One Problem with Our Turn to the Local

I started Open View Gardens to help open our notion of what we can grow and therefore eat locally.  I want to explore as much of the world as possible through garden and kitchen.  As are others in the North country, I am experimenting with foods we don’t normally associate with this region, and foods we have forgotten about over the years. My shelves are filled with hot peppers and herbs and spices, tomatillo salsas, chutneys and coulis no one would guess were grown and/or made here.

Lamb at Doolittle Farm, Where I Buy Mine

I am eager to buy rice from Vermont farmers, and pumpkin seeds and pine nuts (why are the ones offered in local stores from China?). I do not understand why when I ask a local butcher where his lamb is from, he tells me Colorado–do we not have excellent lamb in New England?  What we CAN grow locally–whatever that is–we should–for the health of ourselves and of our planet.

But–this does not mean I want to give up eating foods that cannot be grown here.  I have no intention of giving up lemons or olive oil.  Or kaffir lime leaves.  Or chestnuts.  Or once in a while, a pineapple or a mango in season.  Avocados from California.  I cannot imagine giving those up though I am careful to buy organic and in season and from as close to home as possible. But some things come from one place only–some cheeses, for instance that are closely associated with a particular soil and air, a terroir.

In the KitchenMuch as I love our local cheese–and Vermont cheesemakers have a good deal to be proud of–I still buy a few from Europe once in a while. I know I should do so sparingly, mindful of the great distance these luxuries must travel.  But I also know that tasting that corner of Italy or France or Thailand or Lebanon or Morocco, and threading those flavors through those of Vermont keeps me grounded in a world far bigger than my own little corner. And that’s essential.

That’s why today I was saddened that the head of the cheese department in our natural foods cooperative stopped me as I shopped to give me bad news.  She had  to stop ordering Italian fontina–it was growing moldy on the shelves (and that’s NOT a good thing with fontina) because no one was buying it.  She started ordering it a couple of years ago when I pleaded with her to do so–it is a foundational ingredient in my kitchen. Indeed, I have several recipes here that feature this heavenly cheese.  I tried to buy as much as I possibly could to help keep sales going, and to talk it up with all my friends, but to no avail.  We have such good cheese in Vermont, people don’t seem inclined to venture out that far.  Argh.  And there simply is no good substitute in my pizzas and tarts.

Shopping for Cheese in Bologna

Now I will have to plan my meals-around-fontina carefully for when I venture to Burlington or to New York City, where I can find anything under the sun. I won’t drive those many miles just for cheese, but I will make sure to buy some every trip. One of the drawbacks to living in the country.

alonePerhaps it isn’t such a bad thing to have to plan, to dream, and to work at getting special ingredients.  It certainly makes me more mindful of what I am cooking and how special it is to have an ingredient that was made on a farm in northern Italy.  But I wish for balance between what I can grow here and what I cannot.  I am sad  because now others won’t have the opportunity to bump into fontina, to try it out, to get to know it if they do not already.  Perhaps I should get a cow, put it in a mountain pasture…

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Categories: Local, Musing

6 Comments on “One Problem with Our Turn to the Local”

  1. Laura Scott
    March 23, 2011 at 9:50 pm #

    I love burratta cheese from Italy. It is really hard to find in the US but on occasion I do find it. It is like treasure hunting. Perhaps the hunt makes the cheese taste better?

  2. March 24, 2011 at 8:01 am #

    I love burratta, too, Laura (sometimes the Lebanon Co-op has it–and I always haul it back from NYC). I agree about the treasure hunting making things taste all that much better, but sometimes (often) we hanker after a pizza with fontina, and if I can’t make it within couple of days, people around my house get a bit out of sorts. 😉

  3. March 24, 2011 at 8:21 am #

    You guys should definitely have a cow.

    Question: what about teas and coffee? Can we greenhouse those reliably up here?

  4. March 24, 2011 at 8:47 am #

    Good question, Bryan. No, I don’t think we can grow those here, and they, too, have a good deal to do with terroir (if we care about the flavor of our tea and coffee, that is). I now buy coffee and black teas rarely, as a real treat, choosing to make tisanes out of the herbs and spices I grow on the land. What I can stand to give up I do. But I wouldn’t want to give them up completely, nor for that matter, would I give up Italian and French wine. Not yet, anyway…but they, too, I drink sparingly.

    What is more difficult, is finding clothing and bedding made from local, organic materials. I’m working on that one…

    Hey–you might have just the mountain spot right for a fontina sort of cheese kind of cow!

  5. March 24, 2011 at 10:15 am #

    Someone described “the Marco Polo exception” for eating local, as in allowing enough imported stuff to carry on a horse. Like a packet of tea leaves, or a bag of coffee beans.

    Coffee’s crucial for me. Can’t imagine going without it.

    Clothing: huge topic. I’d have to look into that.

    Cows: Ceredwyn won’t let me. We really don’t have enough of the right land.

  6. March 24, 2011 at 11:09 am #

    Well, I had better find a big Clydesdale! I like “the Marco Polo exception” for its sense of adventure, too, for opening vistas of experience and cross-cultural understanding.

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