March 4, 2010

One tasty partnership

— EAST WATERBORO — Rich Boucher and Diane Knight of Alfred have become regulars at Raven Hill Orchard and Farm ever since they discovered its from-scratch baked goods last fall and began hanging out in the farm's cozy loft while sipping fresh-roasted coffee and playing board games for hours.

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Staff Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette: Raven Hill Orchard in Waterboro Sunday, September 27, 2009 the location of a New England Game Dinner.

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Staff Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette: Apple branch speared brace of vermont country quail with blackstrap vinegar is prepared in the kitchen for a new England Game Dinner to be served at Raven Hill Orchard in Waterboro Sunday, September 27, 2009.

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On Sunday night, at a New England game dinner attended by 26 people, the couple raved about a brunch they'd had recently at the orchard. Their orders of venison and barbecue chicken had been served in an old-fashioned cast iron skillet, and ''it was the coolest thing,'' Boucher said. ''We just didn't expect it.''

That brunch was prepared by the same chef who, at the game dinner, sent out bites of Vermont quail with blackstrap vinegar on platters made of recycled glass. The meat was speared with the leafy stem of an apple tree instead of a toothpick. It was a nice touch.

Flute and guitar music soothed our souls as we waited in the loft for what chef Sebastian Carosi would send out next at this seven-course dinner that featured local, sustainably-produced game meats, cheeses, vegetables and, of course, heirloom apples from Raven Hill's organic orchard.

It was pouring rain outside -- even the chickens were taking cover -- but we were comfortably ensconced in the rustic warmth of a room made of wood from a 200-year-old barn.

As interest in local foods has grown in Maine, on-farm meals that take diners out of restaurants and into the fields and barnyards are becoming more common.

They take many different forms, from Cinque Terre's annual harvest dinner on its farm in Greene to more family-oriented events such as the 20-Mile Meal that Cultivating Community will host this weekend on Cape Elizabeth's Turkey Hill Farm.

The idea is to get people more connected to where their food comes from and provide a unique experience that you can't get in restaurants.

FARM 2 FORK PROJECT

The New England game dinner was Carosi's brainchild, part of a series of food-related events on Maine farms that he calls ''The New England Farm 2 Fork Project.'' Carosi is passionate about educating people about local foods and sustainable agriculture.

''I want my child to know what a tomato looks and smells like,'' he said. ''I don't want him to think that it's this perfectly spherical thing that sits on a grocery store shelf. I want him to know that cucumbers aren't supposed to come with wax on them.''

And so on Sunday night, the scrambled duck eggs that were served with Maine sea salt potato chips and applewood-smoked goose bacon came from Bear Clan Farm, an off-the-grid homestead just down the road from the orchard.

A composed salad contained pheasant from Cavendish Game Birds in Vermont that had been brined for three days in cider, chipotles for a little smokiness, and the tenderizing effervescence of 7-Up.

Great Hill Dairy in Buzzards Bay, Mass., provided the cheese for the ''truffles'' -- balls of blue cheese encasing a single grape (grown in New Hampshire) and topped with a rosemary walnut. The truffles arrived on an environmentally-friendly bamboo plate sitting atop a bright-red autumn leaf.

The wines? Sustainable Red and Sustainable White from Parducci Wine Cellars in Mendocino County, California.

Carosi's original idea was to have a ''roving rural supper club'' with events moving from farm to farm. The logistics of that are proving tricky, and while it looks as if there may be some dinners at one or two other venues in southern Maine -- probably Sebago Lake Ranch in Gorham and the State of Maine Cheese Company in Rockport -- it's clear that Carosi and Raven Hill Orchard were made for each other. If they are not yet ''married,'' they are at least flirting with the idea.

Carosi and orchard owners Steve and Jean Eveld got together after Carosi left information about the New England Farm 2 Fork Project in their mailbox. Their collaboration has already resulted in several Sunday brunches and, beginning this coming Sunday, an occasional family-style Sunday supper.

Also on the calendar are three heritage hog barbecues featuring a whey-fed Berkshire hog and live bluegrass music, and an antique apple symposium at which guests will be able to sample more than 15 varieties of heirloom apples and have lunch in the orchard.

The orchard grows 40 varieties of apples, 32 of which are heirloom varieties, including Black Oxford and Arkansas Black.

'IN YOUR BACKYARD'

I came away from the game dinner with two major questions: How on earth could Carosi produce a seven-course meal with wine and appetizers for just $45 per person, and why haven't I ever heard of Raven Hill Orchard?

''This is a $150 ticket, usually,'' Carosi said of the meal. ''But you're at the orchard. The job is not for us to make millions, the job is to bring attention to an organic apple orchard that is in southern Maine and to bring attention to the products that are in your backyard.''

As for the orchard, it's well off the beaten track. You're not likely to just stumble across it driving down Route 5, and it is also relatively new. The Evelds bought the 26-acre orchard four years ago when it was overgrown and needed work, and opened to the public just three years ago.

One of the reasons Carosi and the Evelds are a good match is that the orchard already has a fully-equipped kitchen where Steve Eveld makes bread and other artisanal baked goods from scratch every day. The orchard sells scones, croissants, sticky buns and cranberry nut muffins, a customer favorite. Eveld's apple-cinnamon biscuits are slathered in butter, dark organic brown sugar and layers of apples.

''It's like having an apple pie in a biscuit,'' Carosi said.

Eveld's philosophy of food is similar to Carosi's, and he is serious when he says he only makes small batches. He makes bread every day, but only two loaves of each kind at a time. If a customer comes in the door and wants a ciabatta or a loaf of honey wheat and he's out, he just starts another batch.

Eveld is an experimenter. To cap off the game dinner, we were served a mug of his applewood-smoked -- yes, smoked -- organic fair trade coffee that he just recently started making in very small batches. Later, he brought me a sample of his newest creation, less than a week old: a smoked maple macchiato made with Eveld's smoked coffee, milk and a touch of maple syrup.

It was a revelation -- balanced, not too sweet -- much better than any chain coffee shop creation.

The partnership between chef Carosi and the orchard is going so well, they are already planning events for next year, when they would like to have something scheduled for every weekend.

They'll get a lot of help getting the word out from Rich Boucher, who calls Raven Hill his ''little bit of heaven.'' He and his girlfriend now buy their milk and eggs there, and always check out the latest baked goods before retiring to the comfy sofa in the loft for a board game.

Boucher has begun passing out flyers about orchard events just because he thinks others ought to have the experience of sitting on a blanket under an apple tree, listening to good music and eating good food prepared by a chef.

''We just find great people here every time we come,'' Boucher said, ''and every once in a while, we'll bump into somebody we know, who we didn't tell, who just happened to be here.

''It's one of those places that I think has been kind of a best-kept secret, but as far as I'm concerned, I want to tell the world, because I really love these guys. I love what they're doing, what they stand for.''

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

mgoad@pressherald.com

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Staff Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette: Apple branch speared brace of vermont country quail with blackstrap vinegar is prepared in the kitchen for a new England Game Dinner to be served at Raven Hill Orchard in Waterboro Sunday, September 27, 2009.

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Staff Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette: Liz Coombs of Stonington (white shirt) serves appetizers to the crowd gathered for dinnerr at Raven Hill Orchard in Waterboro Sunday, September 27, 2009.

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Staff Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette: Dinner Guests mingle in the barn during a New England Game Dinner at Raven Hill Orchard in Waterboro Sunday, September 27, 2009.

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Staff Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette: Duck Duck Goose... Old fashioned organic vermont cream cheese scrambled duck eggs with oven dried onion powder, Maine sea salt potato chips and orchard applewood smoked goose bacon as served at Raven Hill Orchard in Waterboro Sunday, September 27, 2009.

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Staff Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette: Chef Sebastian Carosi and Heather Logan prepare a pate' of Maine raised country rabbit with pickled scarlet nante' carrot puree, orchard apple chutney, grain mustard and curly micro celery greens at Raven Hill Orchard in Waterboro Sunday, September 27, 2009. The dish is called the rabbit reunited with his carrot...

 


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