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Off the beaten path, a little Vermont treasure

By Necee Regis
Globe Correspondent / October 22, 2008
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JAMAICA, Vt. - In the rolling hills of Southern Vermont, Three Mountain Inn sits serenely off Route 30 in the tiny village of Jamaica, a short stroll from the woods and trails of Jamaica State Park.

The sense of serenity continues inside the 1790 farmhouse, where a series of intimate rooms connect like puzzle pieces around a central hearth. The original polished wood floors creak agreeably, built-in bookshelves are stocked with tomes about the region, and paintings by local artists are displayed on wide-planked pine walls. In two of the rooms, the library and the parlor, visitors can dine in elegant style on French-country cuisine prepared with locally-sourced ingredients.

Owned by a couple who left behind corporate lives, Three Mountain has some unusual practices. Dine here, and you'll find the table is yours for the entire night. In 2004, Jennifer and Ed Dorta-Duque purchased the 15-room inn. Their backgrounds prepared them well: Ed holds a degree in hospitality management from Florida International University in Miami, and Jennifer managed restaurants in Connecticut. "Not turning the tables allows us to concentrate on our ingredients and slow down," says Ed. "We try to make the atmosphere relaxed and comfortable, with an emphasis on service. We like to anticipate guests' needs."

Everything here is made from scratch, the old-fashioned way. Julia Child would love it. An enormous pot of veal stock is the foundation for most of their sauces. All the stocks and sauces are housemade. No one shies away from butter - locally made, of course. A recent menu included stuffed pork loin with chickpea puree, and beef Wellington with mushroom duxelles and foie gras. Dinner chef William Hollinger, who grew up on a dairy farm on the outskirts of Holyoke, attended the Montpelier campus of New England Culinary Institute. After traveling and working in kitchens nationally and internationally, Hollinger settled in Vermont. "I liked working in France," said Hollinger. "It was brutal, but I learned a lot from the chef. If you have French training you can cook any cuisine."

Menus change with the seasons; produce, meat, and dairy products are purchased from area growers and farmers. "Everything comes from within a 50- to 60-mile radius, except for our fish, which is delivered every day from Boston," says Ed Dorta-Duque.

Many of Vermont's artisanal cheeses can be sampled in the afternoons. A recent cheese board, served near the fireplace in the main building, featured Taylor Farm gouda, smoked cheddar from Grafton Village Cheese, a semi-hard cheese from Peaked Mountain Farm, and goat cheese from Vermont Butter & Cheese. A cheese-making package is offered by the inn in collaboration with Taylor Farm in nearby Londonderry. It offers guests who are staying at the inn a chance to work with fresh milk from Taylor's 40 Holstein cows, learn cheese-making techniques, and cut curds.

Breakfast here is another culinary celebration. For this, Ed Dorta-Duque dons a chef's apron and whips up omelets, waffles, pancakes, sausage, and bacon, as well as baked goods. His breakfast specialty is scones and his signature dessert apple tart.

And the bacon - so crisp and sweet - is remarkably full of flavor. Aside from using locally-cured meat, what's his secret?

"I don't usually tell people this," says Dorta-Duque, "but I cook the bacon in maple syrup and butter."

Something else Julia Child would love.

Three Mountain Inn, Route 30. Jamaica, Vt., 802-874-4140, www.threemountaininn.com. Dining room entrees $30-$36; rooms with double occupancy $154-$360.

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