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Newport Localvores Celebrate Tasting Center

Photo by Herb Swanson

The Northeast Kingdom town of Newport has jumped on the localvore bandwagon with a downtown tasting center where you can sample and buy artisan cheeses, wines, and meats.

There’s also a bar and restaurant and space for seasonal vendors to come in from the cold.

Newport’s Main Street has seen its ups and downs, but on Friday, the mood was definitely upbeat at the stylish indoor food court showcasing delicacies raised or made in the Northeast Kingdom. An enticing array of counters overflowed with goodies--hand-made bon-bons, a variety of pesto dips, baked goods, and, of course, Vermont dairy products.

If it weren’t for the tasting center, Waterford farmer Roberta Gillette would have nowhere to sell her goat cheese now that farmers’ markets are closing.

“And it’s abuzz, yeah, it’s a great place, it definitely seems like it’s becoming the center of the local universe with a good place to eat and good food to buy.  It’s nice and warm—I expect it will get busier and busier as the year goes along,” she said.

The four  biggest retailers here are the Brown Dog Bistro and Butcher Shop, Jocelyn and Cinta’s Bake Shop, Butternut Mountain Maple, and Eden Ice Cider Winery. It was the winery that helped spearhead  this center, when owners Albert and Eleanor Leger ran out of room in their 800 foot basement.

At the ribbon cutting, Vermont Agency of Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross thanked them for their grit and foresight, along with dozens of other private and public funders without whom this upscale market might still be an empty storefront.

“That’s what makes this state great, is that we all put skin in the game and we do it through our communities,” Ross said.

One of the primary investors is Gemma Dreher, a Newport native who now works out of state as a corporate lawyer.

“Well, I believe in Newport as a community, I grew up here, there’s a lot of exciting things going on. I think for the population of this city it was a really important investment. I want to do anything I can to encourage economic growth in this region,” she said.

And that growth is going to happen, vowed a parade of officials from all levels of government who stepped up to the podium.

But it was winemaker and Tasting Center partner Eleanor Leger who instructed the crowd munching on blue cheese, beefalo filet, and cider what they need to do now, to keep employees paid and cash registers ringing after the hoopla dies down.

“What can you do? Shop here. Eat here. Tell your friends. Tell anyone,” she exhorted.

The crowd then trooped outside to watch Newport Mayor Paul Monette snip a big yellow ribbon across the front doors.

“I officially declare the tasting center open,” Monette said, to applause.

“And now,” muttered one visitor, “go inside and spend some money.”

That’s just what one local banker did, as he handed over his credit card for a fifth of  Caledonia Spirits vodka, and a slender bottle of  Eden ice cider wine.

Charlotte Albright lives in Lyndonville and currently works in the Office of Communication at Dartmouth College. She was a VPR reporter from 2012 - 2015, covering the Upper Valley and the Northeast Kingdom. Prior to that she freelanced for VPR for several years.
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