Linda

I had no idea just how big Pineland Farms is until I read that it encompassed 5,000 acres of land. Trust us, it is big enough to get lost in. It became much clearer once we found a large model of Pineland’s layout on display at the market. This diverse business campus and educational and recreational venue is impressive.

We visited Pineland for one of their Graze dinners, and had arrived early to explore. I insisted on finding the garden I’d read about. The perennial, herb and vegetable garden at Pineland Farms has wonderful paths winding artfully around the plantings. Seeing artichokes happily growing in Maine was a sight. Vegetables grown here are sold at the market and gardening seminars are offered in the summer.

Once you enter the market at Pineland Farms, you’ll be drawn in by the amazing smell of great food. Fresh soups, sandwiches and salads are prepared at the cafe using ingredients sourced right from the farm. Pineland Farms natural meats, Pineland cheese and grocery items from many Maine companies fill the store.

Olivia’s Garden is also a business located at Pineland Farms. They grow top-quality lettuce, micro-greens, basil and tomatoes hydroponically all year. They were the first to grow hydroponic vegetables on such a massive scale, supplying many of Maine’s markets and restaurants. They were also featured at the Graze dinner.

The Graze dinners are outdoors in a massive events tent. A bluegrass band, Gather Rounders, set the upbeat mood and one could enjoy a drink during the social hour. But it was the center table loaded with amazing amounts of Pineland cheese, dips, crostini and salsas that was the hot spot. I could have made my entire meal from this table. But this was a meal of abundance, and soon the more substantial appetizers were being circulated by servers. Items like lobster salad on fried green tomatoes and crab and corn fritters came — and the main dinner was still to come.

The chilled horseradish beet soup sip was the star of the first course offerings for me. People sitting all around us concurred.

Dinner itself was served family-style. We were surprised to see seven dishes being served. My favorites were the Panzanella Salad with their fresh tomatoes, the braised pork ribs with a peach and rum barbecue sauce, and the root vegetable hash.

And just when I thought I would not eat another bite, out came cookies with a decadent warm chocolate dipping sauce. One might think it’s just women who adore chocolate, but I witnessed grown men fighting over the rest of that sauce even when the cookies were gone. Yes, my husband was one of them.

George

OK, guilty as charged, although the guy across the table from me got most of the chocolate sauce because he was using a spoon.

I enjoyed a talk before dinner with Jason Burnham, of Maine Shellfish Company, about their effort to promote the use of under-utilized fish species, including “shark bites” (bits of dogfish), and was delighted to find staff members of the wonderful Bridgewater Winery in Owls Head at our table. Their wine was featured at the dinner, along with Allagash microbrews. Yes, I was a very happy man.

Pineland Farms’ mission is “to provide a productive and educational venue that enriches the community by demonstrating responsible farming techniques, offering educational opportunities and encouraging a healthy lifestyle through recreation.” Well, I learned a lot at this dinner.

For example, confused by the first course, I asked Linda, “How do you eat this?” Turns out you were supposed to drink the beet soup. It was awesome. I also learned it is OK to enjoy a muffin as a first course — but it’s doubtful I’ll be allowed to do this at home. For the record, I liked every single thing we tried. Black Tie Catering prepared the meal and it was memorable.

You still have time to get to a Graze dinner before they shut down for the winter, and each dinner is unique. On Sept. 23 they’ll offer “The American Dinner” and on Oct. 7 “Autumn’s Bounty.” You can buy tickets on their website and also read about many of the farm’s other events. Family Farmyard Fun, scheduled in the Education Barn on Sept. 17 and 22 and Oct. 8, in which you “meet the animals close up,” sounded like a great event for kids.

Visit George’s website — georgesmithmaine.com — for book reviews, outdoor news and all Travelin’ Maine(rs) columns, found listed in the “Best of Maine” section.

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