The restaurant business is a brutal one. Cripplingly long hours, injuries and physical and emotional stress are just some of the hardships restaurateurs and chefs endure, only to cater to the capricious whims of the dining public.
But one bright spot to the biz, at least in Vermont, is a close-knit community of producers with great food. Today's sixth annual Black River Produce Food Show is a culinary Candyland — without the presence of Gloppy the Molasses Monster or Lord Licorice. Some requisite out-of-state distributors make the trip, but the reason most Vermont industry folk come out each year is to see what's happening on the local scene.
Here are a few of my favorites:
One of my favorite cheeses, finally made in Vermont by one of my favorite producers, Maplebrook Fine Cheese. The semi-soft, nutty fontina that I tried was the first official batch, but Italy had better take note. The Green Mountains can make our own earthy fontina just fine, thanks.
Allergic to everything but soy? There's a new gluten-, lactose- and dairy-free dessert in town. Montréal-based Soyummi is now manufacturing, along with Vermont Soy, in the Northeast Kingdom. And the dark chocolate pudding I tasted was actually good. Sweetened with beet syrup, it's light tasting but still satisfyingly chocolaty. I just wish I'd saved room to try one of their CoGo coconut milk smoothies.
If you've shopped in the freezer aisle at local specialty food stores, chances are you've seen Linda Furiya's Yum Dragon Dumplings. But with a new manufacturer, Furiya has changed her recipes and expanded her offerings. I was especially fond of her meaty pork-and-vegetable dumplings with Red Hot N' Spicy sauce. Both were strikingly similar to what we prepared together for a story back in 2009. I didn't get to try any when Furiya brought her wares to Sunday's Vermont Restaurant Week Foodie Flick, but I'll look forward to more soft but pleasantly chewy dumpling wrappers in my future.
Finally, Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery, which never seems to run out of good ideas, has another "Why didn't I think of that?" slam dunk. Chevre crumbled with cranberries and fresh tarragon was more than the sum of its parts. Another combination of apricots and thyme came with an equally powerful punch of flavor. I can't wait to take advantage of this new line of flavored crumbled goat cheeses, my new key to making a lazy weekday salad seem composed.
Eating at the event was fabulous, with dishes ranging from steak tartare and porchetta sandwiches with meat from Vermont Family Farms, to an herbaceous chicken ballotine at the Misty Knoll Farms booth.
But I must close with my favorite photo of the event from a decidedly non-local company. Hey, we all need a little monkfish love sometimes.