Putting the Free back in Freeport

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Coconut cashew crunch at Wilbur’s, jingle bell bread from When Pigs Fly, butternut squash oil chased with Fifty Stone whiskey. All Free! Downtown Freeport has always been about discounts, outlets and L.L. Bean, but shopping on an empty stomach can turn even the giddiest impulse buyer cranky faster than you can say: “sorry, your credit has been declined.”

Turns out there are a handful of spots in Freeport willing to fill you up for nothing — Zero. Nada. Zip! Of course you’ll be so impressed with these artisan offerings, you’ll want to buy them by the sleighful. Oh what fun it is to taste in a no-longer one-horse town!

Within a single hour one can experience four diverse culinary sensations without cracking a wallet. First stop, Wilbur’s of Maine Chocolate Confections, where you don’t need a stinking golden ticket to see chocolate turtles made before your eyes. The best part? You can sample them without pulling a Veruca Salt.

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Inside this antique house with attached barn, chocolate-covered blueberries, bark and bon-bons are created by hard working elves (see above) for 33 years running. They even make candy canes here in flavors like wintergreen and butterscotch. This time of year the gift shop is a sweet lovers mirage. Apple jelly spreads are on sample, and at the counter there is always something sinful to try. The day we visited the nutty, crunchy coconut cashews were going fast.

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Up the road a few blocks you’ll find the cheerful When Pigs Fly Bakery store. The York-based bread company “isn’t just about bread,” manager Rob Lenk tells us. “This is a place for the community of food to gather.”

In a generous spread that includes samples of three kinds of breads daily and umpteen accoutrements, there is much to try. Chocolate bread, maple walnut banana; potato, roast garlic and onion are always on offer. These adventurous breads can’t be nabbed at Shaw’s or Hannaford. So try freely. Bread pudding cakes in flavors like lemon and wild Maine blueberry are sliced up before your wondering eyes.

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What would pair best with this artisan abundance? Dipping oils of course. But which one? In a fun below street level location Fiore’s olive oil and vinegar cellar is the place to tune your taste buds. We fell for the butternut squash, which seems so seasonal, toasty and warm. Chile and blood orange oils will make any salad say “Hey now!” And don’t forget the espresso balsamic to perk up the roast beast.

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Next stop, a mere 30 paces away, is Maine Craft Distilling, 7 Mill Street. Yes, the Portland spirits maker opened in Freeport last year to give shoppers a lift between excursions. The cozy space, formerly a public house, seems custom made for Luke Davidson’s farm-to-flask offerings. You can try nine in all. Good thing the Downeaster is a stone’s throw away.

I am coming around on whiskey, so limited myself to a sample of Fifty Stone. Using Maine-grown barley malted in Portland, the single-malt libation is perfect for sipping by the fire while wrapping gifts. Or jettison the gifts altogether, this one’s got enough presence.

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And speaking of fires, the rustic tasting room has one. In the corner gift shop you can warm yourself from the chill and work your way from Blueshine to spiced rum. Before long you’ll feel miles from the madding crowd. Facing the Patagonia outlet suddenly seems like a good idea again. Time to ascend. Cheers!

Kathleen Pierce

About Kathleen Pierce

A lifelong journalist with a deep curiosity for what's next. Interested in food, culture, trends and the thrill of a good scoop. BDN features reporter based in Portland since 2013.