Safe to say that a visit to the Granite State rarely evokes thoughts of wine, cheese and chocolate.
More than 500 miles of New Hampshire roadway are populated with 16 award-winning wineries, nearly a dozen unique farmstead creameries and a half-dozen shops devoted to premium-grade, hand-crafted chocolates. That most of these culinary sites are tucked away in quaint villages or surrounded by panoramic vistas and charming New England countryside is merely icing on the proverbial cake.
The recent rise of culinary tourism is enough to make any hard-core foodie rejoice as they pack their bags and strike out in search of regional specialties, off-the-beaten-path dives or to conquer new cuisine experiences. And the enthusiasm with which these chow hounds have embraced the blend of travel and eating is not lost on destinations. Most have been quick to capitalize on the trend by creating trails and experiences designed to lure these devoted gastronomists to the next stash of groceries. New Hampshire is no exception.
Three inviting areas await exploration for those willing to meander off the beaten path in search of gastronomic gold.
Though significantly shorter than its two counterparts, the Near Coast Trail, winding 73 compact miles along the far southeastern corner of the state bordering Maine, offers a wealth of reasons to explore. Treasures, such as Sanborn’s Fine Candies (voted “Best of the Seacoast”) with their creamy fudges and chocolate-covered caramels, or the chic Chocolatier in Exeter with more than 50 varieties of handmade chocolates, are enough to delight any sweet tooth.
Pair any of those darker chocolates with a robust red wine from one of the four primary vineyards in this area and give in to the temptation to stay awhile longer. Certainly, Candia Vineyards is worthy of a visit, given that it is one of New England’s most-awarded boutique wineries and is located on some of the oldest farmland in New Hampshire. Other noteworthy stops include Jewell Towne Vineyards in South Hampton, where visitors can not only taste, but learn the art of winemaking in a rustic post-and-beam barn that serves as tasting room, winery, gift shop and art gallery.
Not to be missed along this trail is the Hickory Nut Farm, family-owned and -operated, known for a concoction called “yo-goat-gurt” as well as several varieties of goat cheeses aged in the farm’s own cheese cave.
Next up is a 199-mile-long stretch of trail located in the heart of the state, starting in Manchester. It’s called Meandering The Merrimack and Lakes (referring to the Merrimack Valley and Lakes Region).
Along this path, rustic, small-batch, farmstead cheeses are the star of the show, such as the raw cheddar, camembert, brie and quark produced at Brookford Farm in Canterbury or the soft cheese spreads created at The Sandwich Creamery in Center Sandwich near the northern edge of Lake Winnipesaukee.
This is also the region for mead lovers. No less than two wineries produce more than 56 award-winning fine honey wines (or meads) ranging from dry to dessert styles. And, speaking of dessert, not only do chocolate shops abound in this region, but so do outlets offering ice cream, freshly-roasted nuts and an array of maple products. Perhaps the daddy of them all is the Granite State Chocolate Shoppe in the state’s capital city. This Concord confectionary has been cranking out luscious treats since 1927. Right on its heels, Van Otis Chocolates in Manchester has been making candy since 1935 and offers a premium chocolate factory tour to visitors.
Heading across to the western edge of the state, the longest trail, stretching 234 miles from north to south, offers twice as many dairies as wineries, plus the added bonus of 70-mile vistas toward Vermont’s Green Mountains and the promise of “amazing sunsets.”
Highlighting this journey, tagged Valley Vineyards, Orchards and Dairies, are spots such as Taylor Brothers Sugarhouse & Creamery in Meriden, which carries three varieties of artisan cheeses created right there on the family-owned dairy and maple farm. Boggy Meadow Farm in Walpole and Country Critters Farm in Winchester also promise wonderful handcrafted cheese products.
For a decidedly different experience, Farnum Hill Ciders at Poverty Lane Orchards in Lebanon offers ciders produced from their more than 100 varieties of heirloom, antique and cider apples. Also “appealing” is The Vineyard at Seven Birches in North Haverhill, which crafts pure New Hampshire fruit wines, as well as classic European grape wines at its facility.
If it’s a view one prefers with their cabernet or zinfandel, then Walpole Mountain View Winery at Barnett Hill Vineyard overlooks the Connecticut River Valley, while Haunting Whisper Vineyards in Danbury provides panoramic sloping views of surrounding mountain landscapes.
A complete listing along with detailed maps and area directions to all of New Hampshire’s culinary delights can be found at www.visitnh.gov. Still more information is available by visiting www.agriculture.nh.gov.
Armed with maps, a good GPS and a few days to explore, the only thing that remains for a successful culinary ramble through the state is a reminder to arrive hungry!
−By Melinda Hughey