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Consumer Night at the Vermont Farm Show Highlights Venison, “Naturally Beautiful” Produce, and Ag Agency’s Culinary Chops

Farmers, producers, and localvores from across Vermont converged on Wednesday, February 1 for the 6th annual Consumer Night at the Vermont Farm Show in Essex Junction. Held on the second night of the Farm Show, Consumer Night celebrates the diversity of Vermont agriculture with the Winter Buy Local Market and Capital Cook-Off.

The Winter Buy Local Market featured nearly fifty farmers and producers of local cheese, meat, milk, maple syrup, jams, culinary oils, honey, wine, beer, spirits, wool, and handmade crafts as well as ready-to-eat prepared foods such as Luiza’s Homemade with Love pierogi and ice cream cones from Kingdom Creamery. Over 500 people shopped and grazed their way through the local product booths, and raffle prizes were awarded to four lucky Buy Local Market customers.

The annual Capital Cook-Off was slated to feature its three traditional teams from the Agency of Agriculture, the House Agriculture Committee, and the Senate Agriculture Committee.  However, when it became clear that a late floor vote would keep the House team members in Montpelier, an “ad hoc celebrity team” was quickly assembled. The celebrity team included Secretary of Agriculture Anson Tebbetts, Joe Buley of Joe’s Kitchen at Screamin’ Ridge Farm, Ryan McLaren from Congressman Welch’s office, and Azur Moulaert of Vermont Tortilla Company.

This year’s secret protein was venison, unveiled only moments before the competition began. The meat was donated by Hank Dimuzio of LedgEnd Farm in Middlebury, one of only two farms in the state raising fallow deer venison.  In order to be served in a restaurant or sold at a grocery store, venison must be processed at an inspected facility just like pork, beef, or poultry. This year’s secret ingredient shed light on a delicacy often enjoyed in Vermonter’s homes, but seldom seen on menus.

“Naturally beautiful” vegetables donated by Salvation Farms in Morristown were also available to the competing teams.

“These veggies might be slightly misshapen or otherwise do not conform to market norms, but are still perfectly delicious and nutritious.” Said Theresa Snow, Executive Director of Salvation Farms.  “Thousands of tons of these vegetables end up in the compost every year because of their imperfections. We’re trying to change that reality.”

After opening remarks delivered by Governor Phil Scott, the cook-off was underway in a flurry of white toques and sharp knives.  After a demanding hour of cooking expertly narrated by MC Diane Bothfeld, Director of Administrative Services from the Agency of Ag, all three teams demonstrated creativity and culinary skill in turning venison, veggies, and dozens of other local ingredients into delicious meals.

A team of judges—including Mark Bowen of the Vermont Farmer Veteran Coalition, Ric Cengeri of Vermont Public Radio, Hank Dimuzio of LegEnd Farm, Andrea Gagner of 14th Star Brewery, Brian Roper of Sodexo, Theresa Snow of Salvation Farms, Lyndon Virkler of New England Culinary Institute, and Lt. Governor David Zuckerman —declared the Vermont Agency of Agriculture team the Capital Cook-Off champions for the third year in a row.

The team’s winning dish, “Wild Kaleidoscope au Prancing,” included wild venison sliders braised in cranberry hard cider with oyster mushrooms, herbs and cheese curds, presented on a fresh baguette, with a side of seared kale with bacon and cranberries, and roasted root vegetables with smoked maple syrup and savory herbs, garnished with a garden herb bundle. 

All three teams’ scores were close, and everyone appeared to enjoy the friendly competition.  At the close of the event, the Agency of Ag team members – Kristin Haas, Tyler Knapp, Kristen Needham, and Guy Roberts - said they were thrilled with their dish, “and proud to have participated in such a fun and exciting event celebrating local foods.”

“Consumer night was a huge hit,’ said Agricultural Secretary Anson Tebbetts. “From farmers, to producers, to consumers. This night it what it all is about.  It’s bringing the public closer to our agriculture roots. Thanks to all including the Agency of Ag team who worked hard to bring this event together. These fun shows are helping to grow our economy. I can’t wait until next year.”

For more information about Consumer Night, visit VAAFM’s Consumer Night page at http://go.usa.gov/cjU84 and Buy Local Markets page at http://go.usa.gov/cBC9e.