You never know what you might find if you just keep driving. This was one of my mother’s favorite lessons, which always resulted in long hours spent exploring back roads in our beastly tan minivan. Every time she felt a bit restless, we set out on a great adventure in search of the perfect steak, ice cream, produce stand, or whatever she might be craving that day. Somehow, she always managed to stumble across the exact thing she promised to find. It was like magic. Magic for a food lover.
I am certain my mother would have never stopped driving if we had lived in the Berkshires. Just a few hours west of Boston and arguably one of the most picturesque places in New England (Norman Rockwell did call it home and immortalized the people and setting in his paintings, after all), Berkshire County (Massachusetts) overflows with artisanal makers, peppered among its rolling hills and rural landscape. You don’t have to drive far to find a baker, a distiller, a butcher, a fermenter, a cheese maker, or anything else your heart (or stomach) desires.
If you’re ready to follow in the footsteps (or tire tracks, in this case) of my sweet mom, here are a few of my favorite places, faces, and flavors in the Berkshires, all of which are well worth the drive. Plus, I will share a recipe (or two) from local makers in the area, so check back soon to see those posts.
Berkshire Mountain Bakery, Housatonic
The smile says it all. Richard Bourdon, owner of the Berkshire Mountain Bakery and the man behind the masterful sourdough creations, not only loves what he does but is passionate about why he does it. Just a few moments talking with him, and you will come to appreciate sourdough bread and the importance of using traditional techniques—such as hand-shaping loaves, milling whole-grain flours on-site, and leavening with sourdough fermentation—to make it.
Baking for more than 25 years, Bourdon is without a doubt a master at his craft, skillfully creating different and complex flavors and textures in each of his loaves. An all-time favorite of mine (and everyone else) is the Bread & Chocolate loaf, which is said to have one-third of the bread’s weight in dark chocolate chunks. It is the ideal snack, bread-pudding base, or toasted vehicle for butter. The European-style bakery also serves a range of other baked goods and even take-and-bake pizzas, with a crust that is truly one-of-a-kind and must be tasted to be believed.
Berkshire Mountain Distillers, Sheffield
Welcome to the Berkshires first legal distillery since prohibition. The Berkshire Mountain Distillers, Inc. was founded by Chris Weld in a kismet-kind-of-way in 2007. When the neglected apple farm Weld and his family had purchased began to bear fruit again—and the farm was already home to granite-based spring water that once was considered the finest in the world—Weld decided to open a distillery to produce apple brandy.
Though you might not find apple brandy today at the distillery’s new facility, complete with tours and tastings, you can sample a variety of artisanal, award-winning liquors, including Ice Glen Vodka, Greylock Gin, Ethereal Gin, Ragged Mountain Rum, Berkshire Bourbon, and New England Corn Whiskey. Each is produced in small batches and handcrafted by Weld, and each is guaranteed to lift your spirits.
The Meat Market, Great Barrington
Meet (shameful pun intended) Jeremy Stanton. He and his wife, Emily, took their experience in catering, working directly with farmers, and love of whole animals, and created The Meat Market. The shop and café allows the Stantons (and their exceptional team of butchers and employees) to support local farms, uphold the traditions of whole animal utilization, and create amazing eats. The housemade charcuterie alone is worth the drive … from anywhere in this world.
In the true sense of nose-to-tail, no part of the animal is wasted, and everything is used in the array of handmade and hard-to-find sausages, pates, stocks, and soups; possibly even a lunch special. Stop in for a bite or to grab a few picnic necessities to go.
Hosta Hill, West Stockbridge
Maddie Elling and Abraham Hunrichs promise to bring a little culture to your world, with their variety of lacto-fermented vegetables and homemade tempeh. Hosta Hill produces real food using humane and ecologically-aware practices—in fact, the hardworking and darling duo either personally grow or locally source all the vegetables used in their fermented goods, and use local beans to make their tempeh.
Making everything in small batches, Maddie and Abraham offer a range of fermented flavors, such as Sauerkraut, Crimson Kraut, and Spicy Kimchi. The two are skilled at taking somewhat ordinary vegetables and making them extraordinary with salt and just a few spices. You can buy jars at their kitchen in West Stockbridge, farmers markets, or select stores.
Cricket Creek Farm, Williamstown
Cheese. Handmade, fresh-from-the-farm, make-your-day-brighter cheese. This is what you find at one of the oldest dairy farms in the region, Cricket Creek Farm. Owned by Jude Sabot and managed by her son, Topher, the farm began producing its five varieties of cheese in 2001 when it transitioned to grass-based farming. Since then, they have made two award-winning cheeses: Maggie’s Round, a semi-firm whole milk cheese, and Maggie’s Reserve, made with raw cow’s milk and aged 12 to 18 months.
With the help of Suzy Konecky (pictured above) and Matthew Ball, Topher is able to run a successful farm that not only makes addictive artisanal cheese, but also sells grass-fed beef, whey-fed pork, raw milk, and other goods. You can find their cheeses at select restaurants, farmers markets, and regional cheese shops. But if you visit the farm store itself, you can also take a peek at the cheese as it is being made!
All photos taken by Christopher Knapp, except photo of apple orchard courtesy of Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism. My visit to the Berkshires was, in part, provided by Berkshire Farm & Table.
Eat Boutique discovers the best small batch foods by boutique food makers and shares our version of #foodgiftlove. We share recipes, maker stories and city guides to eating boutique. We host tasting events and markets for food makers, cookbook authors and food fans. We craft seasonal, regional gift and tasting boxes and sell individual items that you can order in the Eat Boutique Shop. You can also follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest.
Eat Boutique is an award-winning shop and story-driven recipe site created by Maggie Battista–shop girl, writer, author, and creative business coach. After hosting pop-up markets for 25,000+ guests, Maggie is working to open her first permanent Eat Boutique–a food-retail concept space with a new way to the very best food–as well as coaching women in food to reach life and business goals. Her second cookbook, A New Way to Food: 100 Recipes to Encourage a Healthy Relationship with Food, Nourish Your Beautiful Body, and Celebrate Real Wellness for Life, will be published by Roost Books on February 5, 2019.