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Beyond Baltimore: A Culinary Expedition through Franklin County, PA

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I love “foodie weekends”.

Pick someplace relatively close but far enough away to feel distant; someplace with strong food traditions, renown regional produce, and a range of gastronomic attractions. Add in some interesting sites to see, a historic lodging or two, and a calendar of special events, and you have an ideal foodie weekend.

Southcentral Pennsylvania’s Franklin County has all the elements for a thoroughly satisfying culinary expedition. Less than 2 hour’s drive from most of the National Capitol Region, Franklin enjoys a rich agricultural heritage and offers a rural countryside and several quaint but sophisticated small towns to explore. For foodies, that heritage and countryside results in a broad palate of fresh produce and other farm products.

Jim’s Farmer’s Market in Chambersburg is a good place to begin sampling that palate. More than two dozen vendors crowd this one-time railroad roundhouse, offering fresh produce, meats, cheeses, baked goods, confections, health and beauty products, and a host of snacks, munchies, and other goodies. Market manager Paul Clemmer, calls it “…an old world market. Much is directly from the producers, and many things are made and baked right at the market.”

Market specialties include country ham sandwiches; fresh baked pretzels, cookies, cakes, and breads; meats and cheeses; organic produce; and, according to Clemmer, the best Swiss cheeseburgers. Also, look for flavored popcorns and “mosies”, hard candy disks that are local favorites.

For more exotic comestibles, visit Norwegian Cod Father, a well-stocked international foods purveyor in the heart of Chambersburg. Owners Pauline Cameron and Tom Stendal provide a range of primarily European goods to meet the culinary needs of the local gourmands and ethnic communities. Along with the cheeses, meats, and other delicatessen items, the owners also offer prepared foods, advice on using them, and liberal tastes to tantalize your palate. Be sure to try the Binkert’s liverwurst and the Ekte Gjetost, a Norwegian caramelized goat cheese. Both are stand-outs.

Whispering Brook Cheese Haus, in nearby Hampton Township’s pastoral countryside, offers a different type of cheese. Cheesemaker Ed Brechvill makes a dozen kinds of all-natural cheddar cheeses. He uses whole milk from local dairies and ages all of his cheeses at least 60 days. He specializes in cheddars because: “…they are so versatile and good for the raw milk process. The animals are naturally pastured, and don’t use any growth hormones.” While all of Whispering Brook’s cheeses are excellent, “some of that cheese back in the corner,” aged for 2 years or more, is a “must have” for cheddar lovers. Tasting like fine white wine and crumbly but not dry, the cheese fills your mouth with sharp, tangy flavor.

You can find mouth-filling flavor of another sort at Chambersburg’s Roy Pitz Brewing Company. Opened in 2008 by two life-long friends, the craft brewery produces four flagship beers and an equal number of seasonal potations. Their Ludwig’s Revenge, a smoked German-style lager, pays homage to George Ludwig, a 19th Century Chambersburg brewer burned out by invading Confederate troops. Its rich smoky flavor and dark umber color please both the taste buds and eyes.

“There is a tradition of beer making in this area,” said Brewmaster Ryan Richards. “We have the best clean, limestone water. That’s so important.”

Wines are another regional tradition, carried on today by Tuscarora Mountain Winery. Featuring more than two dozen varieties, Tuscarora uses fresh local produce in many of their award-winning wines. With stores in Chambersburg and Greencastle, Tuscarora specializes in semi-sweet fruit wines but also makes some respectable varietals including a tasty Cabernet Sauvignon.

Franklin County offers so much more for foodies: Doc’s old fashioned apple butter, Trickling Springs Creamery’s ice cream, tapas at Bistro 71; Gibbles’ potato chips; and wine dinners at the Mercersburg Inn. For more information, contact the Franklin County Visitors Bureau, 866 646 8060, http://www.explorefranklincountypa.com/

Cheesy Baked Apples

Courtesy of Janet Pollard, Franklin County Convention & Visitors Bureau

Try this adaptable recipe that allows use of any cheese and apple combination to give a variety of taste pairings. Depending on the cheese, alter the choice of wine. Serve with warm, crusty bread.. If using a cheddar cheese, try pairing with Tuscarora Mountain Winery's semi-sweet “1864 The Burning”. If using a softer and milder cheese, try pairing with Chenin Blanc.

8 cups peeled sliced apples

1/4 cup apple juice or cider

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

3/4 cup brown sugar

2/3 cup flour

1/2 cup butter

3/4 cup shredded ham or 3/4 cup crumbled bacon

Put apples in a buttered baking dish. Mix together apple juice or cider with lemon juice, nutmeg, and cinnamon and pour over apples. Mix together flour, brown sugar, and the grated cheese and spread across apples in baking dish. Add ham or bacon, sprinkling on top of the casserole. Dot with butter and bake 1 hour at 350 degrees.

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Reed Hellman is a professional writer living in Alberton, Maryland. Visit his Website at www.reedhellmanwordsmith.com, or e-mail your questions and comments to RHWay2Go@yahoo.com.

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