Salt Rock Chocolates
As 2019 came to a close we said goodbye to a very old friend, Chilmark Chocolates. August-size lines formed in the weeks before Christmas as people planned to grab their last boxes of heavenly tradition. I stood in line for ninety minutes, not sure how many of my allotted boxes I would give away (and to whom), and how many I would hoard for myself.
Rumors flew and people clamored to buy the iconic business. Then the news came that it would not be sold; Chilmark Chocolates would just close.
But something was in the works. In the winter of 2019, Chilmark natives (and sisters) Ali Flanders and Sarah Flanders hatched a plan. Ali and Sarah had grown up in a tiny house next door to Chilmark Chocolates. Their mother, Joy Flanders, worked as a special needs teacher and would bring her students up to Chilmark Chocolates to work. Joy spent a great deal of time at the chocolate shop, helping out as neighbors do. As teenagers, Ali and Sarah worked many summers at Chilmark Chocolates. If anyone knew about chocolate in Chilmark, it was Ali and Sarah Flanders. They lived it.
During the winter of 2019, when their plan was hatched, they happened to be traveling separately around the country, and met in Las Vegas. “We were hanging out in a hotel room with friends,” Ali told me, “when we came up with the idea to start a chocolate business in Chilmark.”
Fast forward to 2020, and without a formal passing of the baton, a rebirth of sorts has happened. “We wanted chocolate to stay up-Island and continue the tradition,” Sarah said.
The two women take care of all aspects of the business. “Sarah is the chocolate master,” Ali said. “But we both have to know everything.”
It has been an uncertain time to open a business. “COVID has made us change our plans a lot; it has been a roller coaster,” Ali told me. “This year we want to start small; for now we are just committed to the West Tisbury farmers market.” Salt Rock will be at both the Wednesday and Saturday West Tisbury Farmers Markets through the end of the year.
Okay, the chocolate: The sisters are sourcing the same Belgian chocolate that Chilmark Chocolate was famous for. Belgian chocolate has always been considered some of the best chocolate in the world, and has always been my favorite to cook with. The Flanders include locally sourced ingredients where appropriate, such as Chilmark Coffee. Most of the 16 or so flavors come in dark or milk. The special red-foiled-wrapped Great Rock Bite is dark chocolate with hot paper lantern spice. And just fyi, Tiasquam Truffle is a dark chocolate lovers’ dream.
Breezy Pines Farm
Time flies when you’re doing what you love. This is the twentieth year that Heather Thurber and her husband, Travis, have operated Breezy Pines Farm in West Tisbury. Travis, a native plant specialist, was born on the Island; his great-grandfather originally owned Breezy Point Farm, and Travis grew up there. Heather, an expert in herbal medicine and a farmer in her own right, grew up in Kansas, outside the small town of Holcomb. Her family lived on five hundred acres her father and family farmed. “Farming is a part of me,” she says. “It always will be. ”
As a child, Heather spent a great deal of time with her grandmother, “Grammy Betty,” learning to make herbal remedies and natural soaps. “My grandmother was known as a healer and she would gift, trade, barter, and sell herbal remedies around the area,” Heather told me.
Heather became adept at working with herbs and plants for medicinal purposes. As a youngster she won several 4-H awards for her soap making.
She got a degree in graphic design at college, which is easy to imagine when you look at her gorgeous packaging. She’s worked on non-traditional farms, studying holistic health, sustainability, and biodiversity and considers herself a “community herbalist.”
Heather grows all her own herbs and vegetables sustainably to supply her apothecary of medicinal products such as body creams, salves, extracts, and elixirs; oils, body scrubs, syrups, herb and honeycomb products, and new this year, liquid soaps. Heather adapted what her grandmother taught to create her own brand. Instead of beef tallow (beef fat), her soaps are all plant or vegetable based. She infuses her herbs in natural, responsibly sourced oils such as hemp, olive, coconut, and almond oil, creating color with beet juice, spirulina, and mineral powder, and uses only sustainable essential oils for scent. She produces all of her 2,000 bars of soap in January so they can set before the summer selling season. She said Cherry Almond is the top seller but her favorite is Wild Rose made with Vineyard beach roses, rosa rugosa.
This will be her 16th year at the West Tisbury Farmers Market. (This year the market moves to the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury.) Heather’s soaps are also available at Cronig’s Market.
Merry Farm Pottery
Last summer, the owners of Beetlebung Farm in Chilmark hosted a farm dinner for crew, friends, and family. It was a classic Chilmark night with local chicken cooked on an open fire, fresh farm veggies beautifully prepared, and special fresh fruit cocktails. But something more than the food stood out. The table was beautifully set with mostly off-white, earthy but refined pottery made by Micah Thanhauser of Merry Farm Pottery. We were lucky enough to all leave with a small piece of our own “Spirits cup.”
Micah’s family moved to West Tisbury from Vermont when he was 5 years old. In high school, he needed to fill his schedule. “I ended up taking ceramics as an elective and started working with clay,” he told me. Though he didn’t study pottery in college, he said he always continued to do it. “I met my girlfriend, now wife Emily, on the Vineyard one summer; she was working at Mermaid Farm and I was at North Tabor Farm.” After summer the two went their separate ways. “We stayed in touch and eventually started dating when Emily was in school in Boston and I was living in Providence,” Micah said.
“A few years later we decided to move to Asheville, North Carolina where Emily could study acupuncture and I could work in pottery,” Micah explained. Asheville is an artistic community and known to have some of the best potters in the country.
Once in Asheville, Micah reached out to a potter he greatly admired, Akira Sataka, who teaches, lectures, and exhibits his pottery around the world. “I really loved his work and I was able to get an apprenticeship.” On days he wasn’t apprenticing with Sataka, he would work with other potters around Asheville. “ Most potters will let you come and work and help out, so I continued to learn a lot.”
Micah continued, “ I was doing a lot of wood-fired pottery, mixing, moving wood around, general labor, you can learn a lot by just showing up.”
Micah and Emily knew they would always end up back on the Vineyard where Emily’s family still lives. In a few years the couple moved back to the Vineyard, got married, bought a house that luckily had an artist studio, and started Merry Farm Pottery. Emily started her own acupuncture business, and — oh, and they also have a baby boy named Asa.
Micah hit the ground running when he started his business last year. “The positive response has been amazing,” he told me.
Micha imports his red clay from North Carolina. “That’s a big part of what my work is about — the materials I use and highlighting the beauty of this clay. The clays are mined raw, so they are less processed and refined than a lot of bigger commercial clay. I feel like the clay has more character.” He is also working with Island clay which was given to him from a construction site where the clay was a nuisance and unwanted. He is working on creating a special mixture with his red North Carolina clay and the native grey clay of the Island. It’s a process; he calls it his “research and development stage.”
He describes his pottery as organic but refined, simple but alive. Micah encourages people to come to his open-air studio and get the look and feel of his pottery. As well as beautiful mugs, vases, and dinnerware, he is creating elegant wall hangings and he has been creating collections for homes.
I recommend meeting Micah and checking out his pottery studio.
79 Merry Farm Road (just over the Tisbury/ West Tisbury town line)
West Tisbury, MA 02575
MV Smokehouse was started in 2014 when friends, Chef Nathan Gould and Island native and fisherman Gus Leaf, went fishing and caught a bluefish. Nathan smoked the filets, and gave them to Gus. “Gus loved it so much,” Nathan said, that
Gus told Nathan: “We should start a business.” And MV Smokehouse was born.
At the time there were no commercial smoked seafood products being made and sold retail on the Island. Hard to believe.
What is so special about MV Smokehouse seafood spreads, like their off-the-charts smoked bluefish spread?
“Sourcing and handling make us unique,” said Nathan. “Gus catches 80% or more of the fish we use; also it is how he handles fish from the moment they’re caught and selected that makes the difference.” All the fish caught for their spreads are bled and iced immediately. Doing this preserves the meat from being exposed to blood and oils, keeping the meat clean. With bluefish, it makes a night and day difference.
One of the biggest misconceptions about bluefish is that it is oily and strongly flavored. It is in fact a delicate fish and susceptible to damage when handled poorly.
“Our spreads also have seafood as the first ingredient,” Nathan said. Many fish spreads start with cream cheese, making them heavy and dense. “Most of our recipes are actually dairy-free, except a small amount in the whitefish spread,” he explained.
All their seafood is smoked at Gus’ commercial facility here on the Island. Gus and Nathan went through the lengthy process of acquiring a wholesale license which requires learning safe-handling practices. The seafood is smoked starting with a dry cure or rub, using hickory for a great smoky essence that does not overpower.
This duo has worked hard to get their product out to the public. MV Smokehouse has its spreads available at the West Tisbury Farmers Market, Grey Barn Farm, the Larder, Tony’s Market, Edgartown Meat and Fish, Port Supply, as well as a few Island restaurants that add it to their menus. Off-Island, they are at the Osterville and Falmouth farmers’ markets.
The staple selection is smoked bluefish spread, smoked spicy yellowfin tuna with jalapeno, smoked whitefish salad and, in summer, smoked peppered mahi-mahi. They will add special spreads such as one made from local scallops, depending on the catch throughout the season. Personally, I think the Spicy Tuna is off the hook delicious.
Gavin Smith, Food Minded Fellow Podcast
When I cook, I need noise. The silence feels weird and slow, maybe from my many years in restaurant kitchens. Pretty much anything will do for music except club music. I can also listen to the news on TV or a podcast or, even better, a podcast that focuses on food, farmers, and producers.
Gavin Smith, the Food-Minded Fellow, is a private chef, fisherman, and fishing columnist for the MV Times and he feels the same way. He grew up listening to Radiolab, music, and the news with his dad. This year Gavin decided to launch his own podcast called Food Minded Fellow. Gavin feels very connected to the farmers, fishermen, and producers on the Island and wanted to introduce more people to the Island’s uniquely talented entrepreneurs and pioneers. “There is a different connection to food when you know where and who it came from,” he told me. “And this gives you a sense of place with the food here.”
Gavin has listened to many podcasts with chefs and producers. “I wanted to hear something more than just two talking heads,” he said.
Gavin is a consummate student of the Island ecosystem and says he is always impressed with the more than 40 working farms, hundreds of fishermans, and all the producers and purveyors. Creating this podcast was about bringing these great people and their stories to life.
About two years ago he started the process of creating the podcast, mostly on his own, learning how to mic people for good sound — all the technical aspects — as well as creating entertaining, informative content. He even plays the music that opens, closes, and runs throughout each podcast.
Gavin’s passion for food and where it comes comes from runs through each entertaining Podcast. He has spoken to Jenny DeVivo about her up-Island school lunch program. Her enthusiasm is palpable. He chats with Jessica Miller, cheesemaker at Mermaid Farm, and Matthew Dix, Island Grown Initiative farm director.
Food Minded Fellow podcasts are available on Spotify. Gavin is looking towards an even longer list of guests for his second season, hopefully launching in the late fall. He is excited to introduce more of his favorite people and stories from the Island.