Lately I had been itching to visit somewhere I’d never been before, but I wanted to stay pretty local. I racked my brain and suddenly the idea of going to an old-fashioned general store popped into my head. I’m not really sure where this thought came from. (Maybe it was subconscious, from all the general store scenes in the Little House on the Prairie type books I had read as a kid). Regardless, my mind was made up.
I googled the topic and found the perfect article from NH Magazine, “A Guide to New Hampshire’s General Stores”. I scanned through the article and remembered that I’d already visited the Mont Vernon General Store (so well-run and adorable), and the others were a bit too far for how willing I was to travel that day. I decided on the first store in the article, Calef’s Country Store in Barrington, NH. According to the article, and to history, Calef’s was started in 1869 by a teacher named Mary Calef and it still stands thriving today with the same warm, homegrown feel providing a blast from the past to all who stop in. This historic general store is famous for its cheddar cheese, which is better know as “Calef’s Snappy Old Cheese”. I’m not a huge fan of cheese that’s not melted, but I knew I wasn’t going to be able to leave the store without trying it’s claim to fame. Without further hesitation, I was on my way!
When I arrived at Calef’s I saw that it not only featured the general store, but an attached shop full of handcrafted candles and adorable decorations produced by a local company, Elfmade. Just the name is quaint! Anything in this store would be perfect for providing a cozy, country style to any room in the home. The Elfmade candles were my favorite part of the store to browse. They come in all sizes with fun names. There was even a candle called “Elf Farts”! In case you’re wondering, elf farts smell like a Christmas tree.
I picked out a few candles – Country Apple for myself, Pumpkin Spice for my mom and Guardian Angel for my grandmother. I unfortunately didn’t get an Elf Farts candle at the time, but I’m sure a few people will be getting those from me as funny Christmas gifts! I also purchased a cute, handmade magnet for my new fridge that has the Proverb “A cheerful heart is good medicine” written on it. I figured it would put a smile on my face every time I groggily open up my fridge for breakfast in the morning.
After perusing the Elfmade shop, it was time to see what the main general store was all about. I was greeted on the right side of the entrance by a glass case full of tasty looking treats like donuts, muffins and cookies. I had to use my willpower not to immediately purchase one and eat it as I browsed. The shop was jam packed full of delicious and unique food items, baking and soup mixes, sauces and dressings, craft beer and so much more, with many of them actually produced by Calef’s. There was also a wall space dedicated to products from Northwood Naturals, a great local company based out of Northwood, NH that makes all-natural skincare products (I have a few!) as well as other all natural products and cleaners from other companies.
A bookshelf featured books mentioning the history of Calef’s, among many other unique stories and facts. The next room was dedicated to penny candy style goodies. All the bright colors of the candy in the jars certainly was appealing to the eye. In the next room, I saw what all the buzz was about. Customers were excitedly testing out the samples of all the different cheeses Calef’s makes and sells. In front of me, big blocks of every kind of cheese I could imagine were wrapped up, ready to be taken home and devoured. I felt a little uncertain because of my aversion to blocks of cheese, but a certain flavor caught my eye – maple bacon. I had never heard of maple bacon cheese before, but I loved 2 out of the 3 ingredients so I went for it.
The clouds parted, the heavens shone down upon me and angels sang – I had finally found a block cheese that I not only liked, but was certain I could become addicted to. I snuck in a few more samples. Unfortunately, there were no pre-wrapped blocks of the maple bacon flavor left and it was busy so I didn’t feel like asking specifically, but I knew I’d be back again and would snatch up this flavor.
I observed what other foods were being sold besides cheeses. You could purchase a sandwich to eat right there on the tables of the front porch or take home different pasta and chicken salads. There were also different ice cream flavors for sale, along with hot dogs, fresh olive oil, a pickle barrel, prepackaged foods you would see at a convenient store and much more. I decided to try the chicken salad with walnuts and cranberries. It was the most amazing chicken salad I’ve ever eaten. The cranberries gave it the perfect touch of sweetness, and there were big chunks of chicken which made it so much better than the sometimes mushy chicken salads that you sometimes find.
On my way out of the store, I couldn’t help myself and bought a big m&m cookie (my favorite kind). It was a satisfying ending to an afternoon spent at one of New Hampshire’s most historic general stores, and I’m glad that I was able to help Calef’s Country Store continue to thrive!