The Hudson Valley: A Culinary Destination
February 2, 2015
Attending a boot camp at the Culinary Institute of America was on my bucket list for many, many years. And as you may know, I had the good fortune of being able to attend a CIA Boot Camp this past spring. It was a culinary pilgrimage to what I believed to be the mecca of all things food.
And boy, was I right.
The Hyde Park campus of the Culinary Institute of America is located in the Hudson Valley, less than an hour’s drive from New York City. So basically you have all of these budding chefs, a not-small amount of open space, and proximity to the largest metro area in the United States. And that, my friends, is the recipe for a world-class culinary destination.
CIA Boot Camp classes are half day classes (during which you will learn a great deal), leaving you the other half of the day to explore, well, whatever you want to explore. But if you are in town for the Culinary Institute, I’m willing to bet that you are a tiny bit into food. And in the Hudson Valley, there’s more than enough to keep your plate full for an entire week. (I’m really trying to refrain from making food puns. It is challenging.)
Sprout Creek Farm: Udder to Table
I arrived at Sprout Creek Farm on a grey, rainy morning. But do you know what makes any grey, rainy morning better? Cheese.
Sprout Creek farm is what I’d call a boutique cheese-erie. Of course, that’s because I like to make up words, and ‘cheese-erie’ sounds cool. But also because it is small and produces very high quality cheese. Possibly the best part—the cows and the cheese production are are actual feet apart. You can’t get much more fresh than this.
Fishkill Farms: Brooklyn North
When I was little, my nana and pappy would buy lots and lots of apples every fall, and store them on the stairs leading up from their basement. It was a 1980s root cellar, if you will. And that stairwell smelled amazing all winter long. Mmmm. Apple-y.
That same smell greeted me as I entered Fishkill Farms.
Fishkill Farms is more than a farm stand. They offer apple picking in the fall, and peach and cherry and pear picking in the…well, whenever those items are in season (a farmer I am not). They also offer classes on composting, as well as a variety of additional extremely important skills, such as sauerkraut making and beer brewing (if you doubt my sincerity on that then you doubt my love of both beer and sauerkraut. And that hurts, man.)
As a bonus, Fishkill Farms is open seven days each non-holiday week, which makes it a great stop if you are visiting the Hudson Valley as part of a CIA Boot Camp.
Crown Maple: If Buddy the Elf Went Wine Tasting
I may be going out on a limb here (pun intended) but: my visit to Madava Farms—the home of Crown Maple Syrup–may have been one of the most educational and enjoyable travel experiences I had last year. Because when was the last time you went maple syrup tasting? Hmmm?
It’s no secret that I’m no stranger to wine tasting. I’ve visited vineyards from sea to shining sea (and am hoping to branch out to new continents asap; South Africa, I’m looking at you). So I could not help but draw parallels between the wine tasting experience and the syrup tasting experience.
To begin with, much like a vineyard, the grounds of Madava Farms are stunning. There’s the long, winding driveway through the vines…er, maple trees. There’s a huge stone welcome sign and a huge yet somehow organic to the setting stone-and-glass-and-wood building. And then there’s the tour, followed by the tasting.
On the tour, you will learn things like:
-Maple syrup is (of course) a sweetener, but it has health benefits. Hurray for sweeteners with health benefits! It is also sustainable and encourages not cutting down trees. So it is a healthy, eco-friendly sweetener. That’s a win-win in my book.
-Syrup is different than wine, because sap can vary from day to day, not season to season like wine.
-You can’t tap the same tree every year; it hurts the tree. And we don’t want to hurt trees.
-All of the sapping-tubing (which you can view on your way down the long, winding driveway through the maple groves) has to grade downward–but the topography isn’t always down. Thus, it is a very intricate webbing.
-Squirrels are the enemy! (I actually put this in my notes, because the tour guide was very adamant about it. Though I rather like squirrels, for the record.)
And then after the tour, you will retire to a warm, wood paneled room where you will taste the syrup. And it will be good. And then you will buy some. Yes. Yes you will.
Lunching: The Eveready Diner, Every Day
I went to this diner twice. I’m not sorry. It was that good.
To begin, it is the most diner-looking diner I’ve ever seen. This place has chrome on chrome on neon. And a full bar. I don’t know what more you could want from a diner. Except, perhaps, exceptional food.
Which is why what I would really like to talk about is the chicken and waffles. Typically I’m more of a fan of the chicken part of chicken and waffles—after all, who doesn’t love fried chicken? But these waffles. Malted waffles with strawberry butter. Oh. Dear. God. Just go there. Go there now.
Downtown Rhinebeck: Gourmet Gifts and Divine Dining
(I like alliteration, ok?)
One of my favorite make-at-home lunches is a simple arugula and mango salad. Those are the only ingredients—arugula and mango—as well as a super simple vinaigrette that I make from really, really good olive oil, equally exceptional balsamic vinegar, and just a dash of dijon mustard. You can add chicken (or any kind of protein, I guess) if you want. But all you really need are the arugula, mango, oil and vinegar. But you need really, really good oil and vinegar. And I struggle to keep up my stock of really, really good oil and vinegar because, well—they are really, really good. So I eat them.
But during my time in Rhinebeck, I happened upon Pure Mountain Olive Oil, which is one of those little shops that I love which sells high quality oil and vinegar from shiny metal casks. They have a fabulous selection and the proprietors are very hands-off, which is great. You can just wander around on your own, reading the tasting notes and tasting the reading notes…er, tasting the various oils and vinegars. I emerged with a bottle of each—a simple, aged balsamic and a non-flavored Spanish olive oil, though they do have fruity, flavored options as well. My arugula and mango salads have vastly improved.
If oil and vinegar isn’t your thing, you can also check out a variety of chocolate shops, wine bars, and restaurants. I had a lovely meal at Terrapin, a church-turned-tapas restaurant with outdoor seating and amazing gazpacho.
Of course, after all of that cooking, eating, and general culinary sightseeing, you are going to need somewhere to sleep…
Lodging: The Oldest Inn
There are five or six inns that claim to be the oldest inn in America. The Beekman Arms, conveniently located in ‘downtown’ Rhinebeck, is one of them. And I’m going to choose to believe the claim. Because The Beekman Arms is fabulously old fashioned, in just the way you’d want an upstate New York inn to be. The Beekman Arms feels long ago.
And more than that, coming back at the end of a long day of sightseeing or culinary classes (or, in my case, both), you feel like you are coming home. There’s a proper check in desk as soon as you enter, and behind that, a set of stairs which lead up to the second and third floors, where you will find a variety of unique rooms. I stayed in what I will call The Duck Lamp Room, as there was a pretty frightening duck-shaped chandelier (if one can call something shaped like a duck a chandelier) over the bed. But beyond that, the room could not have been more cozy. And do you know what is awesome? Returning to your room at the end of the day, opening the window, and listening to the guy on the street corner play Close to You on the saxophone. I actually walked down two flights of stairs and went back outside at one point just to tip him.
Yes, I love the Hudson Valley. It is charming, it is historic, and it is delicious.
Many thanks to Dutchess County Tourism for helping to organize this trip.