A while back I had the chance to travel to Vermont with the folks from Farmstead Inc. on a farm tour and sourcing trip Chef Matthew Jennings called “The Pursuit of Cheezus.” Farmstead, located in Providence is the brainchild of Chef Matthew Jennings and his wife Kate. Although I heard a lot about the Farmstead cheese shop and the attached La Laiterie Bistro in the day and a half I was in Vermont, until today I’d never been there.
Saturday felt like the first full day of spring, warm and bright, and after cleaning one of our compost bins and starting a garden bed next to our house, Susan and I took a trip to Providence to see what Farmstead was all about and have an early dinner at La Laiterie Bistro. Providence is a quick one hour trip from our place in Arlington, and considering the ease of parking (we found a spot right in front of Farmstead) it was simple.
Walking into Farmstead, you are instantly transported back to a simpler time. Part farmhouse, part old country store the traditional atmosphere with cookbooks lined up on the wall and simple hightop tables with vases of daisies a top them remind you of a previous era. On the wall hangs a tattered diagram, in French, of a cow titled “Vache,” depicting the anatomical parts of the animal. A large butcher block sits in the middle of the room, with cheese wheels, and lovely glass bottles with traditional swing top stoppers full of “Baboo’s Mustard,” which my wife promptly told Chef she wanted to bathe in it after having some on our charcuterie plate.
We started dinner with a 3 cheese and 3 charcuterie choice that was completely out of this world. Served on beautiful slate, today there were 15 cheeses to choose from, and almost as many choices of house-made meat. For cheese, we went with two from Jasper Hill Farm – their Moses Sleeper, which is a brie-like cheese made from Jasper Hill’s own Ayrshire cows, and Winnimere, a gooey raw milk cheese that is washed in Lambic beer, and has a smooth sweet milky flavor, and just the right amount of “stink.” Our third cheese was the Fuzzy Wheel from Twigg Farm, in West Cornwall, VT which is a cow and goat milk mix only available in early spring, The cheeses came with an apple butter type dipping sauce and the most wonderfully sweet honey comb.
Our charcuterie choices were equally amazing and included the house made merguez sausage of the day and a generous slice of house made pate de campagne, along with sliced ham. The house made merguez was delightfully spicy, and these selections were accompanied by house made cornichons, pickled onions and the most amazing mustard sauce, “Baboo’s Mustard,” which as I said, is not only a condiment but might end up as a spa treatment in our home. The most enjoyable thing about this first course was that so much of what we were eating was made in house, just steps from where we were eating it, and what wasn’t was sourced locally, was chosen with passion and care. As it says on Farmsteads website, “Our focus at Farmstead is to develop close relationships with our producers, hand select quality foodstuffs for our store, devote ourselves to the craft of caring for such foods and to provide them at their peak of age, ripeness and flavor to our customers. We also pledge to educate our customers about the origin, history, heritage and significance of these foods and to enjoy and imbibe in the once lost, yet re-discovered art of crafting true, artisan foods.”
After ordering our glass of wine at a counter in front of an amazing array of cheese and other goodies, we moved into the dining room. La Laiterie opens for dinner at 5 PM, and the seats quickly filled as we ate our first course. Susan pointed out that the cliental seated when we were there was a diverse cross section – families, an older couple (not us), some college kids as well as a good selection of professional types in the 30 – 40 year old range, which I think is a testament to Chef Jennings and his staff. Other places where we’ve eaten dinners of the same caliber have been filled with only professional types or foodies, and it was refreshing to see that La Laiterie is also a “locals” place. That said, for us it was a “destination dinner,” and as it happend, Chef Jennings retail mentor, Ihsan Gurdal of Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge also showed up with a table of well-experienced food lovers as well.
I had bacon wrapped skirt steak that was melt in your mouth delicious, accompanied by a celeriac puree and carrots and mushrooms. The steak was done perfectly to my taste, though for Susan it was slightly under, but her roasted berkshire pork shoulder with a bean and brussels sprout hash was a huge winner.
The pork shoulder came with pickled granny smith apple spears, which were made in house I’m sure, that added a tart crunch to the dish that really enhanced the flavor of this down home luscious meal. By this time we were not only amazed with the preparation and taste of what we’d eaten but were somewhat stunned at what we had consumed. If we do get dessert when we got out, it is usually one that we split, but as we were about to tell our attentive server that a simple cup of tea was all we wanted, she surprised us with “something from the kitchen” that Chef Jennings had prepared for us.
Wow was all we could say. “Something from the kitchen” turned out to be three items that were all equally decadent in their own way. Yes, that is a homemade thin mint you see there, and the item on the left, a carrot cake with pineapple lusciousness on top was out of this world. I took one bite of each, including the cheese cake, at right, and told Susan I was done, but she insisted we finish it since it came especially to us from the kitchen. I agreed with that logic, and proceeded to take one for the team as best as I could.
We slowly made our way out as a second wave of hungry customers arrived, some buying cheese for take out, some waiting for a table. One thing is clear at Farmstead, there isn’t a lot of down time there. The staff was all knowledgeable and helpful, and despite the number of people in the small space I never felt as if I was looking around for a staff person to get me something. We perused the shop one more time before we left, picked up some of “Baboo’s Mustard” and some Cheese-y Chive Biscuits for breakfast, and chatted with Chef Jennings (the man has the biggest hands on earth I think) before heading out for home.
I would highly recommend Farmstead and La Laiterie to anyone in Rhode Island – it’s a wicked small state so just get up and go there no matter where you are – and I’d encourage Boston folks used to long waits and valet parking because they can’t stand to go around the block one more time, to head on down 95 and check out what Chef Matt Jennings and his wife Pastry Chef Kate Jennings have created there. Their website says it all … “Our passion and desire to create memorable food experiences for people is evident daily, and to shop with us is to take a step back in time when consumers had relationships with shopkeepers, and breads, pastries, meats & cheeses were sold over a handshake and a smile. Come feel the difference a Farmstead shopping experience can bring.”
Thanks for reading and please leave a comment about your experience at Farmstead or suggestions.
Remember, Food is Love!