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Hoping For A Tourist Stampede

(www.syracusenewtimes.com - 6/24/2013) Chittenango is the birthplace of L Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and it’s the center of all things Oz, including the annual Oz-Stravaganza! celebration.

Canastota has the Boxing Hall of Fame, and Madison-Bouckville has an antiques district and annual festival that draws thousands of dealers and treasure hunters each August.

Onondaga County’s neighbor to the east has scads of scenic and special spots for weddings, and acres of opportunities for outdoor activities in all seasons.

But when tourism officials were looking for something really tasty and unique to target in their promotional efforts, they kept coming back to Madison County’s food:

Dozens of farms and farmers offering unusual products, such as bison, elk and specialty mushrooms; four farmers markets; artisan cheeses and grass-fed butter; the county’s first winery, Owera Vineyards; hops growers, craft brewers and an award-winning cidery; the Cazenovia Beverage Trail on the drawing board; a country store and food incubator (Nelson Farms) spotlighting foods made in its kitchen and hundreds of “Pride of New York” products; chefs with culinary school pedigrees; fine dining and farm-to-table restaurants shining the light on local growers; bed-and-breakfast inns with breakfasts to knock your socks off … … and more. The focus on Madison County’s culinary bounty gave birth to a website and blog, Madfoods.com and a slogan: “Eat. Drink. Repeat.”

“I can’t take any credit for it,” says Scott Flaherty, the recently appointed director of Madison County Tourism, based in Morrisville.

Credit goes to Jim Walter, Madison County Tourism’s former director (he recently packed up his family, belongings and a case of his favorite hard cider from Critz Farms to move west and take a new position in Cheyenne, Wyo.) and Syracuse advertising agency ABC Creative Group.

Success is hard to gauge, but the food tourism promotion seems to be paying off, in both visitors to the MadFoods website and visitors from markets as close as Syracuse and as far as New York City and Boston, who bring both their taste for adventure and food, and their wallets, to Madison County.

Flaherty hopes to expand on the promotion, with events like a “Restaurant Week” in Madison County and packages that “bring people in for a nice meal and an overnight, as well.”

“I think MadFoods is a winner for us,” Flaherty says.

Here’s a look at a couple of farms, a cidery and a restaurant getting ready to hop on the craft brewery bandwagon. For a complete look at the diversity of farms, producers, markets and dining in Madison County, visit Madfoods.com.

A Farm for All Seasons

Bloom where you’re planted: That’s exactly what Critz Farms has done since it was launched in 1985.

You might have been there in March, drawn by the sweet smell of sap being boiled into syrup during the annual Maple Celebration. Or in summer, to pick blueberries and enjoy a picnic on the grounds. Or in autumn, to get lost in the corn maze and to pick out a great pumpkin. Or between Thanksgiving and Christmas, to cut the family tree or bring home a festive wreath.

Owners Matthew and Juanita Critz have grown their farm into an almost year-round agritourism destination.

The emphasis has always been on families and family activities. Visitors kept asking the Critzes if they had apples for sale and for U-pick, so several years ago, they planted 5,000 apple trees and started making sweet cider and a beverage just for adults: hand-crafted hard cider. Eight varieties of hard cider are pressed and fermented on-site at the Harvest Moon Cidery.

Take the kids to pet the farm animals and run around the playground, then stop in the tasting room for a “flight” of cider samples. The hard ciders are light, crisp and slightly effervescent. One is flavored with hops and smells like beer. The Rippleton Original is surprisingly dry and will remind you of Champagne. The Cherry Moon cider is juicy, fruity and refreshing: perfect for a warm summer day, straight up or on the rocks.

“The reception to our cider has been fabulous,” says Juanita Critz. “It has been very exciting to be part of the ‘cider boom’ in New York.”

Harvest Moon Cidery will be one of the stops on the Beverage Trail that is taking shape in Cazenovia.

Critz Farms is at 3232 Rippleton Road (Route 13), Cazenovia, about three miles south of Route 20. For information, call 662-3355 or visit www.critzfarms.com.

Where the Buffalo Roam 

Aileen Randolph and Joe Lazarsky are the ultimate career-changers. Randolph traded a career in corporate public relations and Lazarsky left behind life as a lawyer to establish Empire Buffalo, a 90-acre buffalo farm near Chittenango Falls State Park.

The couple bought their herd on Craigslist in 2010, and it has grown to more than 50 head. Lazarsky manages the animals, and Randolph handles the marketing of the product, educating shoppers about bison meat and selling ground bison, bison steaks, bison breakfast sausage and more at several farmers markets.

To see the aptly named “Big Guy,” a bull who weighs more than a ton, romping and munching grass in the fenced pasture with other members of the herd is to feel transported to another place and time.

Bison has become an increasingly wellknown in food circles in recent years. It’s often touted as a healthier alternative to beef. A three-ounce serving of top sirloin buffalo meat contains 5 grams of fat, 73 mg of cholesterol and 145 calories, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A threeounce serving of top sirloin beef, trimmed of fat, contains 9 grams of fat, 76 mg of cholesterol and 186 calories.

Bison is similar to beef, yet different in taste and texture. Bison meat is redder in color and lacks the characteristic white marbling of beef. Its flavor is more pronounced than beef—slightly sweet and not gamey.

See for yourself on Open Farm Day or the next “Trading Post Day” at Empire Buffalo (Aug. 11). As Aileen Randolph is fond of saying: “Come out and see the herd!”

Empire Buffalo is at 1351 Falls Road, Fenner, near Chittenango Falls State Park. For information, call 315-655-4429 or visit www. empirebuffalo.com.

Fungus Among Us 

Apples, pumpkins and peaches? Everybody knows they’re grown locally.

Mushrooms? Not so much. K.C. Mangine has grown all kinds of vegetables, but fungus farming isn’t like growing, say, corn or tomatoes. The mushrooms at Fruit of the Fungi, near Earlville, are grown on hardwood logs that have been inoculated with mushroom spores.

Who knew? Fruit of the Fungi is a small, family farm.

Mangine and his wife grow mainly shiitake mushrooms, which have a rich brown color, earthy flavor and meaty texture. Local chefs love them and home cooks are getting to know them, too, as they discover them at area farmers markets.

“Mushrooms can get overlooked,” Mangine says.

“People don’t think of them as being local. They’re a very unique product, and support here is good for them. It’s been very encouraging to see there are a lot of people interested in local foods.”

The Mangines also raise a few white mushrooms, oyster mushrooms and maitake mushrooms and sell packages of dried shiitakes, which have super-concentrated mushroom flavor and can be used in soups, stews and slow-cooker dishes.

Madison County mushrooms on a Madison County bison burger, anyone?

Fruit of the Fungi is at 5779 Lebanon Center Road, Lebanon (near Earlville). For information, call 837- 9695 or 725-1246, or visit www.fruitofthefungi.com.

From Brews to Burgers 

Pull up a bar stool at Henneberg Tavern, in Cazenovia. You’ll notice several local beers on tap, perhaps something from Empire Brewing, Good Nature Brewing Co., Middle Ages and Cortland Beer Co., and a Harvest Moon hard cider from Critz Farms.

Study the menu, and you’ll find soups and salads, chicken wings, crab cakes, comfort food such as meatloaf and roasted turkey and a half-dozen burgers, made with natural, grass-fed beef from a family farm in Perryville.

In the year since he opened his tavern on Albany Street (Route 20), John Henneberg says the Henneburger, topped with lettuce, tomato and onion and your choice of cheese and served with french fries, has become one of the most popular items on the menu.

As a result, he says, he has been talking to other farms about sourcing more local produce and meat for the tavern.

“I would like to do more local,” Henneberg says.

“It can be difficult, and it is more expensive. We’re making an attempt and taking small steps at a time.”

Meanwhile, in the next six months, look for the tavern to have its own craft beer on tap. Henneberg has been growing hops and barley a couple miles outside the village of Cazenovia and is in the process of opening a microbrewery, which will also be a stop on the planned Cazenovia Beverage Trail.

“The microbrewery and the restaurant have absorbed 150 percent of our time,” Henneberg says. “We’re getting there. We’re almost there.”

Henneberg Tavern is at 64 Albany St., Cazenovia. Kitchen hours are Tuesdays through Thursdays, 4 to 10 p.m., and Fridays and Saturdays, noon to 10 p.m. For information, call 655-0609 or visit www.hennebergtavern.com.