“Wow!” my brother’s eyes grow large, revealing his pleasant surprise. “Who would have thought cookies this thin could be so delicious? What did you say they were again?”
He scrutinizes the can and inquires, “I just have three questions. Where’s Winston-Salem? What’s a Moravian? And why do they make cookies?”
I laugh, since I had the exact same reaction when first I tried these wafer-thin treats. Eventually, curiosity got the best of me and I decided to drive two-hours east of my home in Raleigh to visit Winston-Salem, North Carolina and learn about the city’s history myself.
The best place to explore the area’s historic routes is the living history museum in the Old Salem Historic District. I wander cobblestone streets, peeking at blacksmiths, cobblers, bakers and carpenters in eighteenth-century dwellings, practicing their crafts while entertaining curious visitors. I learn the Moravians first flocked to central North Carolina in 1753, attracted by the area’s fertile soil, abundant water and temperate climate in 1753. These hard-working Protestants were united by a religion that originated in the Czech Republic. From Eastern Europe, these missionaries moved to Germany to Pennsylvania before finally settling here, where they founded the town of Salem.
They brought with them their Germanic culinary traditions, the most famous of which are Moravian cookies, Love Feast Buns and Moravian Chicken Pies, which you can taste at The Tavern in Old Salem, dished out by wait staff in historic costumes. Winston-Salem has recently established a Virtual Moravian Cookie Trail which is a great place to start.
In addition to the area’s historic Moravian roots, Winston-Salem is the gateway to the Yadkin Valley, the most densely populated North Carolina wine region. Back before Prohibition, this area produced more wine than Napa Valley. In addition to the sweet Muscadines made from local grapes, you will find European-vinifera varietals such as cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, merlot and syrah.
How can you experience the best of both of these worlds? Try Chef Alison Turner’s favorite creative cookie pairings matched with local wines and craft beers — one for every season. Learn about the bakeries and wineries that make this area special (until you can visit them yourself!):
Cranberry Orange Moravian Cookies topped with goat cheese, hot pepper jelly and toasted walnuts paired with Childress Vineyard’s Late Harvest Viognier
The Pairing: The Cranberry Orange is perfect to usher in fall or serve as a Thanksgiving appetizer. The hot pepper jelly will awaken the spices in the cookie and then the goat cheese and walnuts will cool things down, for a thoroughly pleasurable tasting experience. Kent Smith, the assistant winemaker from Childress Vineyards, recommends you pair this with a well-chilled Late Harvest Viognier. This dessert wine is made from the concentrated sugars from sun-ripened viognier grapes to create a syrupy, thick and sweet wine that can be served as a dessert in itself. This pairing takes advantage of opposing tastes, with a wine that is sweeter than the cookie pairing itself. The wine features strong notes of citrusy, orange blossom honey that will compliment the creamy goat cheese and salty walnuts.
The Bakery: For adventurous flavors, get your cookies Dewey’s Bakery who continues to produce a massive number and variety of Moravian cookies since it opened in the 1930s. Dewey’s was the area’s first all-electric bakery and the community easily embraced its treasured Moravian baked goods, despite opening during the Great Depression. Even when the bakery burned down on Easter Monday in 1955, an outpouring of local support facilitated the creation of a shop in the bakery’s current location at the Thruway Shopping Center (262 South Stratford Road). This Winston-Salem original sells cookies throughout North Carolina and beyond, especially during the holidays where satellite shops pop up in shopping malls. Their Cranberry Orange cookie gets its zesty, tangy flavor from full flavor vanilla, pure cane sugar, real cranberry pieces and cold-pressed Valencia orange oil.
The Vineyard: Childress Vineyards was founded in 2004 by NASCAR team owner Richard Childress, fulfilling a dream that began with enjoying wineries after racing in California. What began as causal good times became an engaging passion for developing a world-class winery of his own. After looking at land on both coasts, Richard chose a plot for his vineyard in Lexington, NC, located less than five miles from his RCR Racing operations. If you visit, plan to spend several hours at the vineyard, enjoying lunch in the vineyard bistro and live music on the lawn during the weekends.
Winkler Bakery Spicy Ginger Moravian Cookies topped with blue cheese, toasted walnuts and a drizzle of honey paired with a Raffaldini Vineyard’s Sangiovese Riserva
Thomas Salley, the Tasting Room Manager of Raffaldini Vineyards recommends pairing this with their Sangiovese Riserva. This red wine is made from the sangiovese grape, blended with a little malbec and petit verdot for tannins and a nice dark fruit and spice flavor. The natural acidity of the sangiovese and extended oak aging provides a wonderful counterpart to the subtly sweet and rich cookie. Furthermore, this tannic red wine pairing works really well with the creaminess of the blue cheese.
The Bakery: As the original flavor of Moravian cookies, all bakeries offer a spicy ginger option, although I’d recommend the purported “original recipe” made by Winkler Bakery. First opened in 1775, this merchant has been baking breads, cakes and confections in wood-fired dome ovens for over 200 years. The wood-fired recipe has been slightly updated to accommodate demand but aims for authenticity. Today, if you visit the Winkler Bakery in Old Salem you can watch bakers in period costumes at work, learn about baking techniques and buy freshly baked goods seven days a week — making it more like a living museum than just an eatery. Although today the cookies are baked off-site, you can still purchase the cookies and Winkler baking mixes at the historic bakery.
The Vineyard: The Raffaldini family dates back to 1348 in a town in the Northern Providence of Lombardy, Italy, where they still own land today. As with most Italians, their lives center around family and food and wine, an experience they want to share with you. They decided to settle in the Swan Creek area of Yadkin Valley while maintaining Italian winemaking traditions. Visit their Tuscan-style villa tasting room, see the art, taste the food and sip the wine that will transport yourself to their ancestral homeland.
Salem Baking Company’s Chocolate Dipped Artisan Chocolate Moravian Cookies topped with mascarpone cheese and a fresh strawberry slice paired with cabernet franc
The Pairing: Nothing signifies the arrival of spring like fresh strawberries and everyone knows that you can never go wrong with chocolate. Give the season a sweet start with a double-chocolate cookie and a fruity topping. To balance out some of the sweetness, try pairing it with a Cabernet Franc from RayLen Vineyards. The Cabernet Franc has smooth tannins, pleasurable raspberry fruit with earthy undertones and a pecan-like finish. This will beautifully compliment the chocolate and make the mascarpone even creamier.
The Bakery: Salem Bakery Company is the widespread distributor of Dewey’s cookies, so this bakery may be the most convenient way to satisfy your Moravian cookie fix. Their decadent line of artisan chocolate-dipped cookies are available in a wide variety of flavors — caramel with sea salt, mint, toasted coconut, ginger spice and sugar cookie, to name a few — some of which are sold in single-serve packaging. Chocoholics can also investigate the chocolate enrobed options that include raspberry, espresso and blood orange cookies covered in a blend of semi-sweet and milk chocolate.
In addition to selling Moravian Cookies, Salem Baking Company also makes cheese straws, flatbread crackers and shortbread cookies. They stay faithful to their Moravian roots and love sharing this time-honored tradition nationwide.
The Vineyard: A trip to Italy inspired Joe and Joyce Neely to open one of the Yadkin Valley’s first wineries in Mocksville, North Carolina. They converted an old dairy farm and began making wine in 2000, specializing in chardonnay. That being said, today you can find 16 different wines, including pinot grigio, riesling, cabernet franc, merlot and a variety of blended reds. If you want to visit, make sure you check out their calendar of events because the vineyard regularly hosts festive celebrations.
Mrs. Hanes Lemon Crisps with crème fraîche and a fresh raspberry with McRitchie North Carolina Dry Hard Cider
The Pairing: This energizing and refreshing pairing is light and fruity, perfect for summer. When you take the baker’s husband’s favorite cookie then cover it with milky fruit topping, it’s bound to be an unbeatable combination. Wash down these treats with a Dry Hard Cider from McRitchie Vineyard and Ciderworks. The cider is crafted from heirloom cider apples, hand-picked from the Brushy Mountain orchard in Wilkes County, North Carolina. The crème fraiche softens the acidity of the cider and the cider’s carbonation balances the fat in the cream. The cookie’s citrus notes and sweetness resonate with the crisp, fruity character of the cider, which is further drawn out by the raspberry topping. This beverage was blended to emulate the sharp, dry, brilliantly clear style of Brittany ciders from Northern France so you will feel sophisticated drinking this artisanal, refreshing beverage.
The Bakery: Get your lemon cookie base from Mrs. Hanes’ Moravian Cookies, who hand-rolls and hand-cuts every cookie. She believes so strongly in the power of the homemade touch that she’s willing to cut about 10 million Moravian cookies, one by one with a cookie cutter, each year. As her husband’s favorite flavor, lemon crisp is a good choice out of the six that Mrs. Hanes produces. You can schedule a tour to visit this family-owned business in Clemmons, located in a suburb of the city. You will likely meet Mrs. Evva, a seventh generation cookie maker who began the business with her husband, Travis. Her daughter and son help to hand roll and cut the 110,000 pounds of dough they go through each year. Even Oprah Winfrey can’t resist these tasty cookies — she named this delicacy one of her favorites in 2010!
The Winery: McRitchie Winery and Vineyard became a labor of love of a west coast couple, opening its doors in 2006. Sean worked in top vineyards around the world: Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Napa Valley and even Australia before moving to the Yadkin Valley to help open a North Carolina Vineyard. His wife, Patricia, had worked as a criminal attorney but loved living amongst grape wines and switched to working as a business consultant for wineries. They built their estate vineyards using low-impact, energy efficient and sustainable. They use gravity flow techniques to move the grapes naturally through the juicing and wine making process and grow plants that contribute to healthy, balanced soils. They source the apples for the ciders from local growers who are similarly dedicated to nurturing their crops and honoring the Earth. Their vineyard is close to the Blue Ridge Parkway and Stone Mountain Park and they’ve got outdoor tables so you can enjoy your pairing picnic right on their property.
Have you savored a Moravian Cookie experience? Please share in the comments below.
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