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The Joy of Travel

August 21, 2013

Traveling is hard. As of today, I’ve been on the road for about three weeks. But I’m in the home stretch. This weekend I’ll head to Virginia, and when I return there will only be a few more days on the farm before we take up residence in Princeton.

On the road you don’t get to sleep in your own bed. You don’t have the same level of privacy. You fall out of your daily routines. Even everyday pleasures like a simple home cooked meal become rare treats.

People have lots of different reasons for traveling. But regardless of whether you are traveling for pleasure, work, or family, more than ever there are culinary joys that can only be experienced on the road.

It wasn’t until I discovered a love of food that I was bit by the travel bug. Before then, the notion of traveling to another place to see buildings and art seemed pointless. Still, to this day I don’t quite understand standing in front of some landmark and commemorating the moment in a snapshot.

Really it’s the snapshot that blows my mind. But who am I to judge, I like to take pictures of food, including the one that’s still on my Twitter page of a piece of cheese at the Louvre.

Cheese is one of those great travel experiences. In fact, it was the one that made me want to first travel abroad. You know, since our overprotective government blocks the import of many of the world’s great raw milk cheeses. But even if the government didn’t stand in the way, the best ones are made in such small quantities that they don’t leave the country. So if you want to eat them, you have to go to the cheese.

And then of course you can go to where the cheese is made. My visit to a cheesemaker on a fourteenth century farm in England was one of the best things I’ve ever done. If I took any snapshots, I haven’t seen them in a very long time. But it’s not an experience I’ll soon forget.

Here’s the thing. You don’t have to travel abroad for unique and special culinary experiences. They are everywhere, it’s just a matter of being able to sniff them out.

Wherever you go, there are restaurants or purveyors who are doing things differently. There are a mind-bending number of regional pizza and hot dog styles. There are regional oddities like loose beef sandwiches and chili served over spaghetti. It’s possible there are some of these things in your own town that are completely off your radar.

I asked some people on Reddit about Jersey Cuisine. And there was one commenter who despite being a Princeton alum–and with half of his family living in New Jersey–had never heard of Taylor Ham or pork roll. That’s pretty shocking. But with an increased interest in regional foods, things like Taylor Ham are starting to gain a more national footprint.

You know what’s not getting national distribution? Craft beer.

Beer is an increasingly enticing reason to travel. Upon my arrival in South Central Pennsylvania, I checked in with my beer snobs about what bottles I should be looking for in this part of the world. Since then I have been directed to the Beer Advocate website where I have been spending far too much time. It’s not from Pennsylvania, but I picked up a mixed case from the Great Lakes Brewing Company that isn’t distributed in New York, and that was delicious. Now I’m focused more on Pennsylvania’s own beers and just tasted four different session beers from Stoudts Brewing Company.

Maybe I’m mellowing out in my old age. Maybe my perspective has been changed by several years of living in Albany.

Some of these things are great because they are mind-blowingly delicious. Others are notable for their idiosyncratic approach to a beloved dish. Some have to be experienced for their history, and their long-standing tenure in a region.

This is why when visitors come to the Capital Region I will take them out for Fish Fry, Mozzarella with Melba, or mini hot dogs with meat sauce. They can get farm to table meals elsewhere that are most likely both better and less expensive (which isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate the work Albany chefs are putting forth to improve the food of the area).

And that’s why on my next trip to Paris I’m going to eat myself silly on bread, butter, cheese, and pastry. There are a few bistros on my list, and I promised one of my chef friends that I would also have the falafel. But these simple staples are things that have no equal elsewhere. Alain Ducasse has restaurants all over the world, but try to find Bordier butter or fermier Normandy cider outside of France.

So keep your eyes and mouths open. Great local cheeses aren’t just found in France. Unique treasures abound. Now I have a date with a Chambersburg peach.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. August 21, 2013 11:37 am

    Will you share the select list of bistros you wish to visit? What are the specific cheeses you want to have again, or try for the first time? Or is it more of a “find what’s interesting and recommended at the fromagerie”?

  2. August 21, 2013 12:20 pm

    I certainly hope you are going to visit Dienner’s in Ronks and comment on the Amish buffet. Although, as the server warned me, “if you’re looking for the seven sweets and seven sours you’ve missed that by 25 years.”

  3. -R. permalink
    August 21, 2013 2:30 pm

    Great Lakes Brewing products can now be found at Hoosick St. Beverage for those interested. I tried a six of an IPA and wasn’t too impressed; I’ll give something else a try though.

    • August 21, 2013 4:42 pm

      My brother-in-law is most taken by the Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold. The word that he uses to describe it is wholesome. As the weather cools down, you might also enjoy their Edmund Fitzgerald Porter (which was also a part of our mixed case). Good stuff. Sorry to hear about the IPA though.

      Like some wineries, many breweries seem to make far too many bottlings. When you extend yourself beyond a core group of key products, they aren’t all going to be winners.

    • August 21, 2013 7:45 pm

      Great Lakes has a few IPAs–not sure which they have at Hoosick Street right now, but the Lake Erie Monster (4 pack, seasonal) is quite good–not nearly the big bitter hop bomb of many double IPAs (very grapefruity).

      Also, it’s their Christmas Ale that I fell in love with while in Ohio–but that one is really hard to get outside the Ohio market. The spices aren’t for everyone, but I think it’s the most balanced and complex beer of this kind out there. I might have to camp out at Hoosick Street come December just to get a single six pack, if possible.

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