A Brandywine Valley Tour de Cuisine
From chocolate to wine to cheese, the region has plenty gastronomic offerings.
I recently took an exploratory tour of Hunt Country food purveyors, both to refresh my memory of their offerings and to do a little sampling along the way.
My first stop is Haskell’s SIW Market near Chadds Ford. No matter how popular this market becomes, it still has the air of bucolic isolation, as if it were set in time as a locale for an N.C. Wyeth painting. The vegetables are always fresh, and the atmosphere is more plain than ornamentally fancy—as many stands have become.
All local vegetables have their narrow seasonal windows. But I’m always disappointed if the succulent heirloom tomatoes aren’t in their boxes, or if I arrive too late in the day and they’ve been picked over. On this visit, I get a bag of fresh Bing cherries to munch on, spitting the pits out the window as I drive along.
My next stop is across Route 1 and a little west, behind Longwood Gardens, to Galer Estate Winery. There are perhaps eight or so local spots that make wines I enjoy, each with its own style. Galer’s wines are fresh, clean and fruity in a West Coast manner. The place is owned by Lele and Brad Galer—he a pharmaceutical exec and researcher, and she an artist.
When I arrive on a Friday afternoon, there are a few people at the tasting bar, and the place exudes a coffeehouse friendliness. I decide on a couple of bottles of one of my favorites, an albarino, then leave for the next destination, up Route 52 in downtown West Chester.
Eclat Chocolate on High Street could easily be plucked up and set down in Paris on Île Saint-Louis and be right at home—it’s that elegant. Christopher Curtin is a master at both chocolate making and commerce. Most of his business is online. So, each time I stop by, I’m glad that he preserves this little window on his operation, the chocolate displayed behind glass like rare stones in a jewelry shop. His packaging is as elegant as his chocolates. I ask the young clerk to fill a small box with truffles, letting her choose, and package them as a house gift for a future dinner. They are wrapped securely so I won’t be tempted.
And it’s back down 52 to the Bakers at Red Lion in Kennett Square. For some reason, Kennett has become an epicenter for
bakers and shops that feature pastries and other tempting sweets. I double back to my favorite one, operated by Barbara Churchville and Nancy Fenstermacher in the walkout basement of an old country home on Doe Run. Their schedule is erratic, but Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings are the best times to see if their “Open” flag is flying.
Usually there are a half dozen choices—not that I much notice, because my selection is always the same, a freshly baked boule accented with sea salt and rosemary and crying out for a smothering of creamy butter.
Nearby, on the eastern outskirts of Kennett Square, is the Country Butcher. Like nearby Talula’s Table, they have a great assortment of cheeses, both local and from afar, as well as baked goods and condiments. I go there for the meats, whether it’s a freshly cut whole beef filet for a party, or a farm-raised pheasant or rabbit ordered in advance—two holiday favorites.
Now I turn south on Route 82 to Phillips Mushroom Farms in Kennett Square. Phillips has gone through many iterations, including a flirtation with producing only “fancies.” To me, it’s always been the face of the huge local mushroom industry. These days, Phillips is back to producing traditional buttons and portabellas, along with the exotics. A few years ago, it opened a well-run mushroom and gift shop across from its headquarters on Kaolin Road south of town. Today, I get a pretty basket full of mixed mushrooms, perhaps to top off pasta in a cream sauce, with some left over for a mushroom pie.
I leave 82 and go briefly into Delaware, west of Hockessin, which, by the way, has grown into a great little restaurant town. Woodside Farm Creamery is no longer a secret. Its ice cream is now on local restaurant menus and in specialty groceries. The best way to experience this delicious stuff is to drive to the source, off Little Baltimore Road, where cattle graze nearby.
I wait my turn at the counter and order a scoop of peppermint in a waffle cone. This is summer as it once was—and still is.
Moving on, I continue west over familiar roads and head for Meadowset Farm & Apiary in Landenberg. Before my wife and I moved back to Delaware after 30 years in Pennsylvania, Tom and Barbara Schaer—both veterinarians at New Bolton—were my neighbors, so this is a homecoming of sorts.
In addition to their day jobs, the Schaers raise sheep for meat and making cheese, and chickens for eggs. Normally, they only sell at farmers’ markets and a few restaurants. But Tom has opened his shop for me, carving up neatly wrapped sections of his specialty cheeses: the Last Straw and Camel’s Back.
We discuss local gossip. Then, it’s time to drive back the Delaware, well-served and well-provisioned with local foods.
Haskell’s SIW Market: (610) 388-7491
Country Butcher: countrybutchermarket.com
Phillips Mushroom Farms: phillipsmushroomfarms.com
Woodside Farm Creamery: woodsidefarmcreamery.com
Meadowset Farm & Apiary: (484) 620-9132