Artisan Cheese from Lancaster At McGinnis Sisters

I love cheese. Last spring, at Waltz Vineyard’s barrel tasting (part of a fun Wine and Chocolate tour), I fell in love with Common Folk Pecan Jack.   It came from an unfamiliar company called FarmFromage.  Once I got home, I googled a bit and found out that  a man named Howard, in kind of a second career, now sells these amazing handmade Lancaster County artisan cheeses to restaurants and retail outlets. His goal is to preserve small independent farms.  Read more about Howard here.

Howard likes cheese, too.

I told Karen Novak, the lovely and knowledgable cheesemonger at McGinnis Sisters in Monroeville about Howard and she contacted him, sent for some samples . . and voila . . we can now get Howard’s cheese right here in our area! Karen tells me that she just got some unbelievable FarmFromage Beer Tomme last week. (Tommes are normally produced from the skim milk left over after the cream has been removed to produce butter and high fat cheeses, or when there is too little milk to make a full fat cheese.) I am going to get some tomorrow and you should, too!

Here's Karen!

FarmFromage cheese

If you love cheese, please go out to McGinnis Sisters’ Monroeville store to meet Karen and then pick up some of Howard’s finds when you’re there.

I love the Laurel Highlands, Part 2.

Last Friday, I had the honor of being chaffeured around Fayette County by Donna Holdorf, the executive director of the National Road Heritage Corridor, headquartered in Uniontown.  The National Road runs for ninety miles in Southwestern PA and it is lined with treasures – museums, restaurants, markets, wineries, outdoor adventures – and everything in-between.

Look at this view!

We started by taking in the truly breathtaking  view at The Summit Inn.  I’ve driven past this resort for something like 50 years ( obviously someone else was doing the driving way back then) but never stopped to check it out.  I was speechless.  Hard to believe, I know.

Grapevines at Christian Klay Winery

Next stop?  Christian Klay Winery in Farmington right there on the National Road.   After a tour of the property with owner Sharon Klay, we sipped and chatted about her wine, and being no grape expert, I learned a lot.  Sharon is a talented artist and her creativity is evident in her wines and in the ambiance at her vineyard.  Running late, we skipped Washington Tavern at Fort Necessity (but you can bet your booties I’m going back) and made our way to Caleigh’s, a restaurant   off the main street in Uniontown. Donna and I shared a fantastic pork belly appetizer, a cup of crab and corn bisque (made with the first of the local corn) and some sort of amazing cheesecake for dessert, possibly cappucino flavored (?). I was so delirious from all the yummy food, that I can’t remember the flavor. I had their Novara Insalata in between the pork belly and the dessert, just to toss in some veggies.   I would definitely make the trip from Pittsburgh for a meal at Caleigh’s.  Chef Joe Carei’s talented and care is evident.

Whatever the flavor, it was superb.

The trip continued with a few stops in Uniontown, Brownsville and then on to Scenery Hill, where we met Alisa Fava-Fasnacht at Bank 40 Mercantile. Alisa and her husband own Emerald Valley Artisans and they recently opened an old bank (very cool inside)  to sell their cheese and other local products.  A short tour of historic The Century Inn and other cute shops on the main drag and it was getting late and time to get back to home base in Uniontown.  I’m planning a tour or two this fall to the regions around the National Road.  Keep an eye on the Tours link for more details.  They’re going to be great.

Beet Greens, Bees, Bardine’s and Babies – A Beautiful Day!

Yesterday was  my idea of a perfect day. It kinda started the night before at a wine tasting at Palate Partners/ Dreadnought Wines, where Eric Miller from Chaddsford Winery was signing his new book, and Debbie at Dreadnought was sampling six different wines.  Too fun.  Too much fun, maybe?  Look at the photo below.

My best photo from the wine tasting. Hmm. A little too much wine, maybe?

The joy spilled over into Saturday, when I met so many great people, got to wander around, tasted some new foods and saw an amazing pre-Mother’s Day event.  Saturday started with a visit to the Farmers’ Market Cooperative of East Liberty for some PA cheese and a few baked goods. A quick drive to the Strip for the season opening on Farmers@Firehouse was next, where I bought some asparagus, tender beet greens and chard, and got to meet Lucinda from Paradise Gardens and Farm. I’ve enjoyed her super fresh goat’s milk products for a while now and love putting a face to the name behind the goodies.

Finally, I meet Lucinda!

Then on to Salem’s (2923 Penn Avenue Pittsburgh, PA 15201-1518,  412- 235-7828) for some Middle Eastern goodies and Greek treats at Salonika, both in the Strip.  I love these stores because the selection is great, the parking is easy and they’re a little bit away from the Saturday craziness of Penn Ave on a Saturday. And look at the happy exterior of Salem’s.


Next stop?  A quick drive ( it’s on the way home) to Lawrenceville to find the perfect last minute M-Day gift.  The Gallery on 43rd proved to be the right choice – not only did I find the perfect mosaic for mom, but I also had energizing conversations with Jennie from Bee Happy Honey, Zo Re of  ZoBaby and Mona of The Artful Tart.  Wonderful women.  By then, I was way behind schedule, and I needed to check the route for part of my upcoming Italian tour.  Mapquest wasn’t working for the backroads out near Latrobe, so I had to test the route myself. It was one of those afternoons with sun, rain, dark clouds and blue skies, all within minutes of each other. Fabulous.

The sky outside of Bardine's

With tour route nailed down,  I decided to pop into  Bardine’s Smokehouse in Crabtree to introduce myself, as I had written about them in the May issue of Frommer’s Budget Travel, and although I shop there frequently, I thought I should probably let them put a face to the name on the story.  Gary Bardine, the owner, was there and we had a long chat about sausagemaking and his passion for quality.  Thank goodness for people like Gary.

On the way back to Route 22, through gorgeous spring farmland, I noticed a cow standing in the field, looking kind of odd. I stopped to stare and right then and there she gave birth to a calf. Oh, my.  I pulled over and watched for a bit, then took some photos as the little one tried to stand for the first time.  It was the perfect end to a perfect day.

A mom's first Mother's Day!



Pennsylvania Farm Show – Part 2

Prize winning apple pie, first place celery root and a blue ribbon camo wedding gown.  All to be found at the 2011 PA Farm Show.  Great stuff.

But what I enjoy most is meeting local folks who own small food related businesses. The one who make jams, hot sauces, spice rubs and cheese.    So, for me, the Main Hall of the 2011 Pennsylvania Farm Show was a bit of heaven.

Here are some of my favorite products from the commercial exhibits.

Christina Maser – I first found her soy candles at  Lilypad in Lititz (34 East Main Street) and I’ve been swooning over owner Gretchen Maser’s products ever since.   Her White Bean Chicken Chili mix,  Mediterranean  Spice Rub  and Blueberry Basil Lemon Jam are just a few of the flavor filled offerings  (and the packaging is sharp and contemporary.) Gretchen was at the show with her son Neil and she found out yesterday that her space at the show won  Best Market Place Display.  Congrats, Gretchen!

Gretchen and Neil Maser

Kelchner’s Horseradish – I’ve been a fan of this horseradish for a long time. It’s second only to my dad’s hand grated horseradish. Sorry, dad has to hold the first place position.  I was so excited when Kelchner’s became a staple at the Good Taste! Pittsburgh show and thrilled to come across their booth at the Farm Show, where they were giving samples of their goodies, including the new creamy Horseradish Sauce.  Yum.

Miller’s Mustard – It’s not just the name that I like ( Miller, get it?),  but the mustard is darn good. It won first place at the 2010 Fiery Foods International Gourmet Food. And it’s made right here in Western PA in Gibsonia.

Farmstead Fresh Cheese – Made from organic raw milk, from grass fed cows.  If you’re new to raw milk cheese, the Colby, Yogurt or Mozzarella varieties are good starting points.  The Baby Swiss is a winner too.  Did you know that Pennsylvania is the second largest US producer of Swiss, at 10.7 million pounds per year? Holey moley!

Wild Mountain Gourmet -Wild Mountain’s Sweet and Spicy Mustard was the 2010 Grand Champion at the Napa Valley World Mustard Competition ( It’s good stuff.

And last, but not least . .

Torchbearer Sauces –  Spicy hot sauces right out of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.  Not for the timid, these sauces have a real kick and have won national awards.  With names like Zombie Apocalypse and The Rapture, Torchbearer’s goods would make the perfect Valentine’s Day gift for your favorite “hottie.”

Stay tuned for Part 3.  The Food Court.

The East Liberty Farmer’s Market

When I see these at the farm market, it is going to be a good day!

When I see these at the farm market, it is going to be a very good day!

Pittsburgh’s farm markets are open and I couldn’t be happier.  But sometimes our city’s weather doesn’t cooperate with strolling the outdoor farm stands.

Don’t get me going on ‘Burgh weather. Oops.  Too late.  I’m already annoyed from the  rainy May, so allow me to tell a quick weather story before I get back to the topic of farm markets.

What is this? A typical Pittsburgh sky. Notice the lack of sun.

Many years ago, while in sunny Maui on vacation, we stopped at a sunglass store where they altered the UV  value of the glasses based on where the customer lived.  When we told the folks behind the counter that we lived in Pittsburgh, they laughed. And laughed. A lot.   Our fair city was second only to Seattle on their list of  cloudiest cities.  Ha ha – it was sooooooo funny. Not.

Back to farm markets. So it seems to rain a lot here on weekends, especially in June once the Three Rivers Arts Festival begins.  But there is one ray of sunshine each and every Saturday. The East Liberty Farmer’s Cooperative, located at 344 N. Sheridan Street near Home Depot, is an indoor farm market open on Saturdays year round.

The East Liberty Farmers Cooperative

Established in 1941, it’s  the oldest farm market in Western Pennsylvania.   So early on Saturday mornings  (the market is open from 5 until 10 AM,) I visit this small-ish indoor market to buy eggs, chicken or Indian food and grab a glass of fresh squeezed fruit juice.  Even mid-winter when local  produce is sparse, this little market gives me enough “farm” to get me through the winter.   Recent personal highlights at the market included delish whole wheat gnocchi from Vandergrift  based Fontana pasta, Jamaican coffee from the Kew Park Coffee Stand, Riverview Dairy goat cheese and my  favorite horseradish hummus from The Greek Stop. Oh, and the Kew Park folks are now bringing in fresh pressed olive oils from California. Can’t wait to give them a try this Saturday. Rain or shine.

Last Day In Philadelphia: Cheese, bitters and “keeping it local”

My final Philly morning began at  the Rittenhouse Square outpost of DiBruno Brothers, the gourmet market in business since 1939.  Ever since I spied a photo of their original Italian Market location with a banner reading The House of Cheese, I knew I had to visit.  I love cheese.  The stinkier the better.

Cheese at DiBruno Brothers

Turns out the store was a very short distance from my hotel, which meant I could buy a lot and not get my usual arm bruises  from jostling heavy grocery bags through city streets. Hooray! (One  bonus of driving instead of flying on my adventures is there’s lots of  extra room in my (cooler filled) trunk.  Foodies always travel with at least one cooler on hand,  just in case they come across some great food finds.)  Anyway, this bustling shop was filled with charcuterie, artisan cheeses, pasta, tempting chocolates and breads, olive oils.  . . all displayed like a Milan market . My most exciting purchase?  A slew of flavored bitters.  Like chocolate,grapefruit, and sour cherry. Mix them with seltser or use them to make delish cocktails.

Can't wait to try these!

After a quick trip back to the hotel to drop off my goodies,  one more walk was necessary before that tedious drive on the good ol’ PA Turnpike back to Pittsburgh. I started down Sansom Street,  where the previous day I looked into a sweet little boutique  (okay, so I didn’t just look, I bought things, too)  called SA VA. What does this have to do with food? Well, read on.  It was my lucky day because Sarah Van Aken, the owner and designer, was walking between her shop and her manufacturing facility next door, so I told her how much I loved the clothes I bought the day before.

SA VA's shopping bag minus my purchases. . love the eco friendly bag!

Van Aken mentioned  she also designs uniforms for upscale restaurants such as Izakaya at the Borgata in Atlantic City, Alfred Portale’s Gotham in NY and Gotham Steak in Miami, Forge and Rouge Tomate in NY and Supper on Philly’s South Street under the Van Aken Signature brand. So cool.  Visit her beautiful shop in person or online and keep your eyes out for Sarah’s creations in the hottest restaurants. How inspiring to see young, innovative people doing good things for their city. Now, it’s back to the ‘Burgh, with one quick stop in PA Dutch Country on the way home.

Philly Food – A Mouthful of Gelato and A Bit of Fermentation

The City of Brotherly Love.  Usually I only see the skyline from my car window while stuck in the eternal congestion on the Schuylkill  Expressway (aka Surekill Distressway –   sorry, just had to type that.) It’s the route I take on my way from visiting my oldest daughter on the Main Line to my fave beach town on the Jersey shore.  This week it was time to get off the highway and explore. After dropping off my bags at the pleasantly quirky  Hotel Palomar,

Copper Wall Sculpture at Hotel Palomar

I went in search of Capogiro Gelato. I read about this small batch gelato maker in Saveur magazine and in The New York Times so I had to check it out.

Capogiro Gelato Cafe at Sansom and 20th

Lucky for me, indecision always reigns, because the gelati and sorbetti  can be sampled  before your final selections.  I tried. . . Grapefruit/Campari, Burnt Sugar, Thai Coconut Milk, Sal (yes, sal means salt and it was fabulous .. so there, sodium police), Bacio (chocolate and hazelnut with bits of caramelized hazelnuts), Tangerine and Bananas Foster.  Smooth and creamy, with pure fresh flavors, this gelato was the best I’ve ever tasted.


Due to gelato overload, dinner was a few small plates and a glass of wine at a casual cafe called Tria  on the corner of Sansom and 18th near Rittenhouse Square.

Tria Cafe at 18th and Sansom Street

Tria focuses on fermentation (think cheese, wine and beer) –  one of my favorite chemical processes besides getting blond highlights and using Nair hair remover.  Their wine list is playful, with labels such as  Zippy, Smooth, Sociable, and Funky to describe categories of wine.. I chose Bold – a 2002  Mas Igneus Priorat  that tasted like  dark red cherries. Mmmmm.  I ordered Tuna and Chickpea stuffed Piquillo Peppers withParsley Garlic Oil and Warm Poached Black Mission Figs with Gorgonzola and Prosciutto. Both were delicious, but the plump, oozy figs were sweet and salty perfection.  Dessert was a small sliver of  completely unctuous Creme ux De Bourgogne, a cow’s milk cheese from Burgundy, served with a spoonful of sweet dried cherries soaked in Allegash White, a  wheat beer from Portland, Maine.  A  walk around tree lined Rittenhouse Square was necessary after dinner and before returning to The Palomar.  More in the next post about my fun foodie walking tour of Ben Franklin’s hometown.