Harvest Dinner at Black Star Farms – Suttons Bay, Michigan

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Hosted at the Inn at Black Star Farms, harvest dinners are monthly events spotlighting the best of seasonal fruits and vegetables in a coursed menu with wine pairings that present the diner with a dining experience spotlighting a locally grown in-season ingredient; in July ours featured strawberries.

The elegant dinner setting featured a long table on a veranda beside a Victorian-style garden with croquet arches and mallets inviting a friendly match between courses; we found the delightful food and wine pairings were plenty of entertainment.  Hosted by the gracious Stephanie Lee Wiitala, who was also the pastry Chef for this meal, we were guided through each course and its paired wine with details of ingredients and preparation including the Chef’s own insights, each new course brought waves of fresh seasonal flavors, and were intriguing in their use of the star ingredient.

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Just before dinner a round of artisanal cocktails featuring fresh strawberry infused vodka served as aperitif and prepared our palates for the coming meal.  As we chose our seats we mingled with the other guests, we learned that many of them had attended previous harvest dinners and keep coming back for more.  The table was elegantly set and lit by paper lanterns, and as we sat down our servers Sarah, Brad, and Katie began pouring the first wine as our host Chef Stephanie welcomed us and explained the seasonal menu built around fresh-picked strawberries and other ingredients harvested right here from Black Star’s own kitchen gardens.

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Amuse – Strawberry barbeque lamb ribs, smoked focaccia, verjus cream, oregano blossoms served with Blushed Sparkling wine

Lamb is not my favorite protein so I had some apprehensions but this turned out to be my favorite dish of the night. Tender lamb ribs dressed with a subtle sweet strawberry barbecue sauce and topped with a delicately acidic verjus cream atop a round of smoked focaccia. The combination of smoky, sweet, and acidic flavors with the richness of farm fresh lamb was exquisite. The blushed sparkling wine added a crisp, sweet note that perfectly complimented the tangy and savory strawberry barbecue glaze.

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Second Course – Strawberries and house ricotta with mustard greens, lemon powder, rhubarb strawberry vinaigrette served with 2012 Arcturos Dry Riesling
Fresh, ripe strawberries, housemade ricotta, and mustard greens dressed with strawberry rhubarb vinaigrette with a dusting of lemon powder; the delicate flavor of housemade ricotta is the star of this dish. Much lighter in texture and creamier than store bought ricotta could ever be, with a subtle hint of acidity thanks to the verjus used in its’ preparation, this delightful recipe may appear in a future writeup of it’s own. Matched incredibly with a 2012 Arcturos Dry Riesling which refreshed the palate with crisp apple and dried apricot flavors; an interplay of sweet and savory, creamy and bitter, a balanced jumble of pleasures on your fork and if it were a touch sweeter, would make an interesting dessert!

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Third Course – Strawberry gazpacho, basil ice, flowers, radishes served with 2013 Arcturos Pinot Gris
I was immediately intrigued by the basil ice, and being a classical match for strawberries the combination was like a kiss between spring and summer. The crisp bite of fresh radish drew me back to reality with a reassuring bitter crunch, the trio of flavors presented in perfect harmony. Paired with 2013 Arcturos Pinot Gris; an elegant wine lush with fruits and green melons, with a hint of floral chamomile and marigold on the nose providing a delightfully perfect sip of early summer.

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Fourth Course – Sage and red wine pork sausage with strawberry salsa, rhubarb mustard served with 2012 Arcturos Pinot Noir
I marveled at the flavors of the tender, savory, plump pork sausage, hand made and herbed with sage; paired with the fresh yet strangely familiar flavors of the strawberry salsa. An interesting rhubarb mustard provided earthy, sharp acidity that countered that of the strawberry, enforcing the appearance of an entirely savory presentation and a natural match for the flavors of the pork sausage. The salsa itself, a 1:1 substitution of strawberries for tomatoes in your typical savory salsa drew an immediate comparison between the red ripeness of tomatoes and strawberries; a surprisingly similar match I had never thought of. With the strawberry lending a hit of fruity acidity that tomatoes just can’t match, it was a total surprise that changed forever the way I view these two fruits; could the humble strawberry masquerade as a vegetable as well as the tomato does? More on this in future articles. The 2012 Arcturos Pinot Noir brought dark plums and cherry flavors and rich, oaky notes, a delightful accompaniment to this dish.

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Fifth Course – Strawberry fromage cream, lemon shortbread, strawberry balsamic reduction, thyme, candied berries served with Sirius White
Strawberry fromage cream featuring fromage blanc made just around the corner at Leelanau Cheese lends creaminess and fruity acidity to the delightfully rich lemon shortbread. The perfect marriage of rich, buttery shortbread and light, creamy fromage is set off by a tantalizing strawberry-balsamic reduction that gave depth and savory contrast to this sweet combination. The shortbread was tender and rich with a satisfyingly dense, tender texture that screamed for the creamy fromage and refreshingly sweet, lively candied strawberries and fresh thyme leaves. A fascinating study in the marriage of contrasting flavors and textures, I was nearly moved to tears and may have inadvertently licked my plate. The Sirius White dessert wine selected as accompaniment is a cordial of sweet white wine fortified with fruit brandies. Sweet and delicious served chilled and displaying full, round summer fruits, it was a deliciously decadent finish to a spectacular meal.

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In summary the evening was wonderful, the meal incredible, and the weather and setting created the perfect atmosphere to enjoy spectacular food and wine at an unhurried and friendly pace. The staff at Black Star Farms are a warm-hearted bunch who treated us like family, making us feel right at home.  After dinner we enjoyed a nightcap of the Inn’s house white wine while sitting around an outdoor fire pit, listening to crickets chirping and the crackle of logs, the stresses of city life having long since evaporated and as the fire and the wine faded we retired to our very comfortable bed for a deep sleep.

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