By Amy Traversowith Aimee Tucker and Katherine Keenan
Eight years ago, we created the Yankee Food Awards to honor the artisans whose cheeses, chocolates, jams, and charcuterie have made New England such a great place to live and eat.
This year, longing for a bit of armchair travel and mindful of Yankee’s 85th anniversary, we decided to seek out iconic foods from across New England, such as blueberry pie, clam chowder, lobster rolls, and cider doughnuts. Focusing on companies that ship these regional treats around the country, we ordered samples to test. Our goal: to bring the best flavors of New England to you, even if you can’t be here right now.
The winners range from sweets to seafood, from special-occasion splurges to supermarket staples. All would be great to serve at a party or to send as gifts. Happy holidays!
For this category, we sought a great all-purpose medium-sharp cheddar. Something buttery and tangy that could shine on a cheese board or elevate a grilled cheese, all at an affordable price. Even after a relatively brief aging, Shelburne’s 6-Month Cheddar stood out for its complex flavor and rich buttercup hue, thanks to the Shelburne farm’s herd of Brown Swiss cows, who spend their warm-weather days in grassy meadows overlooking Lake Champlain. store.shelburnefarms.org
New England is a place where you can find some of the tastiest regional pizza styles in the country (think: coal-fired apizza in New Haven, thick rectangles of Sicilian-style in Boston’s North End), but only one of our favorites was readily available for remote noshing—and fortunately, it’s a winner. Three generations of the Jamoulis family have been slinging South Shore–style bar pies at their Brockton-based mini chain since 1947. At-home options include five varieties, including mushroom and pepperoni, that check all the South Shore bar pizza boxes: perfectly portioned 10-inch round, ultrathin texture, and cheese that extends all the way to a crisp and buttery crust. capecodcafepizza.com; order at goldbelly.com
The New England clam chowder from this Boston-based seafood restaurant chain has been served at every U.S. presidential inauguration since 1981. When the Patriots make the Super Bowl, the Massachusetts governor uses it as the wager in the traditional state-vs.-state bet. It’s the go-to order for homesick New England expats. So our expectations for this chowder were MVP-high. Creamy (but not too thick), studded with tender littlenecks and potatoes (but not too many), unfazed by freezing and reheating, it easily took home the trophy. shop.legalseafoods.com
The perfect stuffie should have three things: plenty of chopped clam meat, a kick of spice from linguiça or chouriço sausage, and a buttery finish. The stuffies made by Brian and Gina Robinson in their Bourne commercial kitchen win hands down. Their secret? A special sherry-butter sauce that Gina adds to the Ritz cracker–based stuffing. The Robinsons make several styles of stuffed quahogs for restaurants and fish markets around the Cape, so be sure to look for the premium linguiça version (sold by Boston-based seafood distributor Red’s Best). “Everything is made by hand,” says Brian, who was in food manufacturing and restaurant quality control before he and Gina opened their mom-and-pop shop. “It’s done by people who actually care.”ccsq.com; order at redsbest.com
Bellies or strips? Die-hard fans know there’s only one correct answer when it comes to fried clams—and Woodman’s does, too. Although home cooks may be intimidated by the thought of deep frying (or even by the thought of cooking mollusks), the kit from this 106-year-old Essex restaurant makes the whole process a breeze. The “Chubby’s” fried clam kit includes everything you’ll need for breading, one jar of Woodman’s own tartar sauce, and a generous bag of shucked clams. All you have to do is heat some oil and fry away! Bonus points if you serve your clams in the provided paper boxes for a full faux-fish-shack experience (your kitchen will smell like one, at least!). woodmans.com/shop
Of all the mail-order lobster rolls we tried, the ones from this Kennebunkport institution not only had the best, most flavorful meat, but also did the best job of approximating the lobster shack experience. Kits come with one or two pounds of tails and claws, Kate’s Homemade Butter (a regional favorite), and the signature Clam Shack bun, which is made by Reilly’s Bakery in nearby Biddeford (no, it’s not a conventional split-top bun, but it’s still darn good). We love the addition of paper boats, wet naps, instructions, and red plastic seafood forks, which feel so authentic you can almost smell the salt air. theclamshack.net/lobster-roll-kit
When early American colonists couldn’t produce enough wheat for bread, they adapted their recipes with a blend of wheat, rye, and corn. Later, as molasses became widely available, the bread evolved into a pudding-style steamed loaf. That’s still pretty much the recipe that B&M uses today. The company, which was founded in Portland in 1867, has used the same recipe for decades, and it yields a bread that is just sweet enough and, for many, synonymous with Saturday-night supper. bmbeans.com; order at retailers including vermontcountrystore.com
Hot apple cider has no trustier sidekick than the apple cider doughnut, which in its ideal form possesses a tender, cakelike crumb; a crackly cinnamon-sugar coating; and that specific set of spices which, when combined, taste unmistakably like the first brisk day of fall. And while mail-order doughnuts may never beat the ones fresh out of the fryer (likely purchased as a pick-me-up on an afternoon spent wandering through the orchards), Red Apple Farm’s version holds up to the rigors of long-distance travel. Based in Phillipston, Red Apple Farm makes its cider doughnuts fresh daily, year-round, using its own farm-pressed cider. redapplefarm.com
Michele Stuart has won multiple blue ribbons at the National Pie Championship for her apple, blackberry crumb, pumpkin, and chocolate pecan bourbon pies, but we’re here to vouch for her blueberry, which is loaded with fruit, perfectly balanced between sweet and tart, and packed in an ultraflaky crust. Stuart, who opened her namesake pie shop in Norwalk in 2007, is a lifelong baker who learned the craft at her grandmother’s elbow. And while her pies are polished, they have a charmingly homemade feel, even when frozen and shipped across state lines. michelespies.com; order at goldbelly.com
When it comes to New England’s handheld desserts, the cream-filled whoopie pie has the power to make anyone feel like a kid again, and Alan Mons and Julie Ganong credit their own sweet childhood memories with inspiring their Newburyport bakery and café. A repeat Yankee Food Award winner (2013), Chococoa’s two-inch mini cakes come three to a package and get their rich, homemade flavor from local, all-natural ingredients with no preservatives. Beyond the classic chocolate-vanilla combination, there are more than a dozen gourmet flavors—including apple with cinnamon cream and chocolate with salted-caramel cream—that let you build the ideal custom assortment. (There are six gluten-free options, too!) chococoabaking.com