regional goods?” Here are just a few examples, gleaned from Future Harvest/Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture’s recent conference. You might think that some of the new handcrafted food products are a few miles outside of your immediate horizon. Not at all, especially when you understand how their makers’ advocacy is helping to build a sustainable Chesapeake “foodshed.” While these handcrafted products stem from a desire to support the farm, they are also creating a respect for the land, yielding health and integrity, and keeping money in our region.
In the early months of the year, farmers and farm-based producers in the Chesapeake get a brief break from their central growing and farm market toil to attend conferences and network with the like-minded. Future Harvest sponsors events that bring many agrarian forces together. The wittily-named Fare Fair was my ticket to sample some of the region’s finest craft foods. All of the regional food producers whose products are or will be on the palates of Annapolitans inspired me, as more restaurants and stores pick up the fare. To try them yourself, request the products in your favorite store, mail order, or take a short trip out of town to visit.
Charlottetown Farm“What’s an empty-nester mom with extra time on her hands to do?” quips Pam Miller. This reluctant businessperson never had a conventional job in her life. The always-exuberant Pam was encouraged by her husband to get out of the “mom mold” and go for it! Going for a goat farm, that is, with handcrafted cheese products made from their sweet milk, as well as, goat milk confections such as goat milk fudge, cheesecake, and caramel sauce. Welcome to “Happy Goats, Extraordinary Cheese” at Charlottetown Farm in Freeland, Maryland.
Raised on a farm in Monkton, Maryland, Miller was always aware of where the family’s food was grown. Once content to share her baked goods with friends, Miller’s now a full-fledged artisan who is respected by many upscale restaurants for her line of goat milk products. Who placed their first order with her? A chef who overheard friends talking about the care and freshness of her goat cheese just had to have it in the restaurant. Growth followed, mostly by referrals from restaurants with customers’ ceaseless hankering for her herbed chèvre, chèvre crumbles, and goat ricotta. In a state where dairy regulations are especially tough, Miller created value-added products beyond milk, which meet the regulations and make people very happy to consume.
When Miller and I sat down to chat, she was very excited that Annapolis’ Whole Foods Market will be carrying her irresistible goat milk fudge. I know from the sampling I did during our photo shoot for this article, it’s impossible to eat just one piece. And therein: proof that “word-of-mouth” does get around. No doubt Miller’s exhilaration is a key ingredient in her products.
For more information visit charlottetownfarm.com.
J.Q. Dickinson Salt WorksDid you know you can even get regional salt? I learned this from Spike Gjerde of Woodberry Kitchen. He has been extolling the virtues of a local hand-harvested salt. I bumped into this product when their beautiful banner and fascinating photography caught my attention at the Fair Fare at the University of Maryland.
“A seventh generation salt-making family harvests an all-natural salt by hand, from an ancient ocean trapped below the Appalachian Mountains of the Kanawha Valley in West Virginia.”
With the family salt-works revival, only two and a half years new, brother and sister Nancy Bruns and Lewis Payne were both skilled speakers as they informed me that the Kanawha Valley was largest salt producing region of the United States during the 1800s.
Payne explained, “Our salt-making is a unique and innovative process, completed by hand without the use of big machinery and chemicals. We work to enhance the natural properties of the salt, using the power of the earth and hand-made tools to produce an extraordinarily pure product.”
For more information visit jqdsalt.com.
HEX FermentsIt would be an understatement to say that Meaghan and Shane Carpenter just happened upon fermented foods. Both born in the Midwest, they grew up surrounded by lush fields of vegetables, Meaghan explained to me as she offered a “Kraut Shooter.” Naturally they found it a perfect marriage to develop a business protecting our foodshed and our stomachs. Meaghan herself had tummy troubles and began creating fermented products for their probiotic benefits. In no less than three months, she says she felt better.
As far back as 10,000 B.C., wine, beer, vinegar, and breads marked the dawn of fermented foods. HEX Ferment’s motto, “Go with Your Gut,” employs a traditional process—no heat or white vinegar, so that their product is teeming with beneficial bacteria, healthy acids, and enzymes. The HEX sauerkraut is labeled “probiotic rich, living food.” Because it has never been pasteurized, the kraut and all other HEX products retain the microbes that are created through natural fermentation.
Savvy as entrepreneurs, the team is riding the wave of fermented foods’ popularity. Since our contemporary food-trend list makers like Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, David Chang, and local Sally Fallon, have been extolling the virtues of fermented foods, it is a hot culinary trend. With a two-year-old retail storefront in Baltimore’s Belvedere Square, presence at farmers’ markets, monthly cooking classes, and workshops, HEX Ferments adds the artisan touch by using ingredients grown locally with just a minimum of exotic components, such as a rare Thai Chile pepper.
As with many fledgling businesses, the encouragement of friends and family led the pair from a bartering hobby to setting up a serious storefront. “We busted our butts and got legit quick,” they admit. Always in a creative mode, their products are engagingly clever: Mung Sprout Kimchi, Black Spanish Radish, Glow Kraut (a bestseller and in photo), Lovers Truce Kimchi.
Meaghan claims, “It’s nice to see that the culture of food has been revitalized, but also a bit of our agrarian past also being revitalized!”
For more information visit belvederesquare.com/directory/hex-ferments.
MeatcraftersAs a small-batch line of salamis, cured meats, and sausages using high quality meats (many locally sourced), Meatcrafters mission is to support the heritage agrarian world. Their artisan products have been described as amazingly non-greasy—but flavor-infused.
Mitchell Berliner (a Washingtonian and co-founder of both the Pike Central Farm Market and the Bethesda Central Farm Market), Stanley Feder, and Debra Moser have a synergistic energy, a passion for our local region with a knowledge of growing a business with integrity. When I watched them in action, offering their wares to a bumper-to-bumper crowd while chatting, Moser pointed out their newest product, a finger-sized lamb sausage, in the cured meat line. They feel it will create a whole new category. The small, four-to-a-unit packages are shelf-stable (no refrigeration needed) and can fulfill the slot for a grab-and-go treat or a protein bonus for packed meals. Hey, give the kids a healthy munchie! These petite sausages are fabulously delicious with a pleasantly mellow spicy character.
The true beauty of Meatcrafters is their willingness to work with local farmers to create a signature, cured product from the meat the farmer has raised. Moser and Berliner discuss the style of product the farmer desires from his meat and offer various options that will adhere to USDA requirements and give maximum flavor profile. They also custom create proprietary salamis for restaurants or wineries giving all of these local businesses a signature product showcasing their proprietary label.
For more information visit meatcrafters.com.
Salazon Chocolate CompanyPete Truby is the brain behind Salazon Chocolate Company and the visionary who first decided on a camping trip to combine organic chocolate and sea salt for a then-unique, sweet savory marriage that, has since, soared. His career in our region’s food industry gave him palate experience while his business degrees rounded out the growth of a successfully-crafted business. Of course, a background in travel exposed him to the world of cacao farms and sea salt farms, where solar energy is used to evaporate the water, leaving salt that has a distinctive flavor. The bean-to-bar process means that entrepreneurs can control the chocolate making from the farm to the bar.
On a Utah camping trip in 2009, Truby reflected that a single bar of organic quality chocolate sprinkled with sea salt would be one of the best transportable energy foods possible. He then immersed himself in the world of chocolate. After visiting organic cacao farms in the Dominican Republic and perfecting the recipe, he launched Salazon Chocolate Co. and claims to be the first salted chocolate brand on the market. Salazon’s chocolate bars, from Dominican Republic cacao beans, are made from 100 percent organic, single-origin, Rainforest Alliance, and Fair Trade certified beans in the USA, and each bar is hand-sprinkled with natural, solar-evaporated sea salt. The smooth velvet bars contain between 57 percent and 72 percent dark chocolate.
Recently, Salazon teamed up with four other local artisans by incorporating their products to give each bar a special spark. Lyon Distilling Co. Rum, Rise Up Coffee, Michelle’s Granola, and J.Q. Dickinson Salt, all merit their own signature bar.
In 2011, Truby opened a retail store in Sykesville emphasizing organic products from companies with a social conscience. Being local, of course, is an extra special bonus. The news just in, is that the retail space has morphed into a local “fun” place as a winebar-—still selling those local products.
For more information visit salazonchoc.com.