This week I am dogsitting in North Adams, MA. (Last time I was dogsitting I took myself out to breakfast at the Blue Benn in VT.) I love the Berkshires, and it is not just because three different museums out here have employed me, compared to none in Albany. I love the Berkshires for a lot of the same reasons I love the Napa Valley. Sure it is very rural, and you often feel like you are in the middle of nowhere, but it is still relatively culturally sophisticated. James Taylor lives here. What is often ranked as the number one liberal arts school in the country is here. Emily Dickinson, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Herman Melville are all from western Massachusetts. The scenery is incredibly beautiful, and yet the one movie playing in town is likely the same artsy movie you saw at the Spectrum last week. Our friends who live in Seattle and Boston talk about how they want to go to MassMoca. People who hear about me having an hour commute always feel really bad for me, but it is very beautiful - so beautiful it is a tourist destination for people from NYC in the fall. There are farms everywhere, and people wear a uniform of artsy scarves, cozy sweaters, and colored corduroys. The combination of beautiful scenery, delicious local ingredients, and world class museums make Berkshire County a must-visit destination for people in Albany. I can't believe how many people I have talked to in Albany who have never been to the Berkshires. It is only an hour drive. The opposite is true too. There are people I work with who haven't been to Albany in 15 years, and always act surprise when I talk about great things in Albany like Elissa Halloran's quirky little shop. I feel I have the best of both worlds. I can live in a place where we have shopping, an actual downtown, ethic restaurants, and easy transportation options for out of town. Then, I can work in a place that has a breathtaking landscape, sophisticated museums, and amazing ingredients. I get the benefit of having cultural institutions around that find my skill set useful, and yet I don't live in a place so much in the middle of nowhere that it is sort of stifling. Here are some things I love in the Berkshires:
- Cricket Creek Farm - The cheese from this place is amazing. They also sell beef, eggs, milk, and baked goods. You drive back on this dirt road up on a hill, way up to the farm stand that is run on the honor system, which means you give yourself change from a wooden box as the cows wander by. The cheese is amazing. They serve cheese from here at many of the Berkshires best restaurants. They also have a cheese CSA, which I am never sure is a good idea or not from a health point of view.
- Wild Oats Market - This market sells the above mentioned cheese. Also Maplebrook Mozzarella, which I think is great. They have great bread, an amazing salad bar, an interesting bulk section (I love garlic sesame sticks), and every high quality brand you might want (King Arthur flour, Muir Glen tomatoes, Colavita olive oil). The produce here in the summer (all from nearby Bennington or within Berkshire County) is so great that you don't even need a recipe in mind. You can walk in with the idea of making a salad for dinner, and walk out totally impressed with yourself. Now since it is winter, of course all you can get for produce are things like squash and kale, but they have a selection of frozen vegetables from nearby farms that are actually very tasty. It is sort of expensive, but as a treat, a trip in there for some local cheese, delicious olives, or New England hard cider can be really fun.
- Castle Street Cafe -We love it. Ruth Reichl doesn't. Local ingredients with the source written on the menu. Charming atmosphere. Old New England-style charm. What is not to love? I can't ever seem to get enough of this place the few times a year I end up in Great Barrington.
- The above mentioned amazing museums. I'm just going to be blatantly biased right now and say visit the Williams College Museum of Art. Most people come to Williamstown to visit that other super famous museum, but WCMA has a great collection and often really interesting exhibits. In February, we are getting an exhibit Asco, which is about a Chicano collective in LA in the 70s and 80s. The LA Times called it one of the best in 2011 while it was at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Also Edith Wharton's house, Norman Rockwell Museum, a fix for your natural history curiosities, plenty of theatre opportunities throughout the year, Tanglewood in the summer, and many performing arts events at MassMoca. The Wilco-curated sound festival seems especially popular, and usually if you volunteer you can get free tickets I understand (I always seem to be going to a wedding that weekend).