Skip the big box grocer this year. You can source your holiday entertaining menu from local growers, livestock raisers, fishermen, brewers, vintners and bakers, and serve the freshest, most delicious feast possible.
I might be biased, but I think Rhode Island has the best oysters around. I’ve sampled different breeds extensively – you know, in the name of research – from Nova Scotia, different parts of the Eastern Seaboard, the Pacific Northwest, even Japan. Ours are still the best, freshest, most representative of what fresh shellfish should taste like. It seems like people have caught on, too. In South County we have a huge variety to choose from, like Matunuck Oyster Farm, Walrus and the Carpenter Oysters in Ninigret, Salt Pond Oysters in Wakefield. Shucking them yourself isn’t so hard (you just need a YouTube tutorial, a shucking knife and about half a dozen to mess up before you get the hang of it) and makes an impressive presentation for holiday guests. Matunuck Oyster Bar, Walrus and Carpenter Oysters, Salt Pond Oysters.
You can never have too much seafood at a party of Rhode Islanders – at least, not when my family is involved. Supplement your raw bar with some easy-to-serve prepped seafood. In Galilee, Champlin’s sells pre-cooked Jonah crab claws, shrimp cocktail and lobster meat ready for some lemon and cocktail sauce. They also smoke their own bluefish, mackerel and salmon. In East Greenwich, DiMare Seafood is a full-service restaurant with an attached fish market that offers party platters of fresh, locally caught seafood.
It isn’t a holiday without a delicious cheese plate sitting out for guests as they arrive. This year, make it local: Narragansett Creamery may be based in Providence, but they’re garnering national and international attention as gourmet cheesemakers. Their Renaissance Ricotta has been voted best in the world (which is true, it’s delicious, especially on crostini topped with olive tapenade). Don’t sleep on their Atwells Gold, a firm cheese like a cheddar orparmesan, or Fresh or Smoked Mozzarella – all of which are featured on the cover of this issue. They also make addictive cheese spreads like Angelito Garlic and Herb, and the spicy Pirate Spread.
Add some zazzle to your cheese plate with local honey from South County Honey. Their cold-filtered honey from local bees pairs beautifully with salty cheeses. They also make beeswax candles perfect for your tablescape, and lotion to soothe yours hands after a couple of hard days of cooking.
FOR THE MEAL
Local foodie magazine Edible Rhody named Patrick McNiff Farmer of the Year in 2010, and for good reason. His Pat’s Pastured cows, chickens, pigs and turkeys are free-range and grass-fed, and live on an organic farm in East Greenwich. His Thanksgiving turkeys sold out at the beginning of November, so order early if you’d like a Christmas bird.
When there’s locally-raised, antibiotic free beef available from Jamestown’s Windmist Farm, there’s no reason to buy from the supermarket ever again. Windmist offers grass-fed beef, lamb, goat, poultry and pork, including fancier cuts perfect for a holiday meal, for about what you would pay at the grocery store – but once you taste the difference, you probably won’t anymore.
What, you don’t have lasagna with your Christmas goose? My half-Italian and half-Irish family compromises by serving carb-laden red sauce delights next to the poultry. If yours does too, drop the box of dry pasta and buy fresh. Go Pasta in Wakefield makes fresh pasta daily, and offers pre-made ravioli, sauces and other Italian favorites to go.
In December, you don’t exactly have the luxury of walking outside to your garden to grab a few tomatoes. But, you can still get farm fresh produce year round at winter farmer’s markets.
Every Saturday morning, the Coastal Growers Farmers Market comes to Lafayette Mill in North Kingstown. While there are vendors just itching to sell you delicious food – you don’t want to miss the tacos from Tallulah on Thames – there are farmers selling fresh fruits and vegetables well into December. (The market itself happens weekly until warm weather allows it back outside.) Check out greens from Absalona Greenhouse, produce from Wishing Stone Farm, cranberries from Fairland Farms, seafood from The Local Catch and chickens from Zephyr Farm – all grown, raised, farmed and caught responsibly.
The South Kingstown Winter Farmers Market also happens on Saturday mornings all winter, in the Peace Dale Mill Complex. Wojnar Family Farm supplies hydroponically grown greens year-round; fresh eggs and poultry come from Sosnowski Farm; winter squash comes from Carpenter’s Farm; beef comes from New England Grass Fed and seafood from Matunuck Oyster Farm. Pick up treats for yourself from Aquidneck Honey or for man’s best friend from Jack’s Snacks Dog Bakery.
On Monday afternoons, the St. Luke’s Arts and Farms Indoor Winter Market takes place at St. Luke’s Church in East Greenwich. Hickory Hill Farm offers fresh produce, eggs and meat; Narrow Lane Orchards brings apples and pumpkins; Silk Tree Farm sells fresh goat cheese and goat’s milk body products. Save yourself some time making dessert and opt for June Love’s English Cakes, made from old world recipes, or bread from Great Harvest Bread Company.
If you want to have a quintessentially South County feast, serve Johnnycakes at your holiday table. Kenyon’s Grist Mill has been grinding Johnnycake meal since the 1700s, so they must be doing something right. Visit the mill in Usquepaugh for their classicstone-ground corn meal, or any of their stone-ground flours (like whole wheat, rye and buckwheat) for regular baking. They also sell mixes for brown bread and corn bread to add some homemade love to your bread basket.
Langworthy Farm Winery is South County’s only winery – the vineyards all tend to populate on the other side of the bay – but their vintages are just as worthy as those further east. Plus, with names like Misquamicut Merlot, Weekapaug White and Pawcatuck River Red, you’ve got local love and talking points on your table. Total win-win.
Westerly’s Grey Sail Brewing has only been around for a couple of years, buttheir beers are generating lots of buzz. They offer their Flagship cream ale and Flying Jenny extra pale ale year round, and serve up seasonal and one-time-only brews on the regular. Their Bring Back the Beach beer earlier this year was an exclusive fundraiser for Misquamicut recovery. This winter, the seasonal offering is Leaning Chimney, a smoked porter made using peat-smoked malt.
When the cold weather hits, I want two things: whiskey and pumpkin-flavored everything. Apparently South Kingtown’s Sons of Liberty wants the same two things. Their 2013 winter release is Pumpkin Spice Whiskey, and it’s delicious. Their flagship Uprising American Whiskey works pretty nicely in a pre-dinner old fashioned, too. For an after dinner drink, try an espresso martini made with their seasonal Loyal 9 Dark Chocolate Vanilla Bean Vodka.
You Know, for Kids
As much as the teenagers at your table might wish differently, kids can’t exactly tipple with adults. That doesn’t mean, though, that they’re relegated to red and white cans of cola with polar bears on them. Block Island Beverages makes Bibbs Sparkling Blackberry juice and Sparkling Blackberry Lime juice. They’re natural, locally made alternatives to soda that are just as delicious – and taste even better served in a wine glass at a holiday table.
For the most Rhode Island beverage of all, mix Dave’s Coffee Syrup with Rhody Fresh Milk for the most delicious coffee milk you’ll ever have. Of course, it’s not Autocrat, but Dave’s is made in Charlestown and is actually better. Don’t believe me? Try it yourself.