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.

Lancaster County Tours

White Chocolate Mousse with Frangelico. Notice the Whoopie Pies - gobs to Pittsburghers - peeping out from the background.

If I’ve ever needed one of those herbal cleanses I read about in magazines, today might be the day.  I spent the weekend in the Lancaster area on a Wine and Chocolate Tour with Lancaster County Tours, LLC, a culinary tour company. The weekend started with a chocolate buffet at my wonderful home base, The Artist’s Inn & Gallery, in Terre Hill.  The literature for this B&B mentioned that the “horse and buggies” would be clip-clopping past the Inn, and they were right.  It’s the loveliest sound. Really is.  I could have stayed in my cozy bed there all day just waiting for another carriage to pass by, but since chocolate… and wine were on the agenda, I sprung to action at 8AM for Jan’s delicious breakfast, which included yummy white chocolate French toast. The day ended with a special chocolate trio dessert at a trendy restaurant in downtown Lancaster.  The chocolate creme brulee was what dreams are made of.  ( I know, that sentence ended in a preposition. I don’t care.)  Each stop on the tour was delightful. . .  talented food and wine artisans, enthusiastic store owners and creative chefs.  The B& B folks ( five are involved with the tours) and the guests were friendly and fun. Really fun. I came home with a bunch of new Facebook friends.

Notice this old tin says Lunch Chocolate. We had breakfast, lunch and dinner chocolate on this tour!

I’m not sharing any stops on the tour because then it would ruin the excitement for your own trip. Which you really should do.  Oh, and there are other culinary tours coming up in the next few months and they would make great Mother’s or Father’s Day  gifts.

Next blog:  my first barrel tasting.  Definitely not my last barrel tasting.

Apple cider, pumpkins and squash

Apple Cider Press

Last weekend we drove on over to Soergel Orchards in Wexford, a place that holds many precious fall memories of hayrides, cornstalk mazes and sticky candy apples. But those days are long gone and now the barn where the cider is made interests us more than face painting (thank goodness.)   The whole building was filled with the sweet smell of apples.  It was really  pretty neat how the fruits were mashed and spread on a riveted tray. Then the trays were stacked until there were about twenty all piled up; then they were  squished with a large steel “presser.”  The cider ran off the sides of the stack, into a filter and then to a pipe that transported that sweet juice into another room for pasteurization.  I love the mechanics of food processing, so I could’ve stayed here all day.

And I love Soergel’s, but my favorite place for pumpkins is the farmland near Lancaster. The farmers put out giant piles of pumpkins on the side of the road. Folks stop by, select their pumpkins (top price.  . . one dollar . . . no kidding) and put the money in a little  metal box near the pumpkin pile. It’s the best pumpkin deal around (okay, it does take a few hours to drive there) and the lack of commercialism is downright charming. Last year I bought a nifty metal stand at an Amish store which allows me to make fun  pumpkin piles.  Look at the great selection that I chose for my front porch decor . . all at a total cost of about $2.75.

Nifty Stack of Squash

On to other squash. I love butternut squash. Nutterbuts as we call them here.  But acorn squash are another story. Why don’t I like them?  Why?  I feel sorry for the four or five acorn squash on my counter right now.   I’ve been accumulating them each week from my CSA box. They’re so cute, but . . . ick.   If anyone has a good recipe for acorn squash, please send it my way. In the meantime, I am getting out my fave oldtimer vegetable cookbook. The Victory Garden Cookbook by Marian Morash. Maybe tomorrow I’ll post photos of my acorn squash cooking results.

Lancaster Farm Markets

Yesterday when I looked up  at the sky, it looked like Fall.  It had to do with  something in the color of the clouds against the sun, a different kind of shading, a  filtered type of light. Winter is not my season, so this first feeling of autumn makes my heart sink a bit, but then I remember that fall means pumpkins, gourds and apples at the farm markets. It’ll be okay.

Two of my favorite large farm markets are located mid-state. One is Roots . . . correctly pronounced  like soot and not toot, if that makes any sense. I am too lazy to type it out phonetically. Roots Country Market and Auction is located in Manheim, PA and it’s held on Tuesdays from 9 til 9  (May to October) and 9 to8 (the rest of the year.)  My other favorite market is the Green Dragon, located in Ephrata, PA. The Green Dragon Farmer’s Market and Auction is open on Fridays, from 9 til 9 . From January 1 through February 26, it closes at 8PM instead of 9. Bring coolers, because there is a lot to buy.

Who can be sad about Fall when there are pumpkin gobs to eat?

Both markets have indoor and outdoor stalls, and sell a mish-mash  of everything from local produce, to Amish canned foods and baked goods, to livestock, to the usual flea market items like socks and designer knock-off handbags.  There’s something for everyone. It’s not for uppity folks. I love it.  My favorite stands are the ones with the Amish baked goods, the home canned pickles and the home brewed root beer. I also try to scout out any  butcher stalls because they always have giant smoked turkey legs and ham hocks.  Homemade split pea soup can sure cheer me up on a chilly fall day.

Now that's what I call a turkey leg!

By mid-September, I  can always find lots of different shapes of squash and pumpkins for outdoor decorating, along with apple cider, apple butter and pumpkin whoopie pies ( gobs to some of us) to get me excited for the season.  Let’s hope a visit to the markets does the trick, because I feel old man winter breathing down my neck already and I’ve got to prepare. Get me some of those pumpkin gobs, a bag of apples and a few butternut squash. Pronto!