Dinner in the field. Just think about that for a minute. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you taste?
What I conjure up are images of fading sunlight, tall grass, twinkle lights, fireflies, wisps of earth, wine glasses, wine bottles, heads tilted back with laughter, eyes closed with mouthfuls of treasures, torsos leaned forward in conversation, torsos leaned back in relaxation, trees whispering through the slight breeze in their leaves, and just an all around feeling of loving all that life can bring to the table, outside.
And my images are what Dinner In the Field is all about. Chefs Paige and Gregorio begin their introductions with the word, “family.” The servers learn our names, our napkins are folded and placed on the back of our chairs if we get up, smiles are a language this evening. We are welcomed.
I wear cowboy boots. Its summer, but it’s also a field. And July in Virginia. If ever cowboy boots were appropriate for a city girl outside of Texas, this would be the night.
Caromont Farm is situated just past the tiniest of Virginia towns, Esmont. The roads are winding. The woods are thick. The goats are plenty.
I must admit I have come for the twinkle lights. And the long table. And they are everything I imagined. Alfresco dining brings about a sense of connectedness. And that’s the point for Dinner in the Field.
Chef couple Paige and Gregorio move Dinner in the Field around farms surrounding Richmond. Caromont is the farthest yet. The goat cheese is the draw and inspiration for each dish/ course. The dinner is always inspired by the field in which it is placed. We are among goats and the beautiful cheese that Gail, owner and cheesemaker, produces. These two entities, Dinner in the Field and Caromont Farms, are labors of love. The owners pour themselves into their businesses so that blending the two is done with ease. Ingredients are their passion. Sharing those ingredients and products with others is worn on their sleeve
Appetizers… The brie that Claire produces is award winning. I don’t know this to be true and without research I am stating it as fact. If she has not yet won awards, she will, or else this world is a cruel, cruel place. The brie is creamy and bright. It is not mild, but it is not overpowering either. It has the perfect sharp note that pulls you to want more yet satisfies you in just a few bites. While I’m a brie lover, this one has peaked my interest into the world of small batch brie. I want it on every cheese board from here on out. Other bries seem bland to me know. Grocery store bries may now be the vanilla of my cheese-loving heart.
After appetizers and proseco, the group saunters to the table. That long, glorious table with twinkle lights above it. We seat ourselves amongst new friends.
Paige begins the explanation of the evening by introducing the wines and our first course of panzenella salad with heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, and fat croutons of luscious bread. We eat, we chat, we pour the wine.
Paige returns to explain our second course allowing Gail to indulge us in the description of every aspect of the cheese used in the our stuffed pasta dish. Gail speaks about the importance of the grass on which the goats feed. Her cheese is relished from the moment a baby goat is born. She explains that the milk is influenced by everything that touches the life of the goats who produce it. She is an expert and her knowledge of her craft is extensive. Gail tells us that our dish will have shaved black truffles. Oh my. I quickly pop up to catch the action of plating and there is Gregorio, truffle shaving away like alfresco dining with truffles is in his blood (and by the way it is).
As the second course is being plated Paige returns. This time to ask for a vote. The clouds are growing darker. We hear thunder in the far, far distance. And so, Paige asks if we want to stay in the field and risk the weather or go ahead and head to the tent (plan B). We are an adventurous group and a positive one. We vote to stay and will the rainstorm away from us. We want the field, the twinkle lights, the ambience.
Paige then begins passing out ponchos. This isn’t her first field dinner. The preparation here and thoughtfulness for guests who venture to this dinner warms me a bit. Paige is so focused on the guests that she never notices me snapping away at this sweet, sweet gesture.
We begin eating our stuffed conchiglie. Then, to my left we hear and see the rain in the trees. We are dry and from a short distance the droplets are a bit mesmerizing and the sound is like the rustling of a breeze. We are a bit transfixed, but willing, with all our hearts, that the rain stays left, always left. My truffle experience is interrupted by this. The creaminess of the goat cheese mixed with spinach, mushrooms, and Caromont’s formaggio is a quick taste.
My seat neighbor tells me I should be taking pictures of the rain. There is too much to think about- the rain to the left, the possibility of it coming toward us, protecting my camera, the pasta with TRUFFLES. Then. Then. To my right, that same wind in the trees noise begins. I throw my camera in my bag, sling it over my shoulder, grab the TRUFFLE pasta plate and my wine, and run to the tent. I’m pelted with few large raindrops, but escape and remain mostly dry. Then my camera jumps into my hands as I realize the story of tonight is this:
The Dinner in the Field crew is on it. The tables, the chairs, everything is rushed to the tent as the diners collectively try to process what just happened. And we are all still so joyful, so happy to be here and don’t mind a bit that our twinkle lights are lighting an empty spot where our long, long table used to be. The pictures tell the story of two dinners, one in the field, one in the tent, yet we are one dinner, one happy crowd.
The staff gets everything orderly and we sit, but this time our neighbors have changed. We’re a little tempest-tossed, but we don’t mind. The third course is described by Paige and Gail and served. My only regret of the tent is the lighting. It’s hard to see the colors and the caramelization that I know Paige and Gregorio worked hard to achieve. I succumb and use a flash.
Our final course is served. Paige calls it torta de formaggio fresco and ciliegiemix. Woo! That’s a fancy way that the menu tells me we are going to eat an amazing cheesecake made with goat cheese. It is perfect, slightly sweet as cheesecake should be, but with an amazing tang from the goat cheese. It is dense and luscious and my favorite of the evening. And Chef Paige serves it with Lemoncello. This girl learned a thing or two during her time in Italy.
Our evening ends. The twinkle light are still suspended above an invisible table as if another dinner is waiting to happen. We say to goodbye and thank the staff. We’ve made new friends and exchanged contact information. We are a rare bunch; food lovers who venture into a field to eat whatever delicacies are placed before them. We need to stick together.