When looking for the best food in America, look no farther than the Mad River Valley. Every year, the Good Food Foundation sees thousands of submissions for the Good Food Award, a prestigious national award with a vigorous vetting process that aims to find the tastiest, most authentic and sustainably-made food and beverage products in the country. This year, out of 1,928 entries, 22 Vermont businesses made it to the finals, three of which are based in the Mad River Valley.
Babette’s Table, Waitsfield, won in the charcuterie category for its Finocchiona. “It's a particularly special award because it recognizes both outstanding flavor and a commitment to a healthy, ethical agricultural system, both of which are central pillars of our business,” said Babette’s Table founder, Erika Lynch.
According to Lynch, knowing one’s farmers is key to making amazing charcuterie. “Working closely with them builds a stronger, more resilient community and makes for a better tasting product. The flavor of our charcuterie is absolutely a reflection of the hard work put in by the farms who supply our pork,” said Lynch, who gets pork from the von Trapp Farmstead in Waitsfield, Pigasus Meats in South Hero and Snug Valley Farm in Hardwick.
“They are all family farms committed to responsible agriculture. Their ethos is reflected in great tasting pork,” said Lynch.
In terms of making the product, Lynch and her team use special techniques that Lynch learned during an apprenticeship in Gascony, France.
MAD RIVER DISTILLERS
In the spirits category, Mad River Distillers, Warren, took home a Good Food Award for its Revolution Rye whiskey.
“The Good Food Awards are one of the only competitions where ingredient sourcing matters, and we are thrilled to have our Revolution Rye recognized as a winning spirit,” said Mad River Distillers president, Mimi Buttenheim. “It’s our most unique whiskey and the cocoa and mocha notes in the rye add richness and a roasted flavor to the spirit.”
While most rye whiskey is a blend of different grains that are at least 51% rye, the Mad River Distillers Revolution Rye is distilled from 100% rye grains. “We use three different types of rye grains: malted rye, cracked rye and chocolate rye, which is rye that has been malted and roasted,” said Buttenheim.
Additionally, grains used by Mad River Distillers are non-GMO, and all alcohol is made from scratch. To top it off, all Mad River Distillers grains are locally sourced from the Northeast Grainshed, the grain-growing region in New England and New York.
VON TRAPP FARMSTEAD
In the cheese category, the Waitsfield-based von Trapp Farmstead, won a Good Food Award for its soft cheese: Mt: Alice. “I personally love this award because it is the one award that really matters. We are absolutely thrilled to receive this award as it recognizes the things that are most important to us,” said Sebastian von Trapp, founder of the von Trapp Farmstead.
He noted that the Good Food Foundation not only looks at what goes into each product, but also how the process of making each product impacts the surrounding earth, animals, employees and community. At the von Trapp Farmstead, farming methods are intentional, and go beyond the goal of just making delicious cheese.
“It all starts with fostering good soil health,” said von Trapp. “Our cows graze the fields while fertilizing them at the same time. The grasses in our fields sequester huge amounts of carbon for the soil. The nutrient dense soil grows the grasses that provide the best form of nutrition for our cows to live a healthy, natural life and produce the healthiest most flavorful milk, free of added hormones, antibiotics or residual pesticides.”
Additionally, the von Trapp Farmstead makes all its cheeses by hand in small batches, and pays its employees livable wages with benefits. “We want to thank everyone that supports us by purchasing our cheeses and meats! Congrats to all the winners, we are humbled and honored to be in such good company,” said von Trapp.
Erin Sigrist, executive director of the Vermont Specialty Food Association, noted that Vermont specialty food producers are increasingly being recognized as top food producers in the country. “This rigorous competition is blind tasting and requires producers to meet environmental and social responsibility standards. The contributions that these producers make go far beyond the craft food landscape. Their impact can be felt within Vermont and their communities.”