2015 Yankee Magazine's Editors' Choice Food Awards
Our guide to the best artisanal cheeses, chocolates, jams, cookies, bacon, and other worthy edibles in New England.
Three years ago, we launched these food awards to highlight the delicious cheeses, chocolates, jams, charcuterie, and other specialty foods that we saw coming to the market with increasing frequency. Traveling around New England, we surveyed farmers’ markets, gourmet shops, festivals, and supermarkets—and began bringing interesting products back to the office to taste and compare. Whenever one of them made our eyes light up, we put it on the short list.
Early on, we decided not to organize the awards around a single best-in-category winner. Choosing just one jam or goat cheese would lock up those categories, preventing us from bringing other, equally worthy products to light. Frankly, there’s too much good food out there to paint ourselves into that corner. Think of these as “awards of excellence,” rather than an either/or competition.
In that spirit, we hope you’ll enjoy these treats, organized into six categories.
Serve them at a party or give them as gifts to others.cato corner farm
Cato Corner Farm, Colchester, Connecticut
To call this cheese “stinky” isn’t an insult. Hooligan is made to be pungent—a soft, creamy, two-months-aged cheese washed in buttermilk and brine to create a slightly crystalline orange surface and strong aroma. You’ll taste mushrooms and grass and crave a pint of ale. It makes a terrific grilled cheese.
Suggested Retail Price: $28 per pound
Landaff Creamery, Landaff, New Hampshire
Like many great New England cheeses, Landaff was born of an effort to preserve a family farm. Doug and Debby Erb based the recipe on a traditional Welsh cheese, using milk from the dairy operation that his parents had started. Made in New Hampshire, the cheese ages in the caves of Jasper Hill in northern Vermont, where it develops its buttery, tangy, slightly sharp character.
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99 per pound
Blue Ledge Farm, Salisbury, Vermont
Hannah Sessions and Greg Bernhardt are farmers, cheesemakers, and painters in the Champlain Valley, tending a herd of 100-plus goats to produce beautiful cheeses like this small disc, aged three weeks, whose dense white paste turns runny under the rind. The flavor is grassy and citrusy, creamy, and simple. Wonderful with honey.
Suggested Retail Price: $6 per round
Grafton Village Cheese, Brattleboro, Vermont
This alpine-style cheese has the sweet, nutty flavors of a Comte or Gruyère, with a wonderfully silky texture. It’s made with sheep’s milk and expresses that extra level of richness without any of the strong flavors sometimes associated with sheep’s-milk cheeses. Excellent in fondue.
Suggested Retail Price: $12 per 6-ounce wedge
SMOKED MEAT & FISH
Simply Smoked Salmon
Boston Smoked Fish, Sudbury, Massachusetts
A chance tasting at a Boston farmers’ market introduced us to Matt Baumann’s excellent smoked fish. A former tax attorney, Baumann changed careers in 2012, experimenting with different wood smokes and dozens of brines before perfecting his recipes. The result: delicate, succulent fillets, perfumed with—but not overpowered by—pecan smoke.
Suggested Retail Price: $8 per 4-ounce package
Local Del Duca Prosciutto
Daniele Foods, Burrillville, Rhode Island
Silky, sweet, and delicately salted, Daniele’s Local prosciutto line is made with pork sourced from New England farms and has a superior flavor and texture. Serve it at a party with cheese and fruit compote, or wrap it around poached dried figs.
Suggested Retail Price: $5.99 per 3-ounce package
Lark Fine Foods, Essex, Massachusetts
Lark’s catchphrase is “Cookies for Grownups,” and that’s the perfect description for these three tasty flavors of buttery shortbread. Eat them solo or pair the Burnt Sugar–Fennel with cheddar and the Salted Rosemary with smoked meats or fish, or sandwich the Espresso Chip with ice cream.
Suggested Retail Price: $8
Toasted Sesame Seed Graham Crackers
Whitney’s Castleton Crackers, Castleton, Vermont
Thanks to a hand-cracked finish, Whitney’s Castleton Crackers are as known for their rustic look as they are for their tasty variety of flavors. Using unique ingredients such as maple, rosemary, and Vermont farmstead cheese, each all-natural batch would make a worthy addition to any cheese plate, but we especially love the Toasted Sesame Seed Graham Crackers, with hints of brown sugar and maple syrup.
Suggested Retail Price: $14.99 per three 6-ounce boxes
Sea Salt Crackers
Onesto Artisan Crackers, Newburyport, Massachusetts
In flavors like rosemary, ancho chile, and “Hint of Cinnamon,” husband-and-wife team Jesse and Jane Ciccone began Onesto (Italian for “honest”) as a way to deliver small-batch crackers that aren’t just flavorful and crisp, but also gluten-, dairy-, and preservative-free. To start, try the classic Sea Salt, topped with just the right amount of salty crunch.
Suggested Retail Price: $6.95 per box
Chocolate Springs, Lenox, Massachusetts
Chocolatier Joshua Needleman is a master of infusions. He packs his fruit-, champagne-, and tea-infused chocolates full of clear, recognizable flavor without ever crossing into the perfumy. His creamy ganache centers and quality chocolate coverings add up to bonbon perfection.
Suggested Retail Price: $11.95 per 6-piece assortment
Masala Chai Ice Cream
Tea-Rrific!, Bridgeport, Connecticut
Mario Leite produces an entire line of tea-infused ice creams in flavors such as chamomile and ginger matcha. It’s a supremely specific niche, but one taste will remind you that few things pair with cream and sugar as well as tea. All the flavors are delicious, but the chai sings with flavor and is a perfect match for holidaydesserts such as gingerbread and chocolate.
Suggested Retail Price: $10 per pint
Artisan Chocolate Bars
Dancing Lion, Manchester, New Hampshire
Making good on his commitment to “chocolate as art,” Dancing Lion master chocolatier Richard Tango–Lowy offers an impressive line of chocolate bars from his New Hampshire shop/café, featuring ingredients such as Himalayan coarse salt, crispy almonds, candied citrus, and cayenne. Don’t want to choose? An elegant tasting kit features squares of eight different varieties.
Suggested Retail Price: $16.50 per 8-piece assortment
Almond–Orange Peel Nougat
Vadeboncoeur, Vergennes, Vermont
Under the name Vadeboncoeur (French for “go with a good heart’’), Didier Murat gives American nougat a good name. Using the traditional European technique, he crafts each bar with the help of a copper cauldron and wooden molds to produce a soft and chewy candy that all but melts in your mouth. We love the almond–orange peel variety for its addictive combination of citrus and nuts.
Suggested Retail Price: $14.95 per 3 bars
JAMS & PRESERVES
Apple Cider Syrup
Carr’s Ciderhouse, Hadley, Massachusetts
Boiled cider is a New England tradition, a concentrated hit of apple that’s produced in much the same way as maple syrup. We love Carr’s version, made with heirloom apples grown on a family farm in the Pioneer Valley. Its bright, fresh flavor adds a sweet-tart finish to pancakes or yogurt, and it’s a great addition to a cider doughnut or muffin recipe.
Suggested Retail Price: $15.99 per bottle
Spicy & Garlic Dill Pickles
Fox Point Pickling Company, Warren, Rhode Island
Zared Goldfarb makes delicious pickles, full of zingy flavor. His fiery, spicy dills are a chile-head’s dream. But it’s the exceptional crunch of these spears that really turned our heads, crossing the line from tasty to addictive.
Suggested Retail Price: $9 per jar
Berries of the Woods
Hillhome Country Products, Norfolk, Connecticut
For David L. Davis, a gift of homemade marmalade for friends in 2009 has since grown into a business that now includes more than 15 varieties of marmalades, jams, and preserves. Our favorite, Berries of the Woods, is a jam made with raspberries, blue-berries, and blackberries. Packed with large chunks of whole fruit and the perfect amount of sweetness, it’s great spread on toast, swirled into oatmeal, or even spooned straight from the jar.
Suggested Retail Price: $8 per 8-ounce jar
Powell & Mahoney, Salem, Massachusetts
A Jack Rose cocktail combines equal parts grenadine, Calvados, and fresh lemon juice. It’s a lovely holiday drink, made lovelier with the application of this all-natural grenadine flavored with pomegranates and orange-blossom water. Powell & Mahoney makes a line of 18 all-natural mixers perfect for holiday entertaining.
Suggested Retail Price: $5.99 per bottle
George Howell Coffee, Acton, Massachusetts
George Howell revolutionized New England’s coffee scene when he opened his first café in 1974, bringing the more assertive West Coast roasting style to Harvard Square. Forty-one years later, he’s still at it, blending and roasting coffee beans, as for this wonderfully balanced espresso blend with pronounced fruit and chocolate notes. Perfect in a latte or cappuccino, great in a gift basket.
Suggested Retail Price: $14.50 per 12-ounce bag
Salted Bourbon Caramel
Fat Toad Farm, Brookfield, Vermont
At Fat Toad Farm in central Vermont, husband-and-wife team Judith Irving and Steve Reid and their daughter Calley Hastings run a small goat dairy that’s producing a deliciously unique line of goat’s-milk caramels with a wonderfully subtle tang. Their jarred caramel sauce comes in a handful of tempting flavors, such as Vermont Maple and Cold Brew Coffee, but we’re especially smitten with the Salted Bourbon, which boasts just the right amount of Kentucky straight bourbon and a pinch of sea salt. Drizzle on ice cream, fruit, or even cheese for a sinfully sweet treat.
Suggested Retail Price: $14 per 8-ounce jar
Cheshire Garden, Winchester, New Hampshire
Founded in 1986 by Ralph Legrande and Patti Powers, Cheshire Garden’s line of organic, small-batch farmstead preserves and mustards make good use of their annual crop of berries, stone fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Of special note is their Lavender Mustard, which includes local wildflower honey and lavender harvested right from Legrande and Powers’ own hillside,
giving the mustard a subtly sweet aroma and flavor.
Suggested Retail Price: $5 per 8-ounce jar