October 28, 2009

Exploring The North Fork

This past Saturday, when deary weather had moved into NYC, I headed to the North Fork of Long Island, where the weather was - to my surprise - sunny and beautiful. The North Fork's location between the Long Island Sound and the Peconic Bay brings great weather; Cutchogue, in fact, has the most sunny days per year of any town on the east coast. The trip was organized by Chef Rich LaMarita, one of the terrific instructors at the Natural Gourmet Institite. There were about 36 of us in all - students, alumni, instructors, administrators, friends and family - enough to fill a Hampton Jitney.

Our day began with a tour and tasting at Macari Vineyards in Mattituck. Macari is a family-owned winery that has pioneered organic and sustainable wine-making in Long Island and employs biodynamic methods. After tasting a variety of the Macari wines, I decided on a bottle of their Dos Aguas, a blend of 45% cabernet sauvignon, 36% merlot, 15% cabernet franc, and 4% malbec. Dry and slightly spicy, it will be perfect with Thanksgiving dinner.

We toured the fermentation facility with its huge stainless steel tanks...
...And racks of red wines aging in French-made oak barrels.
Wine-making sure isn't cheap; each barrel costs about $800. Barrels can be reused several times; the flavor they impart to the wine changes with age.

An enormous oak fermentation tank.

The bottling machine -- able to bottle, cork, and label up to 2,500 bottles in a day.

Next on to Catapano Dairy Farm in Peconic to taste their award-winning goat milk cheeses - and of course visit the goats. I could not resist taking home some of their delicious, tangy fresh chevre, thick goat milk yogurt, and unbelievably creamy goat milk fudge (I am not ordinarily a big fan of fudge, but theirs is fabulous). They also sell goat-milk-based soaps, which are made on-site from fresh goat's milk (unlike other goat soaps which are made with powdered milk) and other all-natural ingredients.

The goats were adorable.

Chomping on a tasty wooden bench...

Lenz Winery, also in Peconic, was our next stop, where we picked up champagne before heading to Widow's Hole Oyster Company in Greenport. Widow's Hole owner and oyster cultivator Mike Osinki has supplied succulent bivalves to some of the best restaurants in Manhattan, including Le Bernardin and Esca, since 2004.
Oyster seedlings are transported from the hatchery to Widow's Hole when they are about 5 mm in length. They are placed in fine-meshed containers and submerged below the dock, so water can freely circulate around the tiny oysters but they will not fall out. When they have grown to about 1 inch in length they are transferred to larger mesh cages and moved to an area off shore, in waters 5 to 15 feet deep, where they live for about 1-1/2 years until they are ready to be harvested.

Cages that house the oysters during off-shore growing. Each cage holds about 150 oysters.

The dock.
After a lesson in the history and practice of oyster cultivation from Mike (an interesting tidbit: oysters change sex during their lifecyle. Male during a bad year and female during a good year; apparently it requires more energy to be female), we savored freshly shucked oysters, all of five minutes out of the water, with glasses of Lenz champagne. A perfect afternoon treat.
Widow's Hole oysters are tender and delectable, with a sweet, oceany, and slightly mineral-y flavor.

Then back to Lenz Winery for a tasting. Tom, our knowledgeable and engaging host, gave us a well-rounded lesson on wine-making in the North Fork area. The region's variability in temperature and precipitation present viticultural challenges, so the makers really have to know what they are doing. Lenz makes some impressive wines; I took home an Alsatian-style Gewurztraminer, dry with a lovely bouquet and delicate floral notes.

Then off to our final stop of the day, Sang Lee Farms, a certified organic specialty vegetable farm on Route 48 in Peconic. The farm was founded by the Lee family in the 1940s as a wholesale distributor selling mostly to Asian markets. Nearly 10 years ago the current owners, Fred Lee and his wife, Karen, began transitioning from conventional to organic farming methods. They have also greatly reduced the wholesale portion of their business, and today about 99% of their sales are retail -- direct to customers at the farm stand, local farmers markets, and CSAs on Long Island and in Brooklyn.

What a day! My first venture to the North Fork, and definitely not my last. I can't wait to go back.
For more on visiting the North Fork, check out this great post from fellow blogger Christine at Fresh, Local and Best.

Have you been to the North Fork? What are your favorite places to visit there? I would love to hear your comments and suggestions!


  1. Great post! We've gone up to North Fork a couple of times for wine tasting...Bedell was one of the bigger ones that was enjoyable because it was summer and we tasted outside on the patio...We went to a few more in the winter that were wonderful because they were dressed up for Christmas.
    We love wine! Check out our post today on our Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine tasting and let me know your thoughts! Cheers!


  2. What a great weekend getaway! You were able to pack so many activities in for your visit! Those goats are adorable and I'm kicking myself for not visiting the Widow's Hole Oyster Company. Your photos are fantastic! It makes me want to visit again!

  3. Welcome, High Low! Thanks for the North Fork reco - I will add Bedell to the itinerary for my next trip. Loved your post on the Chateauneuf-du-Pape tasting, by the way!

    Hi FLB - We sure fit in a lot on Saturday. Can you believe we were also supposed to walk around the village of Mattituck and go to a mushroom farm? We ran out of time so didn't get to those spots - must save something for next time, though!

  4. What a great trip! Love all the pictures. Those goats are so cute!

  5. Thanks, Foodie with Little Thyme! I had to restrain myself from adding even more photos of the goats...they were so beautiful, and friendly too. And their milk sure does make some tasty cheese. If you ever happen upon Catapano Farm chevre, I highly recommend it - by for the best goat cheese I've tasted.

  6. oh wow great post and looks like a cool place to visit, love the snaps thanks for sharing oh and i love Christines blog as well

  7. Nancy, I was rereading your post over the weekend to share with my husband, you'll have to forgive me because I somehow glossed over the interesting facts about oysters! I love it! It does take more energy to be a female!

    Also we just looked up information on the Natural Gourmet Institute, it looks like a great organization.

  8. Hi Christine, Yes our group was very amused by that factoid about the oysters!

    Natural Gourmet Institute is a great place - glad you checked it out! I had a terrific experience in the chef's training program, and I highly recommend the public courses as well. Lots of wonderful instructors.

    The school's focus is on vegetarian cooking, but they also offer a wide variety of courses that include recipes using fish and other types of animal protein. I'm an omnivore and I loved it! Let me know if you ever have any questions about NGI.

  9. Wow, what a great experience! I would love to check that out if I can! Thanks!

  10. Welcome, Simply Life! Thanks for stopping by. I hope you get a chance to visit the north fork - it's such a great area, so much to explore.

  11. Sounds like a great getaway! The winery tours and tastings is something that we love to do, hope to visit North Fork someday.

  12. Welcome, 5 Star Foodie! North Fork would definitely be a terrific day or weekend trip (or longer - once there you won't want to leave!). Lots of cute inns in the area. Hope you get a chance to check it out!

  13. Great post on the North Fork! If you get another chance to visit Catapano's, pick up a bunch of cheeses. They freeze remarkably well (except for the herbed ones where the herbs turn black, but still taste excellent). If you call ahead they will make 1 lb packages for you.

  14. Mark, thanks for these great tips! Catapano's chevre was the best I've had, and I really miss it! Next time I'm there I must stock up; great to know it freezes well.