From beer to ice cream to sauces, Mainers make some of the tastiest and highest quality food products in the country. It’s not just my opinion. In recent years, several Maine companies have trounced the competition in national and international taste tests.
Take Gifford’s Ice Cream. The family-owned company based in Skowhegan won the Triple Crown at last year’s World Dairy Expo, taking top honors for Best Chocolate, Best French Vanilla, and Grand Champion Grade A Ice Cream.
In both my personal and professional life, I have had the opportunity to sample a lot of fantastic Maine foods. From the cooking segments I host on the WCSH-6 Morning Report, the farmers markets I frequent, and the events I attend such as Harvest on the Harbor and the Incredible Breakfast Cook-off, I can tell you there is no shortage of culinary genius in Maine.
Over the last few years, there are a few local products that have become staples of my family’s pantry.
I’m delighted to have the opportunity to share them with you here.
W.O. Hesperus Co. Canceaux Sauce
I love spicy food. And this hot sauce is hands-down my favorite. It’s not too hot (Hesperus says it’s a 5 on a heat scale of 1-10) and it has a slight sweetness to it. I love to add it to chili, drizzle it over crab cakes and pour it on eggs. I think Becky’s Diner in Portland has the right idea with this sauce – there’s a bottle of it on every table right next to the salt and pepper. Available in specialty food shops and at www.wohesperus.com.
Cornerstone Farm Sweet Italian Sausage
I discovered this sausage at the Portland Farmers Market. To be honest with you, sausage can gross me out. I’m sure I don’t need to explain why. But this stuff has such a wonderful flavor and meaty texture, I never wonder, “What’s in it?” And it’s so lean I usually brown it with a little olive oil so it won’t stick to the pan. I add it to spaghetti sauce and chili, use it in soups, and serve it up in slices with cute little toothpicks as an hors d’oeuvre. It’s also great as a “Sausage Bomb” sandwich with sauteed peppers and onions in a sub roll. Cornerstone Farm is a small farm in Palmyra. Their sausage, other meats and eggs are sold at farmers markets in Portland, Bath, Waterville and Orono. Or check out their website at www.cornerstonefarm.us.
Denny Mike’s Cow Bell Hell
Despite its name, this spice rub is not overly hot. But it will add pizzazz to just about any humdrum beef dish you can think of. Denny Mike Sherman suggests you try it on your burgers and in your meatloaf. I have made shepherd’s pie with it many times (using the recipe from Denny Mike’s website) and it always gets rave reviews. All of Denny Mike’s rubs come in cute little tins with recipe cards inside, making them great gifts for friends and relatives “from away,” as they’re easy and lightweight to ship. They are sold at Whole Foods Markets and specialty food stores throughout the Northeast, or at www.dennymikes.com.
Pineland Farms Sharp Cheddar Cheese
I am not a professional taste tester. I just know what I like. And when I tasted this cheese at Portland’s very first Harvest on the Harbor event in 2009, I fell in love with it. Actually, I was wowed by Pineland Farms entire line of cheeses. The sharp cheddar is just my ol’ faithful. See www.pinelandfarms.org.
Sparrow Farm Organic Cranberry Sauce
Warning! If you try this cranberry sauce, you will never be able to go back to the canned stuff again. This concoction is sweet and tangy and full of real cranberry flavor. I have only been able to find it at Lois’s Natural Marketplace on Route 1 in Scarborough around Thanksgiving time, so I stock up so I can use some on my turkey sandwiches year round. The address: Sparrow Farm, RR 2 Box 101, Gardiner, ME 04346.