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North Shore food tours hit the spot

P.J. Halloran (center) led the Taste of Newburyport food tour to its first stop, Eat Cake.

Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe

P.J. Halloran (center) led the Taste of Newburyport food tour to its first stop, Eat Cake.

While such familiar summertime activities as whale watches and Colonial reenactments abound on the North Shore, a new type of attraction has begun to heat up recently.

Gourmet shops, artisanal producers, and chef-owned restaurants are joining traditional farms and seafood purveyors to create a vibrant food tourism scene, offering a delicious way to explore the region.

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One of the oldest and most beloved food tours in the area is at the Harbor Sweets factory on Leavitt Street in Salem. This Wonka-esque facility is celebrating its 40th year of producing nationally renowned handmade chocolates. The best time to visit is during the busy season, which is late fall through early spring.

One of the new kids on the block is Mill River Winery, housed at the historic Dodge’s Cider Mill in Rowley. The facility opened in 2011, and the American Wine Society has already awarded it a silver medal for its Naked Chardonnay. Visitors can attend a tasting and take a free “Dirt to Bottle” walk through the vineyard and manufacturing room.

Chia Haddad reached for a sample at Buttermilk Baking Company on the Taste of Newburyport food tour.

Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe

Chia Haddad reached for a sample at Buttermilk Baking Company on the Taste of Newburyport food tour.

If you’re looking for a wider-ranging edible experience with a dash of history thrown in, you’ll want to get to know P.J. Halloran and Karen Scalia. Halloran runs Cape Ann Foodie Tours, which includes Taste Gloucester, Taste Newburyport, and a Sights and Sweets tour of Rockport’s Bearskin Neck.

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We caught up with Halloran and his signature giant fork on the streets of his native Gloucester. As America’s oldest working port city, one assumes Gloucester’s food profile relies heavily on seafood, but Halloran mixes a traditional St. Joseph’s sandwich from Virgilio’s, craft beer from Cape Ann Brewing, and luscious chocolates from Turtle Alley with a liberal dose of local history for a well-rounded experience.

The Newburyport tour is similar, featuring stops at places like Grand Trunk Market, Buttermilk Baking Company, 10 Center, Newburyport Olive Oil Co., and Chococoa Bakery.

The Rockport tour is based on treats available from vendors along Bearskin Neck, including salt-water taffy, fudge, German pastries, and whoopie pies. This one might be the best bet for those with kids in tow.

It’s hard to imagine meeting anyone as enthusiastic about quality local food as Karen Scalia. The owner of Salem Food Tours is not just interested in a good meal; she is passionate about the region that produces the ingredients and the chefs who prepare them.

The restaurants and shops on the tour vary from week to week, but each is dedicated to freshly prepared foods sourced as locally as possible. Scalia is devoted to following what is on her plate back to its origins, meeting the people involved in each step along the way.

Her deep food knowledge has combined with her effervescent personality to make Salem Food Tours a sellout success. Whether she’s discussing the history of the spice trade with Dave Bowie at Salem Spice, chatting up chef Bill Fogarty of Scratch Kitchen about which farm he purchased from this week, or learning about handmade pasta from chef Tony Bettencourt at 62 Restaurant and Wine Bar, Scalia brings food tours to a new level.

As Salem Food Tours celebrates its first anniversary, Scalia is set to unveil North Shore Food Tours. Starting midsummer, the six-hour tour will provide a comprehensive view of the North Shore’s bounty.

The routes will vary to include both land and sea experiences, and may include a farm-to-table lunch at Green Meadow Farms, a wine tasting at Mill River, a cheese tasting at Appleton Farms, and stops at various restaurants and food shops along the way. (Coolers will be available for patrons to store their purchases during the trip.) Sounds like the ideal antidote to dull corporate outings and an excellent way to spend a birthday with foodie friends.

Whether you’re looking for a delectable day trip along the coast or simply want to discover what’s in your own back yard, local food tours are a great way to spend a day at the shore.

Follow a Cape Ann Foodie Tour of Newburyport in a photo gallery on http://yourtown.boston.com/newburport.

Kristen Nyberg and Jill Rose write about food and restaurants on their blog www.northshoredish.com.
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