Maryland’s Best: So local you can taste it


Grilled Peach Cobbler With Sage Sweet Corn Ice Cream, from chef James Barrett of Azure restaurant in Annapolis. (Deb Lindsey/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST; TABLEWARE FROM CRATE AND BARREL)

These are heady, easy-sell days for vendor stands featuring local produce, where aromas of sweet corn, buckets of cantaloupe and plates of fresh-cut peach slices are more effective marketing tools than any government-run campaign.

Still, Maryland likes to pat its farmers and vintners on the back with programs such as the Buy Local Challenge week and Maryland’s Best Agriculture. Now in its sixth year, the challenge asks consumers to pledge daily local purchases during the last full week in July. Maryland’s Best labels and logos serve as guideposts througout the state at markets, on egg cartons and on produce crates.

“Jersey Fresh is the benchmark for this kind of brand recognition,” says Mark S. Powell, chief of marketing and agribusiness development at Maryland’s Department of Agriculture, referring to New Jersey’s 29-year-old program. Maryland’s Best began in 2001.

Other states have had success with this kind of marketing, including Virginia with its Virginia Grown promotion. And Powell figures his state’s efforts are on the right track: According to a 2010 University of Delaware study on brand recognition, Maryland’s Best scored 52.1 percent among consumers surveyed, compared with New Jersey’s 84.1 percent.

Ideas for how to enjoy all that Maryland bounty come together in the form of an online cookbook. Its recipes come from state chefs and farmers, with a select number showcased at an annual cookout hosted by the governor and first lady at Government House in Annapolis. While some are multi-component dishes that might dissuade novice cooks from trying them at home, the variety of seafood, vegetable and fruit options — with wine pairings — is broad enough to see us through September.

The event is Thursday night, and its 300-plus guest list is exclusive (read: producer- and media-driven). But these accompanying recipes will give you a taste of what you needn’t be missing.

For more information, go to www.buy-
local-challenge.com/index.asp
and www.marylandsbest.net.

Bonnie S. Benwick has the job most envied among cocktail-party conversations. If they only knew . . . . Cook with her each week at Dinner in Minutes: washingtonpost.com/recipes.
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