Monday, March 10, 2014
Last month, I noticed that Rosemont Market was hosting a special public event, a “Piemontese Wine and Food tasting and seminar” at Rosemont Produce Co. on Commercial Street.
Rosemont often hosts wine tastings and talks at its stores, especially the one on Brighton Ave., but this was to be a full-blown dinner featuring local pasture-raised beef and conversations with a Piemonte winemaker and a Rosemont butcher. And it was being put on by a new entity called “Rosemont Market Productions.”
Then came an announcement of a second big public event to be held a month later, “Heart of the Mediterranean,” a multi-course dinner focusing on the food and wines of North Lebanon. The special guest was to be Chafic Maalouf, president of “Olive Harvest,” makers of extra virgin olive oils from the Koura region of Lebanon. I’ve been curious lately about wines from Lebanon, and I’m always open to learning more about olive oils, so I signed up. (Fast forward to the bottom of this post for info on the upcoming third dinner.)
When I arrived at “Heart of the Mediterranean,” about 15 or so guests were already settled around a communal table bedecked with fresh flowers and overflowing with platters and bowls of Middle Eastern foods prepared by Rosemont chef Brad Messier, as well as flatbread made by the company’s bakers.
Indeed, there was so much food for the mezze course we all worried we wouldn’t have enough room for the rest of the dinner. Guests passed around bowls of hummus, roasted eggplant with yogurt, and a cucumber and yogurt salad. There was a gorgeous platter of ripe garden tomatoes topped with onions and herbs, and another platter filled with tabbouleh.
Flatbread came out next, and balls of semi-hard, pungent shanklish cheese rolled in za’atar.
Best of all, we got to sample olives from Maalouf’s 35 acres of olive groves, and his extraordinary olive oil, which we were told is used in at least one of the fine restaurants in town. The single-grove olive oil (the variety is called Sourani, and it’s indigenous to the eastern Mediterranean shore), which Maalouf said is like his grand cru, was buttery with an interesting peppery finish. (Note to self: Add to shopping list for my next visit to Rosemont.)
The olive oil is unfiltered, meaning it still contains microscopic particles and pulp that add flavor and enhance the vitamin content of the oil (though it does shorten shelf life as well). Maalouf told us that some people drink it by the “dose,” like a medicinal aperitif.
The next course was roasted quail with pomegranate molasses and Swiss chard, followed by a course of Cousa squash stuffed with slow-cooked Crystal Spring lamb, seasoned with seven spices.
While we were enjoying our food Maalouf and Joe Appel, Rosemont’s resident wine expert (and Portland Press Herald wine columnist) talked about the wines we were drinking made at two Lebanese wineries in the Bekaa Valley, Chateau Ksara and Clos St. Thomas. (Order wines at these dinners, and you get a 10-20 percent discount, depending on how many bottles you buy.)
That's Joe on the left and Maalouf on the right.
There was also entertainment. Erin Lynch – you may know her as the kitchen manager at Rosemont – is a belly dancer, and she performed for us twice. The second time, she came out with a candelabra on her head – and the candelabra was filled with lit candles!
Just when we all thought we couldn’t eat another bite, Brad Messier began sending out desserts. Yes, that’s desserts, plural: Spiced rice pudding with almonds and candied pumpkin, mulberry preserve sandwich cookies, still-warm rose syrup doughnuts, orange blossom and stone fruit sorbet, and baklava that was like crack.
I asked Joe Appel later about these “Producer Dinners,” and wondered if they would all be held at Rosemont Produce Co. He explained that the idea behind the events was to invite the public to share in the conversations Rosemont staffers have with their food and beverage producers about sustainable food culture, traditional foodways and other principles that are important to them.
Not all of the dinners will focus heavily on wines, he said, “but we feel strongly that wine is an integral part of healthy eating – with the same connections to culture, geography, natural environment, history, family – and these dinners are a good way to show that. Our in-store wine tastings are not capable of making this point as clearly as a full dinner does.”
Appel said the company’s intent is to hold about one Producer Dinner a month; they won’t all be at Rosemont Market Produce Co. Rosemont will also continue to hold smaller events that cost less than the full dinners. (The Heart of the Mediterranean Dinner was $65 all inclusive.) Also on the drawing board are a series of wine education mini-courses and cooking classes.
The next Producer Dinner, “Cream of the Crop: The Terroir of Dairy at Winter Hill Farm,” will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. Sept. 15 at Winter Hill Farm in Freeport. The farmers will show guests the farm and its registered Randall Cattle. The $65 all inclusive dinner will feature Winter Hill’s milk and meat, and wines will be paired with each course.
For tickets to that event, go to http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/440718.
Meredith Goad has harvested oysters on the Chesapeake Bay, eaten reindeer in Finland and sipped hot chai in the Himalayas. She writes the weekly Soup to Nuts column and enjoys a good cocktail.