The Gross family, founders of the Maine Tasting Center in Wiscasset, invite visitors to learn about Maine food and beverage production through expert-led demonstrations, events, classes, and of course, their sense of taste.
“We’re a one-stop shop for people to learn about different food and beverage producers in Maine,” said Sara Gross, the general manager and co-owner of the Maine Tasting Center.
Sara runs the Maine Tasting Center with her parents, Andrew Gross and Elizabeth Gross, of Westport Island.
After eight months of construction, and several years of planning, the Maine Tasting Center opened for business on Thursday, July 1 at the former Maine Heritage Village property on Route 1 in Wiscasset.
As a “family of foodies,” the Gross family has traveled all over the world touring creameries, wineries, breweries, orchards, and farms to learn about local food and beverage production and its impact on communities.
“We find Maine’s food and beverage producers to be exceptional,” Sara said.
To the family’s knowledge, there isn’t a tasting center in Maine that highlights the producers and their unique style of production through expert-led demonstrations, events, classes, and taste.
For several years, the family has talked about creating a business that combines their passion for agritourism, which is the practice of touring agricultural sites for recreational and educational knowledge, with their love for local food and beverage production in Maine.
In February 2020, the former Maine Heritage Village property hit the market. The Grosses seized the opportunity to start their educational campus, complete with a museum in the Judi’s Country Store building and a tasting room in the Lighthouse Restaurant.
“We initially wanted to highlight Maine craft breweries. When we toured the property in Wiscasset, our vision expanded with the opportunity to highlight so many Maine food producers,” Sara said.
In November 2020, the family started construction of the museum and tasting room with Optimum Construction Co., of Portland.
Construction included the removal of three buildings on the property and renovation of others, as well as building handicapped-accessible pathways between the new buildings.
In April, Sara moved home from Michigan, where she was working as a community engagement specialist for the Michigan History Center, to be closer to her parents and gear up for their grand opening.
Although the pandemic delayed their initial opening date of May 2021, Sara said the “weird slow period” worked in their favor.
“We had much more time to develop our vision, and talk to different food and beverage producers throughout the state,” Sara said. “We put less pressure on the opening date, and more emphasis on the individual producers that wanted to work with us.”
Some of the Maine food producers the Grosses are working with include Balfour Farm, of Pittsfield; Lakin’s Gorges Cheese, of Waldoboro; Singing Pastures Farm, of Newcastle; and Bluet Wild Blueberry Sparkling Wine, of Scarborough.
In the tasting room, a brewpub-style space with indoor and outdoor seating, visitors can enjoy Maine beer, wine, cider, kombucha, and a small selection of small plates that highlight ingredients from Maine farmers and producers.
Visitors can also browse the retail shop and enjoy evening entertainment and music in the tasting room.
The learning center, a premier learning facility in the building behind Judi’s Country Store, is equipped with a demonstration kitchen and classroom where visitors can learn about Maine food and beverage topics through guided tastings and pairings, expert-led workshops and demonstrations.
“We’ll do a deep-seated dive into Maine wild blueberries, Maine-made artisanal cheeses, and pairings of iconic Maine foods and Maine craft beers,” said Sara.
Classes will begin in August, and class registration will be posted on their website soon.
“Our mission is to expand residents and tourists’ knowledge of Maine food and beverage producers,” Sara said. “We really want to direct people to the source of where their food and beverages are coming from: not just who’s producing them, but how they’re being produced.”
The Grosses are working hard to develop and build a discovery center, a 2,500-square-foot exhibit hall that will feature interactive exhibits that highlight Maine state food and drink associations as well as members of the Alliance of Maine Food Producers, an organization of Maine state associations that represent various sectors of the Maine food and drink industries.
“We’re working really hard to promote the mission of the Maine food and beverage producers in the (Alliance of Maine Food Producers),” Sara said.
The Grosses have trained several staff members to bartend and serve customers, help out in the kitchen, greet and educate visitors, and assist at the demonstrations.
“We’re still a work in progress,” Sara said. “What matters is that we can share our passion for local food and beverage production, and encourage people to choose Maine-made products.”
The Maine Tasting Center, located at 506 Old Bath Road in Wiscasset, is open seven days a week from noon to 9 p.m.
For more information, go to mainetastingcenter.com or call 558-5772.