Food & Drink  //  October 2020

Local Flavors
By Amanda Dudek

     When you think of local flavors in your hometown and in the Greater Rochester Area, what comes to mind? You may think of Rochester’s iconic garbage plate, Zweigle’s red or white hots, Boss Sauce, Guglielmo’s marinara sauce or one of the region’s internationally recognized Rieslings. But did you ever wonder what makes locally grown products taste so delicious? The answer may be right under your feet!

     New York’s top 10 agricultural products include milk, beef, apples, cabbage, sweet corn, potatoes, and tomatoes: ingredients that find their way into many of our local dishes. Rochester and the Finger Lakes are also home to several wineries, cideries and breweries, many of which source their ingredients locally, giving their products a wonderful, unique taste. 

     According to experts, the chemical and biological makeup of soil and environment literally changes the flavor of what is grown there. This means that the vine-ripe tomatoes you select at your local farmers market will vary significantly from the tomatoes you may purchase at the supermarket which are typically shipped from elsewhere and harvested before they are fully ripe. Unfortunately, this often sacrifices flavor for appearance. “Harvesting produce when it is ‘vine-ripe’ is essential,” says Robert G. Hadad of Monroe County Cornell Cooperative Extension, adding that produce which matures naturally and fully yields the most ideal flavors.

     “Soil and water are probably the biggest factors that can affect flavor,” explains Hadad. “Flavor can be affected by cover crops and compost, as well. Soil has a diverse mineral and biochemical environment, and these complex combinations can create differences.”

     “That is why grapes have been grown along the Niagara limestone escarpment for generations,” Hadad adds. “It is also claimed that in Parma, Italy, the soil affects the pasture meadows, and this is what contributes to the unique flavor of Parmesan cheese. Locally grown produce is fresher and offers better tasting, ripe varieties.”

     ​​​​​​​He continues: “The amount of water a field receives during the growing season also makes a difference,” he continues. “Too much or too little influences flavor. I imagine the crazy weather patterns we have been experiencing over the last several years have impacted flavor in some manner.”

     Authentic Greater Rochester and Finger Lakes Region flavors seep their way into every succulent bite and satisfying sip offered by area growers. When chefs, winemakers, and brewers use locally grown produce, they are inviting us to taste the uniqueness of our own hometowns.

There are many reasons to shop local; flavor is one of them.