Good Taste: Cheese, fish, and Chinese (sort of) on Martha’s Vineyard

Cheeses from Fiddlehead Farm: left plate, clockwise from top left: Twig Farm Washed Wheel, Smoked Mozzarella, Hoja Santa goat cheese. Right plate, clockwise from bottom left: Bayley Hazen, Caso Iverno, Lake's Edge goats milk cheese.
Photo by Ralph Stewart

Cheeses from Fiddlehead Farm: left plate, clockwise from top left: Twig Farm Washed Wheel, Smoked Mozzarella, Hoja Santa goat cheese. Right plate, clockwise from bottom left: Bayley Hazen, Caso Iverno, Lake's Edge goats milk cheese.

Cheese is one of those rare foods acceptable to enjoy at any meal: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. Cheesy eggs, grilled cheese, mac and cheese, melted cheddar on apple pie? Don’t knock it till you try it! Sharp cheddar melted on a slice of freshly baked apple pie or hidden in the crust is a tradition in many New England and Midwestern kitchens. It goes to show the range of what cheese, in its many forms, can add to countless dishes. These Island establishments have set the bar high above individually packaged slices of American.

Bob Skydell of Fiddlehead Farm sees something exciting happening in American cheese-making. Great cheese doesn’t necessarily have to come from France or Italy anymore, he insists. “What was happening with wine in America 30 years ago and brewing 15 years ago is happening with cheese today.” He credits his business partner, Rose Willett, for the farm stand’s small but impeccably stocked cheese section, where you’ll find cheeses from around the world — and around the corner, like Mermaid Farm’s feta. Ms. Willett is the in-house cheese expert and is happy to navigate the different styles with a cheese novice because while Fiddlehead’s selection is comprehensive, it is not familiar. “We don’t sell supermarket cheese,” Mr. Skydell explains. “We specialize in great cheese.”

Check out Cowgirl Creamery’s Old Kentucky Tomme, an aged goat’s milk cheese with more structure than what you are probably used to in a goat cheese; and Cypress Grove’s Truffle Tremor, laced with the indescribably delicious flavor of truffles. Fiddlehead also carries interesting accoutrements to serve alongside whichever cheese suits your fancy. Small decorative jars line the main room of the farm stand and sit perched on the cheese cooler, filled with novelties like sweet onion confit, pear mustard, quince paste, and apricot cumin orange zest. Fiddlehead is open until Columbus Day, when they will hold their “everything must go blowout sale,” on Sunday, Oct. 9.

Black Sheep/Trio is an establishment dedicated to cheese and the delicious things that go with it. Stop in for a “flight,” a pairing of three cheeses and perhaps a glass of wine. Barely Buzzed is among my favorites, a cheddar style cheese with a rind that has been rubbed with finely ground espresso beans and lavender, lending an earthy nuttiness to the semi-firm cheese. Black Sheep is now open for lunch Tuesday through Saturday, offering five small dishes perfect for an afternoon snack, and yes, they can serve wine during the day, if you’re in the mood for that kind of lunch.

If you’re up-Island for lunch, try the Menemsha Café’s fresh mozzarella with Pam’s pesto, basil, mint, and tomato on sourdough for $10.95. The Menemsha Café is open for breakfast and lunch daily from 7 am to 3 pm. Chef/owner Josh Aronie is serving his tasty, locally inspired dinners on Friday and Saturday evenings from 5:30 to 8 pm.

In Oak Bluffs, the Martha’s Vineyard Chowder Company continues to churn out their award-winning chowder while adding another venture to their seafood restaurant: cheese-making. Their house-made ricotta is soft and billowy, served in a small ceramic pot, drizzled with olive oil and toasted bread for dipping. It’s priced at $6 and perfect to share while you wait for the main course or with a few other appetizers.

State Road Restaurant offers a similar dish, house-made ricotta made from The Grey Barn and Farm cow’s milk, olive oil, and crostini for $16, as well as a regional artisanal cheese plate served with State Road Garden cherry tomato jam and spiced pecans.

Both State Road and Détente have realized the wonders of burrata, a mozzarella-like cheese with a creamy center. State Road serves it with their own garden’s heirloom tomatoes, basil pesto, North Tabor Farm greens, and pickled red onion for $16, while Détente serves it sliced with red and yellow beets, North Tabor greens, orange supremes, and toasted pistachios for $12.

Insider tip: my favorite burrata (I’ve tried a few) can be found at Cronig’s. Maple Brook Farm in Bennington, Vermont, makes it by hand and packages it in a light sea salt bath. Paired with heirloom tomatoes, some sea salt, and olive oil, you’ve got yourself a meal.

Rumor has it that Atria is staying open this winter. Their cozy, cavernous downstairs brick cellar bar will be a great place to have a burger and a beer in the cold months. Their lobster mac and cheese is stuffed with cheddar, mascarpone, and goat cheese, and all of their burgers come with a wine suggestion. Standard burger cheeses like American and pepper jack are available, or go decadent with St. Andre on the Frenchy, which also has crispy prosciutto, baby arugula, and cabernet roasted onions, for $16.

Bring your own fish

On another note, in celebration of the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, which started last Sunday, Ken ‘N Beck in Oak Bluffs is offering to “cook your catch.” Bring in your filleted fish (the chef will filet it for an extra charge), choose from a list of sides and preparations, and enjoy your catch, prepared by chef Dunstan Smith.

Did you know?

That Peking Palace in Falmouth delivers…to the Vineyard? Check out their Chinese and Japanese menu online, place your order on the phone, and they’ll send your meal over on the Patriot boat, which docks in Oak Bluffs. Delivery is available Monday through Friday and arrives at 2:30, 3:45 and 5 pm. An $8 delivery charge applies to all orders.