NORWICH, Vt. (AP) — In spring, there is the maple syrup. In summer, there are tours of artisanal cheesemakers. In fall, it's all about the foliage. And in winter, you'd better have skis strapped to the roof rack.
But whatever time of year you visit Vermont, there is one slice of foodie paradise just off Interstate 91 in Norwich that knows no season.
Folks outside New England might know King Arthur Flour Company mostly by the paper bags of its signature product that line grocers' baking aisles. But odd as it sounds, the more than 220-year-old company's headquarters — nestled into a rolling field just over the Connecticut River from Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. — is a must-stop destination.
Because this is no soulless corporate HQ. That's obvious the moment you pull up to the sprawling but beautiful post-and-beam building.
Waves of freshly baked goodness waft out to you in the parking lot. First you whiff bread, then maybe scones. Or is it muffins? Definitely sugar cookies in the mix, too.
Step inside and the aromas intensify. Dead ahead is a cafe backed by a wall of freshly baked breads and pastries. To the right, an open kitchen where cavernous ovens produce heaps of carby treats.
But resist and head first to the left, where a massive store offers endless baking gadgets and supplies, not to mention every variety of flour and baking mix a home — or pro — cook could hope for. If you time it right, the demo kitchen in the back corner will be showing off — and sampling — all manner of goodies.
Once you've shopped up an appetite, return to the cafe. The baked goods, of course, are the stars. There are daily soups and salads, as well as numerous sandwiches made using the artisanal breads baked onsite. Much of the produce comes from a farm down the street. And of course there are plenty of those wonderful Vermont cheeses.
Want something lighter? Grab two slices of toast (any bread they have) and pair it with a house spread — artichoke tapenade, cider cinnamon, jalapeno and Cabot cheddar, white bean hummus, red pepper hummus or black bean. Go for the tapenade, which is at once creamy and tangy, sharp and rich, and pair it with slices of the harvest grain loaf, which is both substantial and light, with a gentle crust.
If grab-and-go is more your style, the cafe is flanked by refrigerators with ready-to-eat tuna salads, kale slaw, sweet chili baked tofu, local meats, fresh mozzarellas, as well as plenty of Vermont cheeses and butters. Best bet? Keep it simple grab a wedge of cheddar, a baguette, and call it good.
If you can afford to build a bit more time into your visit, plan ahead and check out the Baking Education Center's class offerings. The classes — which range from quick flatbread and cookie courses to intensive, weeklong baking 101 immersions — are all taught in the beautiful kitchen classrooms right next to the cafe. Warning: classes fill up fast.
Now that you've had your carb fix, you might want to wash it down with some cool and refreshing fat. Less than 2 miles away over the river in Hanover is Morano Gelato, which serves shockingly good gelato. Owner Morgan Morano spent six years researching gelato in Italy before opening the shop in 2010 on this college town's quaint main drag.
The ingredients are local and the gelato is made fresh daily, all of which shows. This is killer gelato. Not killer good for New Hampshire, but killer good for Italy.
Many of the flavors tempt, and while you could mix and match them (as Italians are wont to do), consider getting nothing but the sea salt chocolate. It is rich, creamy and smooth in ways that verge on obscene. And if you get a small, you will regret it.
If You Go...
KING ARTHUR FLOUR: Route 5 South, Norwich, Vt., 054055. 800-652-3335. http://kingarthurflour.com
MORANO GELATO: 57 South Main Street, Hanover, N.H., 03755. 603-643-4233. http://www.moranogelato.com/
J.M. Hirsch is the food editor for The Associated Press. He blogs at http://www.LunchBoxBlues.com and tweets at http://twitter.com/JM_Hirsch . Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org