Author’s Corner – Interview with Lisa Cassell-Arms
After spending eight years working at Shelburne Vineyard, a boutique winery in Vermont, Lisa Cassell-Arms wrote Seasons in a Vermont Vineyard: The Shelburne Vineyard Cookbook, which celebrates the beautiful pairings between northern varietal wine and Vermont grown ingredients.
I caught up with Lisa to learn more about her cookbook, family recipes, and what makes living and cooking in the beautiful state of Vermont so unique. Lisa shares her delicious recipes, photographs, and travel blogs here.”
Your cookbook, Seasons in a Vermont Vineyard, is beautiful and focuses on something many people may not know – Vermont is an active winemaking region. How did you decide to write your cookbook highlighting local wine from Shelburne Vineyard?
Vermont is indeed an active winemaking region, and a growing one at that! I’ve become a huge advocate of northern varietal wines, which represent an exciting new generation of hybrid grape varietals that are being cultivated in cold climates like Vermont (think grapes like Marquette and LaCrescent). These new grape varietals are changing the landscape of winemaking in cold regions and are a true reflection of the soils in which they grow.
I worked with Shelburne Vineyard for a number of years and love the excellent wines they and other Vermont vineyards produce. They are pioneers in cold-climate winemaking and continue to push boundaries. With this cookbook, I wanted to capture the essence of a lush and fertile vineyard, introduce people to the nuanced flavors of northern varietal wines, and show how it makes sense that foods and wines growing in the same soil, would taste good together.
Which Shelburne Vineyard wine and food pairing would you recommend to people who are new to Vermont wine?
I think some of the most divine pairings are often the most simple. Vermont wine and Vermont cheese are made for each other. My absolute favorite pairing is Shelburne Vineyard Duet Ice Wine served with Jasper Hill Farm Bayley Hazen Blue Cheese, perhaps with a little drizzle of local honey.
What is your process like for finding a delicious new food and wine pairing?
I start simply. First, I think about the season. Is the dish hearty or light? What are the main components and what wine will best bring out those flavors? I will often match a dish’s country of origin with a wine from the same region. Sometimes I’ll find a surprisingly good, yet unconventional pairing, just by happy accident.
What are your tips for beginners who are learning to pair food and wine?
I think pairing food and wine is really as easy as knowing what you like and not being afraid to break the rules. It should be fun and all about discovering new and interesting flavors. It’s helpful to have a few “rules of thumb” to start with:
1) Try pairing wines with food that has a similar body and complexity. Full-bodied or intense wines work with heavier, heartier dishes. And conversely, light bodied, more delicate wines do best with lighter, simpler dishes.
2) Higher acidity wines are versatile and can help balance salty and smoky foods. A wine with high acidity will cut through a creamy or oily dish beautifully.
3) A lightly sweet wine will complement and balance a spicy dish.
4) My favorite; opposites attract. Try a sweet wine with salty dish, or an acidic wine with a creamy dish.
What are five ingredients you like to always keep on hand in your kitchen?
Olive oil, garlic, lemons, fresh herbs, and wine, of course!
What is your favorite New England-grown ingredient to cook with?
There is so much goodness grown right here in New England. I especially love to cook and bake with seasonal fruit. A couple of miles from my house there is an orchard where I can get apples, peaches, plums and pears. Near the orchard is a berry farm where I can pick strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries. We even have a farm in my neighboring town that grows figs!
What is your favorite and most unexpected way to incorporate wine into a recipe?
I must admit I love mixing cocktails with wine. There are a lot of unique and fabulous drinks you can mix up with wine as an ingredient. Here’s a quick recipe:
Bourbon Sour Marquette
2 oz. bourbon
1oz. fresh lemon juice
1 oz. simple syrup
1/2 oz. Marquette or other full-bodied red wine
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Pour all ingredients but the wine into the shaker and shake well. Strain into an ice filled glass. Holding a spoon upside down over the top of the glass, carefully pour the wine over the spoon into the glass so that the wine floats on top.
Also, believe it or not, wine can be a great addition to your baking. Incorporate a dry, red wine into a dark chocolate dessert, like a flourless bittersweet chocolate cake or truffles.
Your book discusses the unique aspects of living in Vermont, including the abundance of quality local ingredients. How has living in Vermont affected your approach to cooking? How would you describe your cooking philosophy?
We’re very fortunate here in Vermont–it’s a food lover’s paradise. I love that I can get fresh, local eggs, meats and produce at my regular grocery store.
In terms of my approach to cooking, I don’t typically follow food trends. I like to keep my cooking simple, rustic, and reflective of what’s going on around me. I find it exciting to cook in Vermont during all seasons. I live for cozy winter snow days with a pot of something good simmering on the stove. Heartier cooking with local meats and game during our long winters is soul satisfying.
Your cookbook is a compilation of recipes from a variety of sources, including recipes that have been passed down for generations. What is your favorite generational recipe that has stood the test of time?
I love exploring regional cooking traditions. I treasure the recipes from my Greek mother and grandmother and I’ve passed them on to my children as well. Our family Spanakopita recipe is my favorite. It came from my great-grandmother and is still being made by my children four generations later. I can’t say that it is exactly the same, but the thought of our family thread running through our cooking just makes me happy.
Has cooking taught you any lessons that apply to your life outside the kitchen?
Our food traditions, cooking with each other and for each other, are a means by which we keep in touch with friends and family, and mark the important (and the mundane) times in our lives. I’ve seen first hand, by volunteering with refugees, how sharing food traditions can be a bridge between cultures.
For me, cooking is most enjoyable when I slow down and take time away from screens to prepare and cook real food. Even a very simple weeknight meal is an opportunity to be in the moment and connect with family and friends through food, conversation, and a glass or two of wine.
Thank you, Lisa! Good news, you can buy Seasons in a Vermont Vineyard: The Shelburne Vineyard Cookbook by clicking here.