Vignola: Eating Local in Portland Maine

I’m in Portland for a long weekend of political science and exploring the furthest point northeast I’ve been in the US. I’ve never traveled to Maine before, and as you can maybe tell from previous posts – I love to go places!    

Claudia and I drove a long 7 hours and finally arrived in this lovely coastal town.  After a brief rest in the hotel room, we hit the cobblestone streets and explored for the early part of the evening before finally settling on Vignola for our dinner.  One of my main requirements when I look for a place to eat in a new city (other than something vegetarian on the menu) is an obvious incorporation of seasonal local ingredients.  The menu at Vignola beckoned us with a “cheese menu” and sealed the deal with a listing of the local farms which provide the ingredients to over half the dishes on the menu.  We had a grand dinner, and I’ll give the highlights here.  

 

As I said, we were enticed by the extensive cheese menu, which offered different cheeses from around the world in a variety of different categories – we chose two cow’s milk cheeses, and two sheep’s milk cheeses:

  • Maine Gouda: a mild, creamy organic cow’s milk cheese from Sonnetal Dairy in Smyrna Maine – delicious!
  • Montasio: an italian cow’s milk cheese, very smooth with a very nice nuttiness to it – the clear winner, I will seek this cheese out again in the future.
  • Abbaye De Belloc:  A French sheep’s milk cheese made by monks.  Kind of bland. 
  • Tuala: an italian sheep’s milk cheese, somewhat soft, very nice and went well with the fruit compote accompaniment.

 

 

Claudia ordered the Crispy Polenta appetizer with a local mushroom medley, gorgonzola, and porcini cream.  I had a bite, and have to say that the polenta was the most amazing texture I’ve ever had.  Extraordinarily creamy on the inside, and perfectly crisp outside.  

 

 

I then enjoyed what is probably the best salad I’ve ever had.  A combination of red and green leaf lettuces with pear, marcona almonds, grated sheep’s milk cheese, and a honey vinaigrette dressing.  I literally cleaned my plate.  When all the food was gone, I took a piece of bread and sopped up all remnants of the dressing.  For such a completely simple dish, I was blown away.  The lettuce was super fresh and tasty, the almonds were like none I’ve ever had before, the pear was perfectly ripe, the cheese was just slightly sharp, and the dressing was so sweet and subtle I need to get working on a honey vinaigrette recipe ASAP when I get home.  

A seriously heavenly meal, the kind of meal that makes me want to get into the kitchen and work with the foods I love, and makes me appreciate the bounty of local farms all over the country – the perfect way to start off my weekend.  I am sure there will be much more blogging about this trip over the next few days – I’ve already been charmed! 

Update:

This meal was good enough that we repeated it.  Our second meal featured a new cheese plate, some pizza, fiddleheads, more salads, and a pana cotta with butterscotch & bananas, pictured here.  Overwhelmingly delicious.

 

 

 

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3 Responses to “Vignola: Eating Local in Portland Maine”


  1. 1 Katie Bee May 7, 2009 at 10:59 pm

    Portland, ME has the nicest main street ever. So many great kitchen stores and used book stores!

    …that is, if I’m matching up the images of towns I’ve been to in Maine with the right name…

  2. 2 Sarina May 11, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    I was in Portland about 7 years ago and was really impressed. Nice restaurants and shops, but still a very New England feel. I liked that for all the urban renewal it had kept its identity.

  3. 3 Jessica April 10, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    I am so glad you enjoyed your visit to Portland. The local food scene here is great and growing. It is a wonderful thing to live here and need to eat multiple times a day!

    The Sonnetal Farm cheese you had has a great story. Their cheese is amazing, and so is their cheese making process. They don’t use electricity! I read a blog post on it with pictures once and I remember this much: Their cheese room is state of the art – everything is stainless steel and spotless. They haul the milk to the cheese making building using a horse and cart. The horse pulls the cart up a ramp so it can be gravity fed into the cheese room tanks. They cut ice blocks during the winter to keep the cheese storage room at 40 degrees all summer long.

    It has to be the most eco-conscious commercially available cheese I know of. As far as I know they do not sell their cheese by telling people any of this. No one I know of who buys it has known about their production process when I talked to them. Dairy farming and cheese making are labors of love – not something you get rich doing. To do it without electricity in this day is a profound statement of spirit and philosophy that is quite moving.


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