Boasting a vibrant community of independent farmers raising livestock, operating dairies and growing an array of fruits, grains and vegetables, New York’s Finger Lakes can be proud that eating local has been the norm long before it was trendy. Farm stands dot every stretch of road, offering everything from pick-your-own blueberries to artisanal charcuterie and cheese. It’s a wonderful place to hunt for epicurean treasures and truly embrace the farm-to-table experience. As a start, here are some recommended foodie delights that you won’t want to miss on your next trip to the Finger Lakes.
Finger Lakes Cheese Trail
The Finger Lakes Cheese Trail features over a dozen producers of hand-crafted, artisanal cheese in a breadth of styles—everything from probiotic-rich kefir cheese to hearty Dutch-style Gouda. Comprised primarily of family-owned producers utilizing milk from their own herds of cows, sheep and goats, the Cheese Trail is centered primarily around Seneca and Cayuga Lakes, but ambles across the lakeside communities south of I-90. For delectable goat milk chèvre, blue cheese (like their famous Cayuga Blue) or feta, visit Lively Run Goat Dairy in Interlaken. If aged, sharp cheddar or jalapeño Monterey jack is more your style, try Sunset View Creamery in nearby Odessa. Most stops on the Cheese Trail offer seasonal tours of the farms and cheesemaking operations, and opportunities to meet a host of adorable, yet hard-working goats, cows, pigs and other farm animals. Call ahead for hours and tour information.
Penn Yan Mercantile
With the exception of coffee and sugar, every product at the Penn Yan Mercantile, a general store specializing in organic and natural products, is produced within 100 miles of Penn Yan Village, located north of Keuka Lake. Owners Elizabeth and Daniel Hoover—who both grew up on dairy farms, raising cattle and organic produce—opened the Mercantile last May. Daniel, formerly a manager of a local organic mill, procures an exotic assortment of wheat and grains that can be purchased whole, custom-milled or in their own house-baked breads. For a unique alternative to brown rice or quinoa, look for “fricka,” an organic green spelt grown right in Penn Yan and roasted like freekeh, the ancient green wheat associated with the Middle East. Cooked like brown rice and added to pilaf or a warm grain salad, it adds a delightfully nutty taste and texture. Their housemade organic ice creams are a big hit in the summer, but also a wonderful place to stock up on staples like local eggs, dairy and honey.
Stony Brook Butternut Squash Seed Oil
Embracing the art of creating something out of nothing, former Bostonians Greg Woodworth and Kelly Coughlin salvaged butternut squash seeds from local farms previously destined for the compost bin to create Stony Brook WholeHearted Foods, a company producing delicate butternut squash seed oils. At Stony Brook, gently roasted squash seeds are expeller-pressed in small batches and bottled by hand. Smoky and rich, with a warm, nutty palate, their amber-colored oils are a delicious alternative to olive oil and perfect for dipping bread, or for drizzling onto salads, fish or roasted vegetables. You’ll find Stony Brook oils in tasting room gift shops and restaurants throughout the Finger Lakes, as well as an increasing number of restaurants in Boston and New York.
This April, Lisa Hallgren and her brother, Chef Abel Gonzalez, of Ravines Wine Cellars, will open Ravinous Kitchen, a tasting room café serving an array of homemade, locally sourced quiches, sandwiches and small plate items. Their menu, organized according to wine pairings, is designed to highlight winemaker Morten Hallgren’s elegantly dry, Old World-style wines.
Based in the heart of Penn Yan’s bustling agricultural community, Hallgren and Gonzalez rely heavily on fresh, organic and locally produced ingredients, most of which are available at the Penn Yan Mercantile, located just down the road from Ravines. To make this sweet and savory apple and onion tart, they use farmstead cream from Evan’s Farmhouse Creamery in Dundee (5037 State Hwy. 23 Norwich , NY, tel: 607-334-5339), chèvre from Lively Run Dairy in Interlaken and organic eggs from Ada Mae Hoover, the mother of Penn Yan Mercantile owner, Daniel Hoover.
Hallgren and Gonzalez grow all of their own herbs and purchase hickory-smoked bacon from Shirks Meats, a Mennonite farm in Dundee (4342 John Green Road, Dundee, NY, tel: (607-243-5581).
At the Ravinous Kitchen, Lisa suggests serving this tart with a dry, aromatic Riesling like their 2008 Argetsinger Vineyard Dry ($25). To pair with their elegantly fruity 2010 Dry Pinot Rosé ($15), Lisa suggests the substituting apple with a large tomato and ¼ minced sweet red pepper.
Ravinous Kitchen Sweet & Savory Tart
1 large sweet onion, diced
Sea salt & freshly ground white pepper to taste
1 large fresh apple, diced or sliced thinly
4 strips smoked bacon (applewood or hickory), chopped into ½ inch pieces
2 tablespoons butter
4-5 oz good domestic chèvre
2 tablespoons fresh thyme or rosemary
2 farm fresh eggs
¾ cup cream
1 pâte brisée tart shell (recipe follows), although frozen will do in a pinch
Sauté onions, sea salt and white pepper in butter over medium high heat until lightly caramelized. Add apples and continue cooking for 2 minutes, then set aside to cool. Arrange sautéed apples and onion, along with the bacon, Chévre and herbs on the bottom of a par-baked tart shell. Combine beaten eggs with cream and salt and pepper to taste, then pour into tart shell.
Bake for 30 minutes at 375° (longer if you prefer it well done).
Pâte Brisée (makes two tart shells)
2 cups unbleached flour
1 tablespoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter cut into ½ inch cubes and frozen
½ cup ice water
Preheat oven to 450°. Place flour and salt in a food processor. Add butter and pulse five times. Turn processor on and quickly add water until dough begins to lump together. Add a few more droplets of water if needed. Dump dough onto work surface and quickly press into two uniform discs. Place discs into a plastic bag and refrigerate at least 2 hours (if making only one tart, the second disc can be stored in the freezer for up to one month).
After the dough has chilled, roll out the disc into a round 1½ inch wider than the circumference of your tart pan, approximately 1/8 inch thick. Work quickly so the dough stays chilled. Place round over tart pan, tucking the excess dough along the sides of the pan to reinforce the sides. Poke holes in the bottom with a fork and refrigerate again for 20 minutes. Line the surface and sides of the chilled tart shell with parchment paper and place pie weights atop to keep the tart shell from puffing up and the sides from collapsing. Bake 15 minutes. Remove parchment paper and weights and allow to cool before filling.