15 Delicious Reasons Western Mass Deserves Some Serious Food Cred

03/19/2015 09:17 am ET | Updated Mar 19, 2015

A list of the best culinary destinations in the world would probably not mention the Pioneer Valley, located in Western Massachusetts. With culinary powerhouse cities like New York City, Paris and Lima as competition, this small region is devoid of tourists and doesn't stand a chance of making it on the map. But it absolutely should.

The Pioneer Valley, which is made up of Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire counties, is heavily populated with farms. Small farms. Family farms. The kind of farms we hope our food comes from, even though we know it's usually grown on large industrial farms like you'd find in Arizona, where our winter lettuce is produced. These small family farms mean great ingredients, and an even greater sense of community. All of that translates into so many delicious things to eat.

While the fine dining scene might be lacking -- its restaurants cater mainly to the large college population -- the amount of good food to eat certainly isn't. Here are 15 reasons you're going to wish you lived in this part of the country.

  • 1 No one does CSAs like the Pioneer Valley does CSAs.
    Pioneer Valley Heritage Grains/Facebook
    Fruit and veggie CSAs are just the beginning. You can find multiple meat CSAs and even local grain ones, too. There is a way for everyone to participate in community supported agriculture here. Many farms even work with SNAP -- a government program that offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low-income individuals -- making farm fresh food accessible to as many people as possible.
  • 2 You can still get your milk delivered here...
    Mapleline Farm/Facebook
    ...In a milk truck. Seriously. Hadley's Mapeline Farm delivers their milk plus other common household grocery items like coffee, cheese and butter. It's cute. It's nostalgic. But it's also life-saving during the weeks that you just can't make it to the store.
  • 3 The Valley might not make the best-pizza list, but Hungry Ghost does us proud.
    Hungry Ghost Bread/Facebook
    Hungry Ghost Bread not only bakes up fresh loaves and pastries daily -- made mainly with local grain, of course -- but they make one mean pizza pie. Only available Wednesday through Sunday, you have to be sure to get your order in early because they almost always sell out.
  • 4 Our farmers markets are better than yours.
    Amherst Farmers Market/Facebook
    Not even New York City's Greenmarket can compete with the bounty of fresh produce, locally-made goods, music and general good cheer that can be found at the plethora of farmers markets in the Pioneer Valley. One look at Amherst Farmers Market is proof of that.
  • 5 One single donut from Atkin's Farm can sustain you for a week.
    Atkin's Farm/Facebook
    Atkin's Farm does not hold back when it comes to their baked goods. These donut are as heavy as they are good.
  • 6 Honor-system farm stands are still a real thing.
    Sharon Drummond/Flickr
    With no one manning the booth, you can seriously just take your pick of produce and leave your money in a box. Bonus: They're cheap, too.
  • 7 THIS alfajor is made here.
    Chilean Sweets
    Words cannot describe the greatness that lies underneath that chocolate shell pictured above, but you should know that it includes the thickest, densest layer of dulce de leche we have ever seen. This favorite Latin American sweet is made by Chilean Sweets in Sunderland. It is more than memorable. (Lucky for you they're available on Etsy.)
  • 8 Asparagus grows more rampantly than wildflowers.
    Amherst Farmers Market/Facebook
    It's everywhere. Once spring time hits, you can find asparagus for sale at small road-side farm stands all over the region. The season has never tasted so good.
  • 9 Ice Cream stands are EVERYWHERE.
    Flayvor's of Cooks Farm/Facebook
    Thanks to the high percentage of diary farms in the area, there is no shortage of milk. And therefore, no shortage of fresh-made ice cream.
  • 10 The region has its own Valley Beer Trail.
    Valley Beer Trail
    The People's Pint, Berkshire Brewing Company and Fort Hill Brewery are just the tip of the iceberg for local beer. There are too many great, small local breweries to count and a great number of places to drink that local beer. There's even a trail map to help you find (er, drink) it all.
  • 11 Two words: Cider. Slushies.
    Julie R. Thomson/HuffPost Taste
    Cider is big in New England. And cider slushies are our best kept secret.
  • 12 The chocolate croissants baked by Woodstar Cafe rival the best in Paris.
    Woodstar Cafe
    A bold statement, for sure. But come to Woodstar Cafe in Northampton and see for yourself.
  • 13 When you have good dairy cows, you have great cheese.
    Grace Hill Farms
    And man is the Pioneer Valley spoiled with cheese -- like with the creamy Hilltown Blue from Grace Hill Farms. When you live here, it's hard to find a reason to splurge on imported cheeses anymore.
  • 14 We have a true old-school butcher in Northampton.
    Sutter Meats
    Sutter Meats isn't just old school in that it's a traditional butcher shop, but it has dedicated itself to providing sustainable meat to its costumers the way butcher shops used to. The husband-and-wife team that operates Sutters work closely with farmers to guarantee the best and healthiest meat options.
  • 15 Eating locally is not just a buzzword, it's a way of life.
    And a fairly easy one to follow to considering how many farms are found in the three counties that make up the area -- and how hard organizations like CISA work to ensure that farmers and their local communities are united. It's a beautiful thing.

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