Foraged Foods and Local Wines

“What Grows Together, Goes Together”

Have you heard this adage about pairing food and wines?

Local foods have been favored on menus for decades, now, as “farm-to-table” and “regionally-sourced” have evolved alongside the desire for greater sustainability in food production, generally.   Among beverages, craft beer has re-focused attention on regional styles and producers, as well as ushering in a new era of neighborhood-based micro-breweries.

But what of local wines? Pennsylvania and New Jersey have no shortage of vineyards, and each has plenty of excellent winemakers and wine. Though still under-appreciated, they also make excellent complement to the local- and regional- foods found around Philly.

So, is it true that if it grows together, it goes together?

Like so many people, I very much look forward to the spring arrival of such foraged foods as stinging nettles, ramps, and fiddlehead ferns. One day my husband quick pickled some fiddleheads for our aperitivo, and I happened to open Va La Silk, a field-blend rosé from Avondale, PA. The savory rosé and the puckery, herbed fiddleheads were magical together.

Ok, the adage certainly worked in this case. But, let’s try more! And, what is more “local” than foods foraged locally?

Thus was born a collaboration with farmer and forager, Heather McMonnies, of Food Hedge in Schwenksville, PA; Heather’s locally-foraged foods would be paired with some of my favorite, local wines.  While Heather has participated in foraging dinners in the past, she relished the opportunity to really focus a spotlight on local food and wine. Chef Justin Swain, executive chef at Rex 1516, was called in to create and execute the menu. I selected the wines and we gathered at Jet Wine Bar to dine!

Foraging by @food_hedge, Plates by @swainstache, Wine by @jetjill

Chef Swain produced an outstanding menu of dishes made with locally-sourced fiddlehead ferns, green garlic, spruce, hay, and herbs, rounded out with local cheese and morel mushrooms. I sourced wines from Va La Vineyards, Galer Estate, 1723 Vineyards, Maple Springs Vineyard and Heritage Winery

Thanks to @LizzyLizzieLiz, @MissAmerica_in_PA, @melcorbin, @kylielee83, @maxwelldbarna, @food_hedge for photos!

The pairings were an unmitigated success. Anthony Vietri’s stunning and savory Silk merges with the herbal notes in the pickled fiddleheads, and the wine’s light fruit notes temper the vinegar.

Swain’s hay-roasted tomatoes and kidchego (from Misty Creek Goat Dairy near Lancaster, PA) dish was superb on its own, but the addition of the tomato-leaf notes of Galer’s Cabernet Franc added richness and enhanced the tomato flavors, overall. Also, that cheese!

1723’s Albariño had the right acidity to tackle the creamy butter on the morel toast, and its touch of tropical fruit complement garlicky toast.

I love merlot with most red sauces, but the saline component of the New Jersey Merlot from Heritage really elevated the nettle pesto. The round tannins and spray of sea enhanced the complexity of the dish, but without overwhelming the delicate balance between the pesto and the gnocchi.

Finally, the spruce ice cream. I had been a little worried about this pairing, but as soon as I tasted Maple Springs Cuvee 30 (Chardonnay and Grüner Veltliner, fortified with PA Brandy), I knew that its minty notes and zesty lemon curd would be great with creamy, resin-y spruce ice cream. And it was.

Anthony (with me!) at Va La

The pairings simply reiterated what I learned from my ad hoc aperitivo: “What grows together, goes together” Pennsylvania and New Jersey wines are good in their own right. They also beautifully complement local-food flavors . The other benefit? Easy visits. Great food and great wine, all in your backyard. No need to wait for Pennsylvania and New Jersey to be proclaimed “the next big thing”. Be brave, be bold, drink local now.