If you’ve never ventured east off Route 4 at the intersection of Route 117 in Turner, you are missing some great food, a bit of bliss and maybe even some magic.
Nezinscot Farm has covered a lot of ground in the more than 30 years Gregg and Gloria Varney have owned this third-generation family farm. Theirs was the first organic dairy farm in Maine, they’ve operated a CSA for almost 30 years, and have been frequent hosts in Maine’s “Open Farm Days” program. But that is just the beginning.
They operate a cafe, an artisanal bakery, a fromagerie, a charcuterie and create herbal remedies. Their farm store sells products from these operations as well as much more. They’ve won awards, host musical concerts and art shows, offer workshops in a variety of skills and have been long-term promoters of eating fresh, local foods in season.
This summer, they’re expanding the scope of their popular Farm Cafe and have hired a Culinary Institute of America-trained chef to enhance their farm-to-table menu.
Auburn native Ashley Wiencek is now in her first full summer at Nezinscot after working in a host of cooking positions, including the Harraseeket Inn, the Black Point Inn, the Coplin Dinner House and the Spruce Point Inn. She worked at Fishbones restaurant in Lewiston while in high school, in preparation for the Culinary Institute of America.
Her two years at CIA were intense and rigid. “You’re completely immersed in the culinary world,” she said, adding “It’s supposed to be like that. It’s not for the faint of heart. You’re serious about cooking.”
She sees her move to Turner as a good fit for her. “My entire life essentially revolves around food. . . . I’m thinking about it, or talking about it, or I’m eating it. A lot of my friends are the same, even if they’re not in the industry. I apparently surround myself with foodies. . . . We eat, we talk, we enjoy the experience of good food done well.”
Good food done well is exactly what she is doing at the Nezinscot Farm Cafe. When she’s not preparing food, you can often find her in the garden, cutting herbs to enhance her next dish.
“I love fresh herbs and it’s easy to add that to any dish. You can make a marinade really quick. Just grab herbs from the garden, throw them in the blender with vinegar, oil and some mustard,” Wiencek says.
Most recently, she produced the Farm Cafe’s first farm-to-table dinner of the season. The menu?
Lamb shoulder with a yogurt rub, roasted chicken, herb and scallion smashed potatoes, a wild rice salad and kohl rabi with kale sauteed with garlic scapes. All local from the farm.
Wiencek says she likes to keep the food simple. She says she wants to serve “food the way it should taste and not mask the flavor.”
And for dessert? Lavender rosemary goat cheese cake with Nezinscot Farm’s own graham cracker crust on the bottom and its own honey drizzled on top.
And if you’re wondering, yes, she can bake. Wiencek confesses that it’s a secret — or at least used to be — but “once upon a time I was going to be a pastry chef. But I found it too restricting. I like it for the art reasons, but for my creativity I need to be able to wing it, and you can’t really do that with pastries.”
The next creative farm-to-table dinner will be on July 28 and Wiencek is already planning out the menu. With the recent rain and summer heat, garden crops are growing explosively and Wiencek plans to use the summer’s first tomatoes as one of the staples for the July menu, possibly with Nezinscot’s own Camembert cheese.
Another secret revealed: Wiencek has what she calls “a mild obsession with tomatoes. I get excited about tomatoes, growing them, canning them, getting all that freshness off the vine.”
Wiencek’s also busy creating different salads each week, using ever-increasing bounties from the gardens. She said she makes a different salad every week. For instance, she recently created an arugula salad with pickled onions and goat cheese that was popular — she mentions the pickled onions are part of the farm’s canning routine.
Yes, they also can at Nezinscot Farm. Wiencek says “canning tends to be a daily process once the gardens are in full swing. There are log books with batch numbers, it’s very organized. It amazes me, the organization that’s required to make it all function. But it seems seamless.” She adds: “It happens in the between it all.”
(Writer’s note: I later asked Gloria Varney — who oversees the cafe and store operations, among other things at the farm — how she gets so darn many things done. And do you know what she said? “It is a skill that I master and possess; multi-tasking and efficiencies.” Wow, talk about a woman with stone-cold confidence. I envy her.)
Also happening in between it all? The farm store’s expanding take-out menu. Says Wiencek: “We are increasing our take-out foods, too. Chilled salads, partially cooked meats that can be easily heated or grilled, like kebabs, ribs. Take the ease and the fuss out of cooking. We’ve done most of the leg work.”
Wiencek says the farm store’s offerings can easily set up dinner for 8 people in a pinch. She says the variety of organic meats, garden produce and pre-made salads are all ready to go. Dessert? She suggests lemon meringue pie: “We sell pies by the whole, the half or the slice.”
There is a lot going on at Nezinscot Farms, including a lot of good eating, and Ashley Wiencek is a big part of it. “I’m enjoying life here,” she says. “It’s a lot of what I wanted and what I needed. I think I’m doing better food now because I can see where it comes from.”
Julie-Ann Baumer lives, cooks, gardens and writes from her home in Lisbon Falls, and is currently obsessed with Nezinscot Farm’s graham crackers. She can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @AuntTomato.
- 284 Turner Center Road
- Days: Thursday – Sunday
- Coffee shop: 6 a.m. – 5 p.m.
- Store: 7 a.m. – 5 p.m.
- Cafe: 7 a.m. – 3 p.m.
- Days: Monday – Wednesday
- Self-serve market (no meals): 9 a.m – 3 p.m
- Phone: 207-225-3231
- Email: [email protected]
- Website: www.nezinscotfarm.com