Have you ever had sesame gelato? Does it sound good? Let me tell you— it’s really good. I was treated to it last week at a sneak peek for the new Philly Homegrown Tour. It’s a walking tour in Center City given by City Food Tours in conjunction with Philly Homegrown. The tour was a perfect way to start my weekend.

Food tours in major cities are a growing business. They’re a way for food lovers to get a taste of the city, discover out-of-the-way markets, restaurants and specialty shops, and spend a few hours getting VIP treatment at establishments. Philadelphia’s City Food Tours has five established tours, including one that takes the participants to savor classic Philly fare — cheese steaks, soft pretzels, tomato pie and more. The Philly Homegrown Tour is the newest addition to the line-up, and the first public tour will be offered on Thanksgiving weekend.

Our sneak peek started at 3 p.m. on a Friday afternoon at the famous Reading Terminal Market. Eric from City Food Tours greeted us (that’s Eric above leading us through the streets of Philadelphia). I was impressed throughout the afternoon with how knowledgeable Eric was about sustainable food and the details of the foods that were served to us — particularly the cheeses.

Our first stop was the Fair Food Farmstand that sells foods from sustainable farms and artisans in southeast Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The last time I had seen the Fair Food Farmstand, it was a small stall near the back of the market. It now occupies a prominent spot against the wall of the terminal — a testament to the growing demand for local food. Every item at the stand was labeled with its producer and where it was grown or made.

At the market, foods are available in small quantities. You can buy one carrot, one apple, a couple of cloves of garlic, or small wedges of cheese. We were given a taste of York apples, a delicious sweet honey, Challah bread, and homemade granola topped with yogurt. Everything was delicious.

From the Fair Food Farmstand we ventured further back into the market to the Italian deli Salumeria for a taste of four local cheeses. The deli offers a variety of international and local cheeses. You can see from the photo at right that the breadth of the local cheese offerings were impressive, and so were the cheeses we sampled.

The standout cheese for me was Herdsman, a cow cheese from Cherry Grove Farm in New Jersey. I may need to hop back on the train and head into Philly to buy some for the holidays.

Eric then led us out of the market for a walk of a few blocks to a new restaurant that I’ve been eager to try, Tweed. Chef David Cunningham spoke to us about his commitment to buying locally and seasonally, and when foods can’t be found locally, purchasing from sustainable producers.

We sampled three seasonal dishes prepared by Cunningham. He told us about the origins of the tender pork with onions and apples and the trout with a honey glaze. I even ate the beet salad. I don’t like beets, but when the chef who prepared the dish is standing right in front of you, it’s rude not to give it a try. I must say I didn’t hate them when paired with some apple and chevre. 

Our afternoon ended at Capogiro Gelato where we blind tasted six gelatos made with local, grass-fed, hormone-free, cows milk. The creative flavorings for the gelatos are all natural. Many of them are also local, including mint and basil that are grown at a West Philadelphia high school. Capogiro is a small business that believes in supporting other small businesses.

If you’re going to be in the Philadelphia area between now and the end of the year, take a look into City Food Tours. The Philly Homegrown Tour will be running for three Saturdays at 3 p.m. – Nov. 27, Dec. 11 and Dec. 18. Tickets are $35 (a bargain for two hours of great food, an education in local and sustainable food, and entertainment) and must be reserved in advance. Tickets can be reserved up to an hour before the tour, if they are still available. City Food Tours' five other tours will be running during the holiday months and beyond.  

Images of Local cheese board and food from Tweed courtesy of Marisa McClellan/GPTMC.

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