Walpole is in Cheshire County on the Vermont-New Hampshire border but it seems miles from here. It is a large and lovely New England town, redolent with millionaires and other luminaries (Ken Burns, the documentarian, lives there) and naturally, over time, along come the "cute little shops", often a curse to a lovely New England town.
But Walpole's are different: they fit in, with locals and tourists alike. L.A. Burdick's for instance doesn't need any more publicity but what a destination! You can sit among the luxe surroundings on Main Street in the center of town and sip on a white or dark hot chocolate (we had ours with pain de chocolat, equally yummy) or pad things up with a gourmet brunch. Next door you can buy their cocoa mix (comprised of shaved chocolate) or any number of chocolate items made right there. [NOTE: Burdick's website, at right, lists links to other Walpole destinations and their other New England cafes/stores.]
Several doors down is Tole's Variety, the most amazing gourmet market I have ever seen in roughly 12x30 feet of space: we opened the door to luscious produce, cartons of fresh berries, beautiful leeks, even kumquats (I was on the hunt as Shaw's no longer carries them). Such fresh beautiful abundance you would think it was the height of summer! Further along near the cash register is a large cheese case, the size of most ice cream freezers: here you can find every world cheese imaginable, or so it seems, from New England artisans to Spain's finest to Walpole's own Boggy Hollow farmcheese. At the end of the market is the most beautiful meat counter I have ever seen. Displayed in between are shelves of hard to find items as well as the more practical: lots of salts, olive oils, vinegars, a perfect gourmet pantry. The store was bustling and we want to go back (Edie, Rosemary, my daughter and I took a day trip up that way on December 21st) when we won't be away all day first.
Around the corner is a store called Ruggles & Hunt: the perfect gift shop with high end and lower priced items all combined into one pleasing place to browse. My daughter was able to find things for her friends and I was able to find some items for my hard-to-buy-for husband. The store has toys, gifts and the most beautiful clothes and shoes. It, too, was bustling.
Further along our route we stopped at the King Arthur Flour Company Store in Norwich, Vermont and then crossed the Connecticut River again to Hanover where we went to the Co-op up there. Another beautiful store--the kind we are clamoring for down here in the Monadnock Region where many of us are convinced that such a co-op or a Trader Joe's would do a bang-up business! Anything but Stop & Shop, please...but Peterborough has Roy's and I am grateful for that surprisingly ample but small market where most items are even less than the larger supermarket in town.
It just goes to show you that true Foodies will drive just about anywhere on the planet for a good meal, a hot chocolate to die for, or a good box of kumquats. We want to plan another Walpole day soon, although I imagine this time we'll end up stopping at Stan's Discount Center in Westmoreland on the way home. Who can refuse 4 containers of perfectly good organic ricotta for $2.50? It's that kind of place: a bit grungy, well-traveled, and full of unexpected bargains. The produce can be iffy but where else will you find 20 kinds of canned red peppers or balsamic vinegar amongst damaged boxes of Cocoa Puffs or stashes of organic soup?