A Postcard from Maine Fare 2007
By Kathy Gunst
Created May 23 2008 - 9:46am
September 17, 2007
It's Sunday night, the end of a great weekend in Camden, Rockport, Lincolnville, and Rockland celebrating Maine Fare 2007. Maine Fare is a three-day gathering of some of the state's best chefs, cheese makers, brewers, chocolate makers, food writers, cooking teachers, and food lovers. It's one of those events, like the Common Ground Fair, that makes you happy - well, proud - to be a Mainer.
Here are a few highlights:
Over a hundred people gathered on Friday night at the Waterfalls Event Center in downtown Camden to celebrate the opening of Maine Fare. "Tastings - A Relaxed Culinary Fundraiser Featuring Maine Chefs Who Celebrate Local Food On Every Menu" is a mouthful, but it captures what the event was all about. A Maine-tini, made from Cold River Vodka (distilled from Maine potatoes), was a great, potent start to the evening. The cheese, fire-roasted corn and chile enchiladas with tomatilla salsa atop grilled fresh tomato sauce made by the talented sisters who run El Camino in Brunswick were hugely successful. People were heard muttering: "I never knew you could get decent Mexican food in the state, but WOW!"
Fresh cannellini beans, Maine peekytoe crab, and heirloom tomato salad from Cleonice Bistro in Ellsworth was also delicious, as were the Pemaquid oysters with cider mignonette from Francine Bistro in Camden.
But I couldn't keep away from the center table where close to 25 Maine-made cheeses were displayed like crown jewels. There were at least a dozen fresh goat cheeses (coated in black pepper, pink and green peppercorns, tarragon, rosemary, and a wide variety of herbs). But the highlight for me was discovering Hahn's End cheeses from Phippsburg. Aged, artisanal cheeses made with fresh raw cow's milk, these cheeses (which won a 2007 national American Cheese Society Competition, along with ten other Maine-made cheeses) are extremely nuanced and sophisticated. I also loved the organic, creamy, very full-flavored Thistle Blue Cheese made by Monroe Cheese Studio.
Saturday morning dawned soaking wet but several hundred people showed up for the day's events. To kick off the Fare there was a panel, rather generically titled "What is Maine Fare?" moderated by Nancy Harmon Jenkins. One of the masterminds behind Maine Fare, Jenkins, a Camden native, asked the question: "Why do you care about Maine food?"
Sam Hayward, owner and chef of the renowned Portland restaurant, Fore Street and a great champion of Maine farmers and growers, told the story of his trip last week to a small, outer island (he wouldn't divulge the exact location) to help with the lambs he buys for his restaurant. Feeding on kelp and various seaweeds along the shores of this Maine island, the lambs pick up a briny, salty flavor. (Having tasted Fore Street's lamb I can tell you that lamb's that graze by open Maine waters produces incredibly flavorful meat.) Sam also described the lamb's grazing patterns and the way they keep the forest from encroaching and taking over the islands interior.
Barbara Damrosch, who with her husband Eliot Coleman runs Four Seasons Farm in Cape Rosier, talked about the need to eat "food that is alive" from "soil that is alive." A master gardener and columnist for the Washington Post, Damrosch spoke of her passion for growing food year-round in their unheated greenhouses and the importance of eating local and in season. She was quick to point out that they don't grow tomatoes in February but focus on winter salad greens and root vegetables.
Later in the day I moderated a panel of Maine food writers, sharing stories, writing tips, and the highs and lows of being a food writer in the state. (The general consensus: it's a tough way to pay the mortgage.) Writers Michael Sanders (a frequent Down East contributor, and author of "From Here You Can't See Paris" and "Families of the Vine"), Nancy Harmon Jenkins (author of "The Mediterranean Diet" and many other cookbooks devoted to Italian cuisine) and a young woman named Jessica Battilana (who is working on a grant to collect oral histories of the culinary traditions of Aroostok County) filled the afternoon with their words and love of Maine food.
That night I was lucky enough to have dinner at Francine Bistro, in downtown Camden, and discover yet another great Maine chef, Brian Hill. The white corn soup, topped with local saut`ed chanterelles, raw corn, and Maine crabmeat, was outstanding. Creamy, earthy, and sweet, it was one of the great soups I've eaten this year. A massive hunk of wood-fired pork loin, stuffed with linguica sausage, and served with spinach grits (a creamy fabulously green mixture of grits and fresh spinach), and locally-made crab apple jelly, was tender and flavorful. It was the perfect meal for a chilly late summer evening.
Sunday morning arrived with bright autumnal light. The crowds were thinner, but the cooking demos and panels went on with great enthusiasm. Gardener and cookbook author Leslie Land gave a great demo about "putting food by," and yours truly showed the crowd how to cook various dishes using harvest foods - Beets Napoleon with Chive Oil, Savory Corn Fritters, and Spanish Tomato Toast. No one went home hungry.
Maine Fare is young - a mere two years old and it shows signs of growing pains. It is an event that has enormous promise and through the hard, intense work of many volunteers, was a huge success. There are many facets of the event that need improvement (mostly organizational), but it made this Maine girl proud to be a part of it.
From Stonewall Kitchen Harvest by Kathy Gunst, Jonathan King, and Jim Stott
Don't you just love recipes that look so elegant and restaurant-worthy that people think you spent the whole day in the kitchen? This is one. Yellow and red beets are roasted until tender, then sliced and layered with a chive-flavored goat cheese. The napoleons are then drizzled with a dramatic emerald-green chive puree. The whole dish can be made ahead of time and plated just before serving, making it an ideal first course for any dinner party. It also makes a great lunch dish, served with crusty bread and an arugula salad.
Makes about 14 napoleons; serves 4 or 5.
1 1/2 pounds small red and yellow beets, no larger than 1 to 1 ½ inches across
6 ounces soft goat cheese
1 tablespoon sour cream or heavy cream
¼ packed cup finely chopped chives
1/8 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Generous grinding black pepper
Chive Puree, see below
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place 4 beets on a large piece of foil and wrap tightly. (If the beets are big, only wrap two in each foil packet.) Repeat with the remaining beets. Roast for about 1 hour, or until tender. Beets can vary widely in cooking time. Small, fresh beets may be ready after only 45 minutes of roasting, while large, dense, not-quite-as-fresh beets can take up to 1 ½ hours. To test, place a small, sharp knife in the center; the beet should feel soft and tender all the way through. Let cool for about 5 to 10 minutes. Using your fingers or a small, sharp knife, peel off the beet skin and trim the ends. Thinly slice the beets and set aside to cool completely.
Meanwhile, place the goat cheese, sour cream, chives, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Using the back of spoon or a rubber spatula, cream the cheese until soft and the chives are fully incorporated. Make the chive puree. (The beets, cheese filling, and chive puree can be made a day ahead of time; cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble.)
To assemble, place a slice of red beet on a plate. Spread about ½ teaspoon of the cheese mixture on top and then top with a slice of yellow beet. Spread another ½ teaspoon of cheese on top and then top the cheese with a third slice of red beet. You can use any color combination you like: all yellow, all red, or alternating colors. You can also place a half teaspoon of the cheese filling on the top beet slice. Repeat to form remaining napoleons.
To serve, place a small pool of chive puree (a tablespoon or two or three depending on the size of the plate) on a serving plate and arrange 2 or 3 napoleons in the center of the oil. Serve any remaining chive puree on the side.
Place ¾ (three quarters) cup of chopped chives and ¾ (Three quarters) cup of olive oil in a food processor or blender and puree. Season with salt and pepper. Keep refrigerated. Makes about 1 cup.