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Localvore special -- the best thing on the menu

09/11/2008

 By Nancy Baron

Next week when you walk into a Valley restaurant, you are likely to find a "Localvore" special of some sort on the menu. We are blessed to have a large percentage of our restaurants participating in the challenge next week. Whether it be a blackberry scone or the Kathan lamb special, you can be sure that it will be the freshest item on offer.

Given all of the rules and restrictions for creating a localvore dish, one could assume that an item may have been somehow compromised to remain entirely local. I have even heard some people go so far as to equate a localvore special to the diet plate! This reasoning couldn't be further from the truth. Experience shows that our chefs put their hearts and minds into developing these local food specials for the challenge. They value local food and make the ingredients shine in these unique offerings.

In France, they have a word for the influence of the environment on the taste of a wine or food, called "terroir." The concept of terroir, or the unique aspects of place that influence and shape the characteristics of a product, was first applied to wine. Amy Trubeck, an assistant professor at UVM, has recently written a book called A Taste of Place: a Cultural Journey into Terroir, expanding the concept into cuisine.

You can think of terroir as the sum of the environmental influences, like soil, sun, minerals, and topography -- everything that gives flavor and character to what's grown in the region. Cheese is an excellent example of this. In very good artisanal cheeses, you can actually taste the influence of the cow's environment, just as the natural Vermont yeasts flavor local breads. The localvore specials next week will offer the experience of the terroir of The Valley and the extended 100-miles circle in which we live, all expertly prepared by our local chefs.

When you pick up the lunch special at a participating business, order the local salad fromone, select order a burger or enjoy a three-course localvore dinner at a local restaurant, you are doing many things. First you are using your wallet to say that you value this type of food and the restaurant's effort to procure and prepare it. In the process, you are also supporting the farmer and food producer that supplied the restaurant. All altruism aside, you are receiving a dish with fresh, local ingredients prepared with care and inspiration.

While many local restaurants source as much locally as they can all year round, including organic local pork and summer produce from local farmers, they will be going the extra mile next week and featuring several localvore specials each night, including a fresh pork shoulder braised with Vermont apple cider and caramelized onions. Many of our Valley chefs will be creatively combining all local ingredients to create dishes equally as mouthwatering.

Whether you are taking the challenge or not, if your budget allows for eating out next week, please order the localvore special at a participating restaurant. Not only will you be encouraging the restaurant to participate again, you'll be supporting the farmer who grew the food. You'll also be enjoying the best thing on the menu.

Baron lives in Waitsfield.
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