September 2008 Issue
A new gourmet grocery store in Amish Country is just one essential stop on this food-centered tour.
Jenny Pavlasek, Food Styling by Doug Zimmer
Think of Amish Country, and the usual images come to mind — pastoral settings, handcrafted furniture and life that seems to pass at an enviably slower pace.
Gourmet food, however, doesn't usually nudge out comfort foods for a spot on this list. At least, it didn't. But these days Amish country is finding its niche with the food-savvy set as a place to source choice ingredients and hard-to-find spices at prices that trump your local gourmet shop.
Fueled by the continued popularity of the green movement and the ever-growing interest in eating and drinking locally produced foods and wines, travelers to Holmes, Wayne, Tuscarawas, Trumbull and Geauga counties are just as likely to be filling their trunks with specialty mushrooms and saffron threads as hunks of Amish-made cheddar and homemade jams.
Here, we highlight some newer businesses and revisit some old favorites that never stop working to satisfy their customers' changing palates. As always, when you plan your trip, don't forget to pack a cooler so you can get your perishables home safely (this includes your wine, which, red or white, is much better off in your cooler than a hot trunk). And bring some napkins for the car, too — we guarantee you'll want to sneak a few bites before you get home.
Wine and Cheese, Please
The bulk of Ohio's Amish population lives in Holmes and Wayne counties. So, the fact that about a quarter of Ohio's 100-plus wineries are located within a short drive of these capitals of cheese production seems like more than a coincidence to us.
Pairing Ohio wines with Ohio cheeses got a little easier with the opening of Heini's Gourmet Market
in Sugarcreek last January. Not limited to Amish-made products, the market is a collection of about 800 of the best edibles made in the Buckeye State, from Toledo's Tony Packo's peppers to Zanesville's Jose Madrid salsa. Naturally, the focal point is Heini's cheese, which fills a wall-long cooler that's strategically bisected by the wine bar. Samples sit in front of every flavor of gourmet cheese for sale, and each variety, from baby Swiss to sun-dried tomato, is made from milk produced on local Amish farms from cows that are growth-hormone-free. The wine bar pours tastes from the market's "Buckeye Wine Gallery," which has an impressive all-Ohio collection of bottles from wineries you know — Debonné, Breitenbach and Mon Ami — and some you probably don't, like Rainbow Hills, Terra Cotta and Maize Valley Vineyards.
In addition to the wine bar, the market has several other interactive areas, including the cheeseballing counter, where you can get custom-made cheese balls in a variety of flavors for $8.99 per pound, as well the sleek demonstration kitchen, where Heini's hosts free cooking classes on Thursday nights. Like the rest of the store, these areas are lined with free samples of crackers, spreads and other snacks, making you question if the on-site bistro, where you can munch on overstuffed sandwiches and gourmet pizzas, does much business. 1019 West Main St., Sugarcreek, 44681. 330/852-3500. www.heinisgourmetmarket.com
Of course, there are plenty of other places in this four-county region to find Amish-made and artisanal cheeses. Steiner Cheese
has been producing their old-world style of Swiss since 1833, making their factory the oldest of its kind in the U.S. The cheese is delicious, and the heritage and history lessons are worth making a stop here. 201 Mill St., Baltic, 43804. 330/897-5505. www.steinercheese.com
To the north, in Geauga County, Middlefield Original Cheese
in Geauga County is a farmer-owned co-op that was formed in 1956 by a group of local Amish farmers in search of a way to sell their milk. Today, visitors can taste a variety of cheeses, made from hand-, not machine-milked, cow's milk, at the retail store, or take a tour and taste fresh samples of cheese curds made on site.16942 Kinsman Rd, Middlefield, 44062. 440/632-5567.
Just as it's more fun to purchase cheese directly from the production site, there's something just as alluring about stocking your wine cellar with bottles from vineyards you've visited. One of the best places to experience grapes from the ground up is Troutman Vineyards
in Wooster. It may look like a small farm, but the operation at this family-owned winery is anything but small-time. Spend a day on their farm and you'll be reminded that wine has agricultural roots (the winery donkeys, pigs and goats will probably help) as you take in the view of the vineyards. The tasting room is open during the week and on Saturdays, so bring your own picnic and sample a range of styles of wine, from their elegant chardonnay to their popular Farmer's line, available in red, white or a sweeter-style blush. New this year are the raspberry and blackberry fruit wines, which are sweeter (the blackberry is highly concentrated and syrupy, almost like ice wine, according to Andy Troutman). Rumor has it that the Troutmans have been experimenting with making their own small-production cheeses from goat's milk, something worth keeping an eye out for in the future. 4243 Columbus Rd., Wooster, 44691. 330/263-4345. www.troutmanvineyards.com
If you'd like to turn your day into a mini winery tour, you'll find a much different style of winery at Breitenbach Wine Cellars
and Swiss Heritage Winery
at the Broad Run Cheese House, both in Dover. Both have on-site marketplaces where visitors can buy Amish-made snacks and gifts, and a tasting bar where you can try before you buy. Breitenbach has developed a statewide following for its sweet wines such as Roadhouse Red and Frost Fire, but don't pass on the opportunity to sample drier styles including the viognier and dry riesling. At Swiss Heritage, you'll find fun labels such as the "Back to the 40s Red," which is a semi-sweet red from a time when sugar was rationed, but fruit wine fans should seek out the rhubarb strawberry wine, which is like a slice of summer in your glass. Breitenbach Wine Cellars, 5934 Old Route 39 N.W. Dover, 44622. 330/343-3603.The Swiss Heritage Winery at the Broad Run Cheese House. 6011 Old Route 39 NW, Dover, 44622. 330/343-3884. www.broadruncheese.com
Good Beginnings and Sweet Endings
Every Saturday, Wooster's downtown square transforms into an outdoor purveyor of fresh produce, bakery and artisanal food items that make shopping at these venues so much more enjoyable than a trip your local grocery store. Unlike other farmer's markets, here driving a few miles out of town puts you in the Wayne County countryside, a geographic advantage for attracting local growers of specialty ingredients for which big city chefs will search high and low.
Among the standouts are Killbuck Valley Mushrooms, producers of organically grown and sometimes funky-colored mushrooms, including oyster mushrooms in unusual pink and gold colors, as well as rich lion's mane and shitake. Monique's Cuisine Granola mixes organic whole grains — rolled oats, barley, spelt and rye flakes — with pumpkin seeds, walnuts, slivered almonds and a touch of honey and vanilla to create a breakfast treat that beats anything out of a box. Even the carnivores won't walk away disappointed — just pay Nick Phillabaum a visit, and order a half or full hog, butchered and delivered. Downtown Wooster Farmer's Market
, Public Square (Liberty and Market streets) Saturdays, 8 a.m.–noon. 330/262-6222
Not nearly as big as Wooster's Farmer's Market, Sweetwater Farm
in Tuscarawas County might not be a destination on its own, but if you're in the area, it's definitely worth stopping in (plus it's open Monday through Saturday). The tiny roadside market is stuffed with tomatoes, corn, kohlrabi and other seasonal produce, most of it grown in the fields directly behind the stand. In autumn, you'll find all your staples for fall recipes including a variety of squash, zucchini and pumpkins, plus gourds and a small selection of delicious bakery (we loved the zucchini bread) baked by owner Mary Hostetler's niece. 217 Buckeye St. S.W., Sugarcreek, 44681. 330/852-4257.
Serious bakers will
find an answer to their every pantry dilemma at End of the Commons General Store
in Mesopotamia in Trumbull County. Here they'll find an unparalleled selection of flours — rice, potato, rye, semolina, even velvet cake flour — along with wheat gluten and organic baking ingredients (marketing director Scott Schaden says the store is constantly adding new items due to demand). While you're there, stock up on household staples from the store's huge selection of bulk foods, and treat yourself to a bag of horehound candy, Blackjack taffy, Teaberry gum and other old-fashioned treats, plus a huge selection of penny candy that still costs just a penny.8719 St. Rte. 534, Mesopotamia, 44439. 440/693-4295. www.endofthecommons.com
There's only one treat at Coblentz Chocolates
in Walnut Creek that won't undo your last three gym visits — and that's the view. The store/factory sits on a hill at the intersection of state routes 515 and 39, and if you can manage to mentally block out the traffic, the surrounding rolling pastures are rather pretty to take in. Of course, we doubt that's why most people stop at this family-owned store in Holmes County. We're guessing that has more to do with the wall-to-wall chocolate kingdom you'll find inside.
The glass display cases showcase Coblentz's chocolate confections — everything from an assortment of flavored truffles such as key lime, champagne and raspberry to 21 types of no-sugar-added chocolates. The center case — the first thing you see when you walk through the front door — is the main event, loaded with dark- and milk-chocolate cherry cordials, coconut haystacks and chocolate-covered treats such as Ritz peanut butter sandwiches and Oreos, as well as chewy old-fashioned wrapped caramels that melt in your mouth. The place is also packed with candy novelties such as mammoth whirly pops, a jagged rainbow of rock candy in glass jars and molded chocolates in the shape of everything from golf balls and trucks and to a hammer and screwdriver. Get there early to watch the candy production from the shop's viewing area and breathe in the heavenly chocolate scent that drifts off the line.4917 St. Rte. 515 (at St. Rte. 39), Walnut Creek, 44687. 330/893-2995. www.coblentzchocolates.com
It's worth a trip across the state to book a table at South Market Bistro
in Wooster. This six-year-old downtown restaurant is Ohio's answer to Chez Panisse, minus the price tag. Chef/owner Michael Mariola grew up surrounded by Wayne County's fertile farmland, and spent his formative years training in prestigious kitchens in Paris, Washington, D.C., and Cleveland (at the highly celebrated and now-defunct Parker's) before returning home to open his restaurant. From the beginning, Mariola has put in the extra effort to forge relationships with Ohio farmers, who supply as much of his menu as possible (about 75 percent, he says). Dinner might feature colorful oyster mushrooms from Killbuck Valley Mushrooms in Burbank or the tasty organic chickens raised by Tea Hills Poultry in Loudonville.151 South Market St., Wooster, 44691. 330/264-3663. www.southmarketbistro.com
When Linda Stroup took over the Olde World Bed & Breakfast
in Tuscarawas County last year, she brought an appreciation for cooking with fresh-picked, healthy ingredients she developed living most of her life in California. This month, Olde World hosts its second "Erma Bombeck Tea,"Â a four-course gourmet tea of Stroup's made-from-scratch soups, sorbets, teas sandwiches, scones and desserts, accompanied by an afternoon of ErmaÂ from local storyteller Patti Feller. If you can't make the tea, check out the B&B's wine and cheese lovers'Â weekends, which include two nights lodging, meals and guided tours of local wineries and cheese houses. 2982 St. Rte. 516 NW,Â Dover, 44622. 330/343-1333. www.oldeworldbb.com
20 per person for tea; $399-$455 per couple for wine and cheese weekend