North Fork’s natural bounty is harnessed by its small scale farms. On a map, the by salt water flushed masses of land look like a fork for some, thus the name, but to me the two Eastern tips (Forks) of the Long Island resemble a crab claw. The hard shelled strips of land, North Fork and the extended Hamptons in the South (Fork), clamp two fertile bays. The geographic claw also voraciously clings traversable masses of the Shelter Island and North Haven inside its feeding sphere. While the Hamptons have been built up with summer houses for the New York’s affluent holidaymakers, North Fork aware of its innate flexing power has remained down to its job. Despite being smaller, the farming area is the cracking muscle of the claw.
Local produce in demand by top restaurants
Densely farmed as it was for centuries, abundant with oysters, organic vegetable patches, blooming orchards, and attentively groomed animals, the area was once the breadbasket of Manhattan and it is coming back to the food scene. With more restaurants becoming sustainable, and the savvy diners demanding transparency in their ingredient sourcing, using Long Island’s, for New York local produce, is now in vogue. Top chefs demand the best quality with low carbon footprint. The steadily increasing popularity of farmers markets in and out of large Western cities naturally followed the trend setters, the celebrity chefs eagerly displaying their gastronomical political allegiance in the media.
Fresher than on your farmers market
Touring farms on the narrow North Fork can take an entire day. Since there are not that many roads to squeeze in, this is also the area’s charm. The traffic is notoriously slow. Not just during the summer and early fall weekends when its luscious produce and free-ranging landscape draw deserters from New York, but the snail tour de North Fork is orchestrated by a genuine human activity.
The luring farm stands embroidering the Main Road pull the breaks of cars. Do not honk, just take it easy if just for a day. This is the real Slow Food. Anyone passing by suffers from an involuntary itching that draws the eyes towards the perfectly round striped melons, the zebra squashes of all colours and shapes, and if you swirl the wheel off the road, the berries will get a closer look as well. This morning’s eggs, just out-of-the-water picked oysters, antibiotic-free milk, fresh or aged cheese, … this is a heaven for scantly processed food.
Stirring a little chaos on the country road is common. Passing a post sign that reads: “The best fresh goat cheese in America”, cannot keep you disinterested. Wait, did you see that? Let’s turn back. Break, squeeze the wheel, peak in the mirror for a glimpse of the widely open eyes and mouth of a shocked driver behind you. Not, this is not what the locals do, but there are now plenty of unaware visitors. Keeping a bigger than usual distance between the cars is highly advisable. There so much to distract you from the road though, even a lavender farm producing honey!
Loading one’s trunk with exquisite produce is just a material purpose of the two-and-half-hour journey from Manhattan. Having a great time, while wine tasting, milking goats, gulping ultra-fresh oysters, or dining at the casual taverns in Greenport, the commercial hub that has not yet been totally spoiled, make the trip an unforgettable experience. The Starbucks closed down as the residents preferred to support the local, never mind slightly bitter expresso by a Sicily-born local coffee shop veteran. Welcome to the muscular North Fork.
The experience of local farms was also the draw for our group. Serious foodies, budding chefs and their partners or spouses bussed at 8am on a Saturday in the weekend stillness on Manhattan. Sounds like a school trip, and it certainly was, the minor difference was that our age group was hard to define. Anyone from a teenager to a retired couple could join the farm tour organized by the Natural Gourmet Institute (NGI) in New York. Our troop leader was a NGI professional chef Rich Lamarita, who once a year, usually in early October, takes anyone signing in for a little over $100 (superb lunch catered by local salad and sandwich shop included) around his favourite spots.
Garden of Eve:
Catapano dairy farm:
Here, next to a delectable range of goat and sheep cheese, soft and aged as well as a goat milk soap, you can also buy the “Black Gold Compost”, a fresh chicken, goat and horse poo all in a bag for $8. Your plants will love it!
Macari family Winery:
Greenport Harbor Brewing Company:
Widow’s Hole Oyster Company:
CATAPANO DAIRY FARM 33 705 North Road, Peconic, NY 11 958
Contact: +1 631 765 8042
GARDEN OF EVE ORGANIC FARM 4558 Sound Avenue, Riverhead, NY 11 901
Contact: +1 631 722 8777
WIDOW’S HOLE OYSTER COMPANY 307 Flint St., Greenport, NY 11944
Contact: +1 631 477 3442
LAVENDER BY THE BAY 7540 Main Road, East Marion, NY 11939
Contact: +1 631 477 1019