A Food Tour of Concord, MA: Part One

When folks from out-of-town mention Concord, it’s most often in the context of the American Revolution — associated with “the shot heard ’round the world” that started the whole shebang. Or perhaps they’re referencing one of our transcendentalists — Thoreau, Emerson, Alcott, Hawthorne — acknowledging those independent, back-t0-nature thinkers who lived and worked together in Concord in the early 1800s.

I, for one, used to associate Concord with a certain 6th-grade teacher who, in his spare time, was part of a Revolutionary War re-enactment group and took great pleasure in coming to class in full general’s attire, reciting Emerson’s “Concord Hymn” while brandishing an antique rifle.

Now I think of Concord as a destination for food.

Hutchins Farm

Summer produce at the ready at Hutchins Farm

When I moved to the area in June, my godmother and friend, Fan Watkinson, co-founder of the Boston Local Food Festival and a connoisseur of many things deliciously local in the greater Boston area, suggested I make the trip.

Concord, Fan told me, has an incredibly rich history of small-scale, high-quality food production. Residents genuinely believe in maintaining their agricultural roots, dissuading developers and building community —  largely through small, local food businesses.

The two of us (I no longer a toddler, but Fan still at the wheel) drove around Concord and West Concord, popping into her favorite places for bites and chats with the owners. We nibbled cheese and munched on meringues, but this single trip whetted my appetite for more. What a tasty town! I returned to Concord on three other occasions to explore on my own–and the places I’ve highlighted below are mere slices of what the area has to offer.

Snapshots cannot wholly reveal the character and solid values of the proprietors I met, nor the nourishing food they make. My hope is that readers will also journey to Concord and West Concord to taste what I describe for themselves.

This “Food Tour of Concord, MA” will come in five installments, each containing two places of interest and each, hopefully, leaving you hungry for more!

The Concord Cheese Shop, 29 Walden St., Concord, MA

The Concord Cheese Shop

At first glance, The Concord Cheese Shop looks like a Wild West general store. Oklahoma-style lettering peppers a straw-colored sign above the entrance. Inside, however, the shop is packed with goods from New England, Europe and places in-between. Wines from Turtle Creek in Lincoln, MA, as well as Tuscany, line shelves; local honey from Carlisle, MA, has a section unto itself. Cured meats imported from California and Canada are displayed in glass cases.

Sprinkled on tabletops are cookies from Boston’s Dancing Deer Baking Company, Somerville’s Iggy’s Bread of the World and the prettily-packaged Tea Forte of Concord itself, among other regional tidbits. Low ceilings and creaky floorboards enclose customers in a world full of samples, including, of course, the overflowing, multinational cheese counter. Fan and I nibbled on a sweet and surprising goat’s cheese from Crystal Brook Farm in Sterling, MA, with bits of crystallized ginger tucked away in its snow-white interior.

I sat down with the owner Peter Lovis, over a cup of iced coffee, and we talked for nearly an hour about the pleasures of interacting with others over good food. This is why Peter likes retail: he gets to know many of his producers as well as his customers. He can watch customers’ eyes light up when they’ve tasted something new. “We have to eat,” Peter says, “so why shouldn’t it be a pleasure all the way through?”

Farfalle Italian Market, 26 Concord Crossing

Farfalle Italian Market

Jeff Nedeau and Gina Nasson, co-owners of Farfalle Italian Market, are expert multi-taskers. An open kitchen is the center of their market and restaurant, and the couple alternates cooking in plain view with taking care of customers.

When Jeff and I first spoke, he was in the midst of baking an olive-oil cake — “Torta di Olio di Oliva”. He purchased the olive oil from an Italian importer and, along with many of his wines, meats and cheeses, this olive oil is carefully chosen. Jeff likes to shorten the chain between Farfalle and Italy by eliminating middlemen, dealing directly with importers he knows and trusts. And, when possible, Jeff likes to have no chain at all to another place: he and Gina use many local ingredients from Concord’s Verrill Farm, Hutchins Farm and McGrath Farm in their pastas and paninis.

The couple opened Farfalle five years ago after moving to Concord from Somerville. Since then, Farfalle’s open kitchen has drawn a loyal group of regular customers. I asked Jeff if he wished Farfalle was more centrally located, but he told me no, he did not want Farfalle to be a tourist attraction. By having Farfalle where it is, he and Gina can cultivate relationships with customers who are determined enough to diverge from the popular Thoreau Street destinations.

Amidst a cornucopia of Italian products, Farfalle’s bestsellers are their paninis. For lunch, Fan and I split the eggplant, asiago cheese, and bell pepper panini, relishing the crisp, soaked bread and the sweet, slithering vegetables. I’m planning on returning to Farfalle as many times as it takes to work my way down the panini menu, which is on a chalkboard overlooking where Jeff and Gina are, right now, probably slicing fresh tomatoes. Who could blame me?

Next up: a peak at Gaining Ground, a farm that donates all of its produce to food pantries and families in need in the greater Boston area; and, Hutchins Farm, a producer of fresh fruits and vegetables steeped in tradition.